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LEADing Guthrie Public School students to success

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Using a college campus approach toward developing leadership is providing a clear focus for improving student growth and achievement at Guthrie Public Schools. Guthrie Schools is one of three Oklahoma districts chosen to participate in the initiative.

Guthrie SchoolsChanging the mindset of we have to do this, to we want to do this is how, Carmen Walters, Executive Director of Federal Programs and Elementary Education, sees the changes taking place at GPS. “We are servant leaders; all of our employees want to help all children succeed, “ said Walters.

Guthrie Junior High has seen the most significant student growth. By targeting specific groups of students and working on 90 day plans followed by additional 90 day plans, the junior high raised scores by nearly 20 points from one school year to the next.

Shurlyn Maltz, current Guthrie Public School Teacher of the Year and 8th grade Math and Algebra 1 teacher at Guthrie Junior High, has students tracking their own progress. “By utilizing an accountability model adapted from Marzano and incorporating it to fit with the LEAD initiative we can now pinpoint exactly where students don’t understand the lesson based on the tracking tool. We have made it very easy for students to recognize their weaknesses and work on it before the test day,” said Maltz. “Kids are asking for remediation during Flex time prior to their assessments,” exclaimed Maltz.

One of the more challenging areas for people outside of education to understand is how growth of students with special needs is measured. Lyndsey Rollins, 5th and 6th grade Special Education teacher at Guthrie Upper Elementary School was asked to serve on the leadership team, which includes attending the UVA Mid-Year workshop in Albuquerque, NM. Rollins had already signed up for her masters coursework. “I felt like the LEAD initiative was critical to our students success. I didn’t want to let the kids or the faculty down. I put my class off and will start back after spring break,” said Rollins

“Individual Assessments are great for traditional student instruction. Although we go at a slower pace, our kids are held to the same standards as students without learning disabilities,” said Rollins. “If they could do what regular education students do, I wouldn’t have a job”.

Guthrie Upper Elementary School’s goal last year included improving student knowledge through data and test scores. “Everyone is on board,” exclaimed Rollins. “We are creating meaningful lesson plans based on student input,” said Rollins. Rollins’ students have seen huge progress over the last 3 years, largely in part because she breaks down the lessons and doesn’t go on until every student grasps the concept. “Through the data driven instruction, I can show progress in every Interim Assessment (IA) and every Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment. Only one out of 19 students did not show an increase of 5 points on the mid-year MAP benchmark,” exclaimed Rollins.

Changing the focus to data driven leadership doesn’t come without pains. “Analyzing data, targeting improved instruction, and evaluating student performance takes time,” said Walters. It also takes a commitment by leaders at all levels notes Dr. Mike Simpson, Guthrie Public Schools superintendent.   “The focus on data is in addition to a focus on leadership development, with an eye toward daily fidelity to the improvement of all staff,” said Simpson.

Although not every school in the district is attending the UVA training, the expectation is that the new focus will be implemented district-wide. Common expectations, district support, and monitoring are all components administrators are looking for at every school.

The next areas of focus for Guthrie Public Schools will include parental engagement and improving communication. “There is a gap in understanding the vocabulary educators use,” said Walters. “Not only do we have to change how we say something, but we have to deliver the communication where the parents can understand it,” said Walters. GPS is working on developing a parent guide to educational acronyms and working with the Guthrie Parent Teacher Organization to help deliver messages as well as through Facebook and texting.

“We are excited about the achievement of the district but more importantly, we are excited about each student’s growth; after all that is what we are here for,” said Maltz.

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