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What Is Strawberry School?

Donna M. Faulkner
EDEL 580A
Fall 2013

________________________________________________________

We soar like eagles

Table of Contents

Introduction

School Site

Student Population

Student Performance Data

Typical Day

10

School Climate

11

Student Programs and Services

14

Parent and Community Involvement

16

Curriculum and Instruction

17

Budget/Funding

21

School Staff

23

Leadership, Decision-Making and Communication

28

Synthesis and Reflection

32

Introduction

Strawberry Elementary School serves students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades in the Bennett
Valley Union School District. The school is consistently among the top-ranked schools in the
county and has three times been named a California Distinguished School. Resources used to
gather the information in this report include:

The California Department of Education School Quality Snapshot

2013 STAR Test Results

Dataquest 2013 Accountability Progress Reporting (API & AYP)

California Healthy Kids Survey 2011-2012

The School Accountability Report Card (SARC)

The Single Plan for Student Achievement (Site Plan).

The Local Educational Agency (LEA) Plan,

Interviews of school staff

Notes from Joan Boyces Walk Through of Strawberry School

Certificated and Classified contracts

BVUSD and Strawberry School Websites

Comprehensive School Safety Plan

Personal observation

By taking a close look into the various components that make up the school site, community,
culture, and curriculum, I hope to answer the question: What is Strawberry School?

School Site

The school is located at 2311 Horseshoe Drive in the southeastern part Santa Rosa known as
Bennett Valley. It is in a quiet, residential suburban setting. The campus consists of six buildings
spread out alongside a large playground and field. Four of the buildings house classrooms, a
library and a computer lab; the multipurpose room, and office (with staff lounge and work area)
are the other two buildings. Visitors to the site often have difficulty finding the office, as its
location is tucked away from the front of the campus; there are no signs directing visitors to its
location. A walking path wraps around the field and a creek runs alongside. There are beautiful
trees throughout the campus and providing shade to for the outdoor lunch area and quad. The
school ground officially becomes a city park at 4:00 p.m. each day. Joan Boyce commented after
her visit to Strawberry, It is very calm, quiet and serene, which reflects the atmosphere of the staff
and student body.

To the casual visitor, all of the buildings and grounds appear to be relatively well-maintained (as
noted in the walkthrough done by my class partner, Joan Boyce), though upon closer inspection,
one will find leaky faucets in the lavatory, broken downspouts, peripheral areas overgrown with
weeds, and litter in corners of the campus. This is a source of frustration for staff members;
custodial hours were cut significantly several years ago, and not reinstated. Fairly often, the little
staff we have is called upon to help out at the other district school or for a special purpose, so
classrooms do not always get cleaned, toilet paper and soap not refilled in bathrooms, etc.
Furthermore, the cleaning that is done is marginal in both quantity and quality. Many maintenance

requests go unanswered for long periods of time (months and years, in some cases!). Outdoor
lighting has not been functioning on some parts of the campus, making it quite unsafe after dark.
In my opinion, administration, both at the school site and district level, does not pay adequate
attention to maintenance issues, nor provide adequate training for and supervision of custodial
staff.
Storage space is limited; a few of the areas used for storage now serve a dual purpose (study hall,
after school programs, IEP meetings, etc.). These areas are badly in need of organization. Not
many visitors see these areas, though sometimes meetings may be held in one of the larger rooms.

The school does have a well-stocked library and computer lab with 32 student workstations. Each
classroom has at least one computer for student use and a teacher presentation laptop connected to
a projector for projecting images from the computer, document camera, or VHS/DVD recordings.
Teachers have another laptop computer to use for conducting their business (email and letters
home, keeping grades and reporting student progress, creating tests & assignments, etc.)
Classrooms also have sound systems and wireless microphones for teachers, so all students can
hear well. The sound systems are not used consistently, though, because of technical problems.

Teachers clearly take pride in their classrooms; they often do some cleaning of their rooms
themselves. Many have added personal touches that give their rooms an individual
character/identity. The classrooms are well-equipped and well-organized for learning. Though not
spacious, they are well-lit with adequate space for desks and student movement. Student work and
instructional materials are displayed on the walls.

