Principals seek to be proactive with curriculum changes

Published 10:42 am Saturday, December 21, 2013

FRANKLIN—The Virginia Department of Education was in Franklin earlier this month performing an audit as part of an academic review that all schools flagged for improvement had to go through.

Before VDOE submits actions based on that review, the principals of S.P. Morton Elementary, J.P. King Middle and Franklin High schools went before the school board Thursday night to run through preliminary actions they base on the meetings.

“We wanted to be ahead of the game,” said Dr. Shannon Smith, director of instruction with the Franklin Public School System’s central office. “These are not final, but we wanted to progress.”

At S.P. Morton, Dr. Debbie Harris Rollins laid out six preliminary essential actions that mostly centered on improving lesson plans.

“The teachers have homework assignments,” said Harris Rollins. “They exchanged plans with a colleague and reviewed them based on an evaluation tool. They will score the plan and give them feedback. And the evaluations are due to me. That’s my winter homework, reviewing what they have done and get ready to give feedback.”

S.P. Morton will also add more steps to the lesson planning process.

“We need to go back to the essential actions,” Harris Rollins said. “Thinking was not occurring during lesson planning. Lesson planning was more filling in boxes. There are a lot of questions you need to be thinking about.”

In every section of the lesson plan review list, the school is adding in checks from a VDOE tool, such as, “Does the lesson plan align with the framework?”

Harris Rollins also has a checklist when going through and approving teacher’s lesson plans. She wants herself, and assistant principal Jametha Ruffin, to focus on providing better feedback based on lesson plans and classroom observation.

“The last check for us,” she said, “is are we giving quality feedback to help a teacher improve practices?”

At J.P. King, Principal Lisa Francis had four preliminary essential actions that focused on professional development in curriculum, pacing guides for English and the alignment of lesson plans and classroom instruction.

Francis said lesson plans will be more round robin, so that everyone sees lesson plans.

“We’ll bring a teacher in, show her lesson plan, and show what a great one looks like,” she said. “Teachers want to see an example and take it from there.”

Francis said the school will work with its turnaround partner, EdisonLearning, and make sure that the pacing guides are aligned with curriculum.

She also talked about better using VDOE language and being more specific with lesson plans.

Like S.P. Morton, quality feedback is also important, and making sure expectations are communicated to teachers.

“We need to step up a notch on that as well,” Francis said. “All things are doable, and we will take it to the next level.”

Three of the five preliminary essential actions at Franklin High School focus on lesson plans, and the other two center on professional development.

Principal Travis Felts said that he and Assistant Principal Jason Chandler attended a Webinar back in the fall where Dr. Kathleen Smith, director of the VDOE office of school improvement, spoke about making sure that written, taught and accessed curriculum are aligned, and he wanted to make sure that was better addressed at the school.

Like at S.P. Morton, Felts also added checks to the lesson plan to make sure certain criteria are being met within the lesson, and also increasing the rigor for how leadership assesses lesson plans.

“The assessment was easy,” he said. “We need to do a better job to make sure they are aligned at the appropriate rigor level.”

With these actions, Felts said he felt confident.

“I feel like our action plans are doable,” he said. “Three of them are quick fixes. We can do it. The hard part is making sure that monitoring and teaching are at the level they should be at, and that the alignment is all there.”

Felts said Kathleen Smith said that if teachers are properly aligning their lesson plans, that the children would pass.

“It is her key to full accreditation,” he said. “We’ll take the advice given, and put it in action.”

Regarding lesson plans, he said, “With some teachers, I see it at a very high level. For others, it is a work in progress. What we need to do is institutionalize it throughout the whole building.”

Ward three board member Johnetta Nichols said she liked what she heard from the three administrators.

“The thing I liked that we are doing now, is that we are giving our teachers examples of what lesson plans should look like,” she said. “In the past, with the lesson plan problems, a lot of teachers were doing what they thought was right, but they never saw what it actually should look like.

“Now they know what it should look like. Great job.”