A Principal’s Toolbox: Attracting and retaining highly effective teachers in high-need schools

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Written by: Latatia Johnson
Oct. 11, 2017

This guest blog post comes from Latatia Johnson, instructional supervisor at Ascension Public Schools, who also served as the principal of G.W. Carver Primary School for 10 years. Under her leadership, Carver received the 2017 TAP Founder’s Award, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET)’s highest honor. Watch this video to learn more about Carver’s efforts to dramatically improve teaching and learning. Based on her experience, Johnson was appointed to NIET’s educator advisory board for the 2017-18 school year.

We know all too well the priorities spinning on principals’ plates. While students are busily learning, principals are focused on administration, organization and instruction. Just this summer, Education Week reported on studies illuminating a principal’s need for adequate time and evidence to assess a teacher’s performance.

I am no stranger to the challenges principals face. For a decade I led the staff of an at-risk school. Eighty-nine percent of our students were eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch and our growing English language learner population meant that we had to double efforts to close language and achievement gaps. We needed a structure for targeted teacher support, and a mechanism for analyzing data and assessing progress year-round. That’s where the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement came in. TAP is an initiative of NIET.

Ascension Public Schools adopted TAP for its lowest-performing schools, which it called the “Turnaround Zone.” Under the TAP System, schools created structures for master and mentor teacher roles and responsibilities, regular job-embedded professional learning, and educator evaluation and performance-based compensation tied to multiple measures of instructional practice and student achievement growth.

The district provided another layer of support by visiting schools, providing feedback and leveraging lessons and best practices throughout the district. With this plan, our school soared.

Using financial incentives and ongoing support for teachers as selling points, we filled more than 30 positions with certified educators. What’s more, we retained them – at a rate of 91 percent – which still holds true today.

Through NIET’s Steps for Effective Learning, we went through the process of:

  1. Identifying the school academic need.
  2. Obtaining new teacher learning to accommodate the need.
  3. Developing new teacher learning in collaborative sessions, modeling and team-teaching.
  4. Applying new teacher learning to the classroom.
  5. Evaluating the impact of the teacher learning on student achievement.

Our data analysis showed that all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were reading below grade level. Based on the TAP rubric, we identified essential standards, created criteria for what mastery looked like for each standard, developed rigorous assessments that met them and field-tested strategies to make sure that we were on track. Mentor teachers implemented the process with masters’ support, and provided the critical support to other teachers in the classroom. We engaged in ongoing dialogue about strengths and areas of improvement and adjusted our strategies as needed. These activities were empowering for the whole faculty and student achievement followed.

We increased our third-grade English language arts academic index and in the upper grades, proficiency soared from 0 to 75 percent-and-above in two years’ time. As a result, our School Performance Score – Louisiana’s statewide school composite value – grew more than seven points, moving our school’s letter grade up from a C- to a B+. Another proud moment for our teachers was learning that we received a level 3 value-added growth score on a 1-4 scale, signifying that we exceeded growth targets when compared to similar schools across the state. The comparable data solidified the achievements we accomplished together.

Let’s honor principals by giving them the tools they need to prioritize educator effectiveness and put support systems in place to regularly assess performance. Only then will every child have the opportunity to succeed in an ever-changing world.

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