School officials laud own improvement plan

School officials laud own improvement plan

School officials in charge of turning around the citys only public high school might as well have sung The Times they are a-Changin during the School Boards annual retreat over the weekend, because their message was identical to Bob Dylans.

The state and federal governments labeled T.C. Williams High School persistently low-achieving in March. Problems at the school werent new; a committee dedicated to improving student achievement preceded the designation by months, but with the label came a mandated improvement project officials call the T.C. Williams Transformation.

Five months after the roadmap was unveiled and days before the start of classes, the School Board sang the transformations praises. Superintendent Morton Sherman said theres little left for him to do other than cheer on the staff of T.C. Williams, which has never met the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind legislation.

I dont know what the [exact] moment was, but I think the spirit and sense of transformation has come from the teachers and administrators, he said Saturday. My work is over except to be your cheerleader or encourage you.

Starting this year, each student at T.C. Williams will receive an individual achievement plan for English and math while teachers will adopt professional learning plans. Both are designed to encourage learning while holding staff accountable for their teaching methods. Students also can use online tutoring programs, math and writing centers, and will undergo monthly monitoring by the state and district. 

About $6 million of federal money will be spent on the transformation project over the next three years. 

The work isnt finished, the superintendent said, but will continue between teachers and students rather than with administrators.

The work that I have done is to set the stage. The real transformation is for our teachers and principals to hold themselves responsible and accountable and to believe deeply in the achievement of every student, Sherman said Monday. I will now continue to cheer for you, celebrate your work and judge teachers and principals. Cheerleading is also coaching role and a managers role. Did you do it or not? Did you make the grade?

School Board member Mimi Carter believes Sherman is on the right path. The superintendents efforts are exactly what the high school needs, she said Monday.

I think what is terrific is the leadership that doctor Sherman has put in place, his planning of systemic and achievable change, Carter said. Its reflected in everything that theyre doing, from looking at data to identifying where they need to focus.

The troubles at T.C. Williams were well known to the board, she said. When state and federal officials originally handed down the infamous designation in March, no one was surprised, according to Carter. 

For a large segment of T.C. Williams, [the school] has been fine, but for families are in situations where theyre dealing with the stresses of the economic situation it hasnt been as easy, Carter said. Weve also seen a large minority achievement gap at T.C. for quite some time. The board and Dr. Sherman said, This is enough.

Rather than focus on the schools past troubles, most of Saturdays discussion revolved around how to publicize the transformations success at the high school. Board member Arthur Peabody, Jr. called on his colleagues to become troubadours of change.

I think the plan orchestrating the transformation project is one of the most important things Ive seen this school division do, he said. We need to find ways of really spreading this message because its a wonderful story. 

School begins September 7, when the administration will hand its plan to teachers and students, who will determine how the story ends.