A Field Briefing from a LYS Coach

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The following is a letter from the field from LYS Coach, Jeanette Nelson. I think the LYS Nation may find it interesting. Hello, all… I saw the great article on the LYS District in North Texas. No mention of Lead Your School, but it certainly appears between the lines. My school in Washington D.C. is a low-performing high school and we will soon have another HS added to the assignment. It is most interesting! Both working here and living here. In spite of Chancellor Rhee’s restructuring and re-alignment, problems abound. I have been privy to the politics from the inside, including working with an instructional coach who knows Rhee, the current mayor and the mayor-to-be personally. The folks at the school are fabulous…a young mid-30’s principal and assistant principal, and an instructional coach about to turn 68 and has the energy of a 30-year-old and the passion as well. The challenges are many, the students range in age from 17-21 and have all been disenfranchised in one way or another. (I learned the other day that one of the boys is only 13 years younger than his biological mother.) They are all impoverished and because many of them, both boys and girls, already have children of their own, are in a prime position to continue the cycle of poverty and reliance upon the welfare system. One would think that they would see the path they are on, but unfortunately, most of them do not and continue to challenge authority and are inarticulate as well as literacy-challenged. The school is on a 9-week schedule, meaning that students can complete an entire course in 9 weeks, or in the case of some electives, complete a semester course in 4 1/2 weeks. My task is to build rigor in the instruction, as well as getting teachers to use their time in the 2 1/2 hour classes judiciously. The task becomes more difficult considering that many of the students do not really want to be here. But, because all the employers here now require a HS education, they feel they can just do seat time to get a diploma. Some have been in prison (including murder or attempted murder convictions, both boys and girls), some dropped out for a while because they had babies, some could not fit in other more traditional high schools or they were removed and kindly asked not to return because of their behavior. The DC district has a set of standards, but no curriculum. Teachers must interpret on their own how and what to teach by breaking it down for themselves. Therefore, there is no guarantee that teachers across the district are even teaching the same things. Their state test covering reading and math, given to 10th graders in the spring, is not required for graduation, yet teachers are held responsible for the results on their appraisals. So students don’t feel any compulsion to do well on the test, and sometimes end up graduating having never taken the test. My task is to increase the test results by a minimum of 5 percentage points over last year in both reading and math, but the chancellor is requiring an increase of 10 percentage points to maintain safe harbor for the school next year. So, thank goodness teachers are starting to make some changes in their instruction as well as trusting me and working with me in developing a professional learning community. We still have a long path to travel, one filled with many rewards as well as some pesky challenges. I miss all of you and hope things are going well. Don’t let my Texas schools forget about me before I get back this summer. Jeanette Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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