Student Population

There are 425 students currently enrolled at Strawberry. Over half of the students (54%) are
inter-district transfers. Bennett Valley Union School District draws students from as far away as
Cloverdale and Petaluma, but most of the inter-district transfers come from other districts in
Santa Rosa. When I asked the Superintendant why we draw so many students from other
districts, she said it was because of our high test scores, the availability of music and art, and the
public perception that Bennett Valley Schools as not having many problems. She tries hard to
keep the District out of the public eye good or bad claiming that even positive news often
invites criticism. We currently have a waiting list of students wanting to transfer in.

The majority of the student population is white (68%); 18% is Hispanic. There are small
percentages of students of Asian, African-American, and other ethnicities (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Student Ethnicities

A little over a quarter of the population (27%) is classified Economically Disadvantaged. The
Healthy Kids Survey reported 14% of the students did not eat breakfast before coming to school.
These statistics are a bit surprising because the school is located in a middle- to upper- class
neighborhood and is predominantly white. However, the data is consistent with the increasing
number of families requesting financial assistance for field trips, school supplies, etc.

English Language Learners comprise about 9.8% of the student population. Most of them are at
Intermediate or Early Advanced on the CELDT. Only rarely do we get a student who is very new
to English.

According to the 2011-2012 California Healthy Kids Survey (2012-2013 is not yet available),
Strawberry students generally exhibit behaviors that are safe and conducive to a healthy school
climate. The majority of students are physically active in sports, dance, or other extra-curricular
activities, though 34% report watching TV or playing video games for 1 hour or more on a daily
basis. Alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are not in use by the 5th graders that attend the school, nor are
any involved with gangs.

Strawberry School typically has had few suspensions (~1.4%) and very rarely any expulsions.
There was one expulsion last year, which was subsequently suspended.

Student Performance Data

Strawberry Elementary School is amongst the top-ranking schools in Sonoma County with an
Academic Performance Indicators (API) having risen steadily since 2002-2003 and over 890 for
the five years prior to last year. In 2013 API was 888.

Seventy-six percent (77%) of students scored Proficient or Advanced on the California Standards
Test (CST) English-Language Arts test in Spring of 2013. Seventy-five percent (75%) scored
Proficient or Advanced on the CST Math test. Only a very few students (0-2%) were Far Below
Basic. Table 1 summarizes student performance on the CST by subgroups.

Table I: 2012-2013 CST Results


GROUP

Percent of Students At or Above Proficient


ELA
MATH
77
75
81
78
54
59
79
79
100
89
78
83

School wide
Whites
Hispanic
African American
Asian
Multiracial
Economically
64
57
Disadvantaged
English Learners
43
61
Students with
56
47
Disabilities
* Too few students in subgroup to be statistically significant

Met Growth
Target
Yes
Yes
Yes
*
*
*
Yes
*
*

Ninety-nine percent (99%) of fourth graders scored in proficient and advanced ranges in writing
proficiency.

Each grade level (4-6) has made general progress in both English Language Arts and Math in the
last 10 years. Cohort groups have generally made steady progress in English Language over the
same period. However, even though the schools performance was high and the growth targets
were met, the API dropped 20 points from 908 the year before. We believe some of the decline
may be a result of changing to a new Language Arts Curriculum, which not only required much
getting used to by both teachers and students. The teachers focus on learning the new program
admittedly detracted from instruction in other areas.

Upon closer inspection of the data, a disturbing trend is noticed. Though grade levels have
increased the number of students scoring at or above Proficient, Math scores for cohort groups
have declined every year between 4th, 5th and 6th grades. The reason for the drop has not been
investigated. It could be because the content gets harder or because there are holes in the
curriculum, lack of adequate support services for struggling students, ineffective teaching,
changing socioeconomic demographics who knows? Students disperse to other classrooms for
ability-leveled math instruction which may also be contributing to the lower scores. This is
something that merits more investigation.

The school has worked hard to narrow the achievement gap and raise our lower performing
students to proficiency. Until last year, the percent of English Language Learners meeting targets
has shown a general increase (see Table II), with fewer and fewer students performing in the
Below Basic and Far Below Basic bands each year. English Learners have historically done
better on the Math test than on the ELA test. Consistent with the results of the total student
population, both Math and ELA scores for English Learners dropped last year. The reason for

this is unclear, except for the change to a new curriculum, as previously mentioned. We hope
last years score was an anomaly, but we will have to find another measure by which to gauge
English Learners progress as the CST has been discontinued.

