In preparation for a public radio show this week, I asked readers to write in with stories about what was working in their schools, despite the lousy economy and perpetual state budget crisis -- and ways people have coped with diminishing state funding. It was inspiring to read the responses. Here are some of them:
David Orphal: Skyline High had created a great teacher collaboration system in 2010-2011 for our freshmen core teachers. Each teacher worked in a team of four who shared 130 kids. These four teachers each got two of our six class period to work without their kids. ...
This costs money. We used a grant to pay for the extra time these teachers used to collaborate.
This year, we wanted to expand this tool to all of the teachers at school -- but, of course, there's no money. But we solved it.
We moved from a six- to a seven-period day. Now every teacher has five classes with kids and two periods without. Five days a week, we can meet with our colleagues to talk about kids we share or help each other with lesson planning or professional growth. Additionally, we all still have one period each day for individual grading, photocopying and calling parents.
Of course, it's not perfect. Not every teacher could be scheduled to be without kids during the same times and all of the teachers they would like to work with. Nonetheless, I think it is a step in the right direction.
Cliff Hong: We at Roosevelt Middle School put together a team to find ways to improve our students' attendance. Comparing last January to this one, we reduced chronically absent students from 15 percent of the student population to 8 percent, and improved our overall attendance numbers from about 91 percent average daily attendance to about 94 percent.
Regular members of the attendance team are the school nurse, the attendance clerk, the family advocate, the site coordinator of the nonprofit Elev8, a master's intern, and the principal. We meet every Friday to talk about students by name and to figure out what we can do to get them to school. We have also worked with Hedy Chang's nonprofit, Attendance Works.
Not only does this work result in a huge benefit to the students' academics now, but it will also help our school financially in the future since higher attendance translates to more funding.
Colibri: EnCompass Academy could no longer afford to hire part-time faculty to provide reading intervention, so we looked at the resources we do have. Our after-school instructors take the first-, second- and third-graders to P.E. during the last half-hour of the day (it's not counted as instructional minutes because the students aren't with credentialed teachers). Homeroom teachers work with five to six students who need the most intensive support. ... Students in grades 4-5 have a longer instructional day, and the teacher on special assignment works with the students needing intensive support.
Brian Rodriguez: At Encinal High School in Alameda, our budget has been cut every year for the last 10 years. Only the recent passage of a parcel tax allowed us to forego the eight furlough days we had to contribute last year. Despite financial hardship, all the Encinal teachers voted to extend their day for two things -- teacher collaboration every Wednesday and advisory classes where we meet twice a week with smaller groups of students to mentor and listen. Both programs required us to modify our contract and extend our day. We are also working much smarter with School Loop software, allowing us to post grades and assignments, blog with our classes, upload lectures, post educational videos, notes and testing tips, and email students and parents in as many languages as our students speak.
It must be working as we are rated a 10 by the state of California on a scale of 1 to 10 when compared to similarly situated high schools.