Table II: English Learner Performance History


YEAR

%Mettargets
ELA

Math

#Students
Tested

20062007

33%

33%

30

20072008

20%

53%

30

20082009

45%

48%

32

20092010

24%

52%

29

20102011

33%

50%

51

20112012

47%

52%

59

20122013

26%

35%

56

On the brighter side, is the feedback we get from the local middle school. Their school
counselors and principal report Strawberry School students are very well-prepared for middle
school when they finish 6th grade, and are usually the top-performing students in 7th and 8th
grades.

Strawberry 5th graders exceeded the state average in all areas of Healthy Fitness Zones tested.

Typical Day

School is in session 8:25 2:35 Monday through Friday. Students are not supposed to be on
campus before 8:05 in the morning when there is yard supervision. However, many students
congregate in the quad before school waiting for the bell to let them play on the playground.
Thereafter the day is structured as follows:

The Math instructional block is from 8:45 until morning recess at 10:00 a.m.
Morning recess is 20 minutes for the entire school.

Lunch is 12:00 12:45 for all grades

There are four 50-minute instructional blocks two after recess and before lunch,
then two more after lunch.

Three or four times a week during one of the blocks, classes go to the Library,
Computer Lab, or have P.E., Art, or Dance with a paraprofessional specialist.

During recess, students are fairly active. The playground is a swarm of kids playing basketball,
soccer, kickball, handball, tether ball, jumping rope, playing on swings and climbing structures,
and running or walking around the path. Most of the students happily engage in physical activity,
though a few small groups of students cluster around, or in, the classrooms.

10

School Climate

There is a strong sense of purpose at Strawberry School to develop independent, life-long learners and to
help students soar to their personal best. Its mission is, to increase the knowledge, the skills, and the
well-being of every student through a school wide commitment that assures safety, instills respect, and
both models and requires responsibility.

There is an overall sense of passion for learning and commitment to excellence with high expectations
for students and staff members, alike. Everyone - adults and students - are expected to treat one another
with respect and to respect the school property. We believe in the value of diversity and the worth of
each individual, but there is actually little diversity in the student population. There is no obvious
separation of students along racial or socioeconomic lines. Because of this, there really isnt much
attention paid to differences. There is some attempt to honor different ethnicities through multicultural
stories, the arts, acknowledging important holidays, and having students talk and spare some of their
culture with other students. Teachers attempt to make cross-cultural references when teaching. Two
teachers are able to converse to a limited degree with parents in Spanish; a Spanish translator is
available for conferences, letters, and phone calls. Most, but not all, forms are available in Spanish as
well as English. Nearly all other communication is in English.

Students have strong relationships with their teachers; they often gather in classrooms before school and
during recess, if the teacher is in the room. Former students frequently return to visit their teachers from
years past.

11

According to the 2011-2012 California Healthy Kids Survey (2012-2013 is not yet available),
nearly all of the 100 5th graders who took the survey (75% of the students enrolled in 5th grade)
perceived the school as a safe place. The majority of students felt there were caring adults with high
expectations of them and who treated them fairly. Most students reported being happy and feeling a part
of the school though only 20% reported high levels of opportunities for meaningful participation at their
school.

BEST (Building Effective Schools Together from the University of Oregon) is the school wide behavior
management program. The school rules are Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. Expectations for
student behavior are taught explicitly at the beginning of the year. And reinforced through monthly
assemblies and tokens. Overall, Strawberry students are well-behaved. Every day, students are
recognized and awarded for demonstrating good behavior. The principal addresses each grade level
separately about Title IX issues; there is no tolerance for bullying. Whenever a class goes somewhere

off campus, the teachers are complimented on how respectful the students are. The California
Healthy Kids Survey indicated that students generally are not harassed at school, nor engage in
bullying behavior.

Strawberry Elementary School is a California Distinguished School. The Validation Team for
this recognition summarized their findings after visiting the site:

"Students at Strawberry Elementary are provided access to and are actively


engaged in a high-quality, standards-aligned instructional program. The
decision-making process is inclusive and the school community has
ownership of its school. Assessment data is used to monitor, evaluate, and

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sustain program effectiveness through state, district, and classroom


assessments to monitor the achievement of all students. All students are
provided with opportunities to meet rigorous standards successfully. The
instructional program is guided by students' assessment results,
understanding the developmental needs of students, and is based on current
research on best practices. All staff collaborate within their grade level and
across grade levels in the implementation of their standards-based program.
The staff at Strawberry truly meets the definition of a "Professional
Learning Community."

13

Student Programs and Services

Strawberry School students have the opportunity to participate in a myriad of curricular and
extra-curricular activities including:

Student Council

Peer mediation

Library club,

County Spelling Bee

National Geographic Geography Bee

Noontime intramural soccer, baseball and softball

Interscholastic 4-6 basketball leagues for boys and girls

Girls on the Run

Band and chorus

Flag and shield teams for the Santa Rosa Rose Parade

Chess Club

GATE classes (Spanish, Video Yearbook, Lego Robotics, Science, Art)

Drama and other enrichment classes provided by the City of Santa Rosa Recreation
and Parks Department

Lunch Bunch for students wanting an alternative place to play during lunch

Before and after school care provided on campus by the YMCA

14

Every student participates in the following programs:

Twelve weekly lessons, conducted by a professional artist, in art history, art


appreciation, and hands-on art processes

Ten dance instruction sessions

Three or four art lessons conducted by volunteer Art Docents

Weekly library program

Weekly technology lessons which often link to lessons in the other subjects

Support for struggling students is provided several ways: differentiation within the classroom,
leveling instruction across a grade, and with targeted instruction and additional help from the
paraprofessionals as part of Response to Intervention (RTI). Teachers occasionally tutor students
during lunch or after school. The school counselor has a weekly lunch period where students can
talk and play in a facilitated environment. Study Hall is held daily during lunch for students who
need to catch up on work

15

Parent & Community Involvement


Parental involvement is a hallmark of the district. Many parents volunteer in classrooms, the library,
and in after school programs, deliver art docent lessons, chaperone field trips, and serve on various
advisory committees:
-

All of the members of the Board of Trustees are parents of students or former students
in the district.

The School Site Council is comprised of parents, faculty, staff, and principals from
both schools.

The English Language Advisory Council (ELAC) is comprised of parents of students in


our program for English Learners who meet to review the program, master plan,
budget, and student performance and progress of English Learners

Parents of Gifted and Talented children may join the GATE Advisory Committee

Parents of Title 1 and Special Ed. students meet annually to review these programs

The non-profit organization, Bennett Valley Alliance of Parents and Teachers (APT), raises
needed funds to provide assemblies, field trips, library books, instructional materials and support
for reading, PE, and computer technology. APT organizes community events including the
Walkathon, Gingerbread House Night, Holiday Boutique, Sock Hop, Kindergarten Picnic and
Family Fun nights. The Bennett Valley Education Foundation (BVEF) is a private, non-profit
corporation that generates revenue to support art and music at the two schools in the district
while the Eagles Music Boosters raise funds to offset the cost of band and chorus at Strawberry.

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Curriculum & Instruction

The curriculum at Strawberry is comprehensive and integrated across disciplines to allow


students to apply and reinforce their learning throughout and increase their levels of
comprehension. The academic program is rigorous, standards-based in language arts,
mathematics, science, history/social studies, physical education, visual and performing arts, and
technology. Teachers utilize a variety of teaching strategies including explicit direct instruction,
guided group and individual practice, experiential, hands-on learning activities, simulations,
individual, partner, and group work, and multiple intelligences. Joan Boyce observed mostly
teacher talk when she visited. This got me thinking about my practices and what I would look for
in classrooms as an instructional leader. Certainly, teacher talk is necessary for direct instruction
and giving directions, but I would want to visit classrooms frequently enough to see if students
are engaged in many different ways. She also noted that during class students seem comfortable
taking risks and sharing out. They were on task and engaged.

Teachers analyze student data using multiple measures of performance and place most students
across the grade level in ability groups for math instruction and in flexible ability groups for
reading support. Instruction in science, social studies, spelling, grammar, and writing is done by
the homeroom teacher, except for the few students who receive all their academic instruction in
the Special Ed. classroom.

The process of adopting materials has been inconsistent. In some years, different programs were
investigated and piloted before adopting. In other years, decisions were made fairly hastily based

17

on the recommendations of a few people who had neither researched nor tried out the programs,
or based upon what a neighboring district was doing. Two such adoptions turned out to be big
failures. A math committee is providing some guidance for supplementing math instruction for
the Common Core. In all subjects, teachers often supplement and/or customize core curriculum
to best serve the needs of their students.

English Language Arts:


A variety of materials are used for instruction in English language arts. Fourth and fifth grades
use materials from the same publishers; sixth grade has different programs than the other grades
for reading, spelling, and grammar.
-

Macmillian-McGraw Hill California Treasures for 4th and 5th grades.

Glencoe California Literature Treasures is used for reading in 6th grade.

Glencoe Language Arts is used for grammar instruction in 6th grade.

All grades include other non-fiction literature and novel studies in their reading programs.

All grades use Writing by Design as the main part of the writing program, supplementing
with journal writing, poetry, creative writing, and writing in other parts of the curriculum.

Sixth grade uses SRA Spelling Mastery as their spelling program.

DNealian handwriting is taught in grades 4 & 5

Six Minute Solution and Read Naturally for reading fluency

All grades also use Accelerated Reader

18

Math
Saxon California Math is the officially adopted math program, though some classes are using
Scott Foresman Envision (also state-approved) to supplement, or in place of, Saxon. As our focus
this year is on transitioning to the Common Core State Standards, teachers are incorporating
additional resources, such as MARS tasks and problem solving from Marcy Cook, Curriculum
Associates and Lane County.

Science
Fourth and fifth grades use Scott Foresman Science; sixth grade uses a different program because
the Scott Foresmen program is only K-5. Sixth grade uses Houghton-Mifflin California Science
supplemented by some FOSS Science hands-on activities. Glencoe/McGraw-Hill Health Series
is used: Healthy You in 4th and 5th grades; Teen Health, in 6th grade.

Social Studies
Fourth and fifth grades use Scott Foresman Social Studies, but like science, it is only K-5. Sixth
grade uses Harcourt Reflections: Ancient Civilizations as well as many activities from Teachers
Curriculum Institute.

Physical Education
The outstanding P.E. program incorporates Spark Fitness Physical Education units and customdeveloped units. The program focuses on physical fitness in the areas of strength, agility,
flexibility, and stamina, as well as skill development in a variety of activities and good
sportsmanship.

19

Technology
Students have one 50-minute period each week in the Computer Lab. There has not been a
formal curriculum; generally they work on projects from their homeroom classes, work on
keyboarding skills, and get lessons on the technology standards. While some of the lessons have
been good, others have been misguided and piecemeal. Attempts to develop the technology
curriculum are slowly making progress.

Visual Arts and Performing Arts


We are very fortunate to be able to offer a rich program in the arts. Visiting professional artists
provide lessons in various visual art media, art history, and dance. Trained parent volunteers
conduct a series of curriculum-integrated Art Docent lessons. Band and Chorus programs are
offered before school at Strawberry School.

20

Budget/Funding

The District has one consolidated budget for both schools; each principal has a fund to use at
their discretion. The superintendent and business manager handle most of the financial details,
though principals and the bargaining units are consulted with during the annual budgeting
process.

Bennett Valley School District is one of the lowest funded districts in the. The District has
managed to stay fiscally sound despite deficit spending during the past few years, as it had
accrued sizeable reserves. The reserves are dwindling, so there is much concern about how
programs will continue to be funded, since the demographics of the student population does not
qualify the District to receive many supplemental funds under the new Local Control Funding
Formula. Though the District expects an increase of about $115,850 over 2012-2013 actual
revenue, it remains underfunded. At this time, there is a projected $250,947 deficit between
revenue and expenditures.

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Table III: 2013-2014 Projected Budget


Revenue (all sources)
Using Local Control Funding Formula
Expenditures
Certificated salaries
Classified salaries
Employee benefits
Books and supplies
Services & operating expenses
Other (including excess cost over revenue for
transporation, behaviorist, non public agency
cost)
Total Expenditures

7,157,956

3,488,967
1.234,419
1,229,625
342,966
983,415
137,344
7,416,736

In addition to state and federal funding, a general obligation bond measure was passed in 2010
for construction and renovation, primarily at the other school site.

The District will receive another $200,000 one-time only for 21st Century Common Core
implementation, which will be spent on technology, professional development, and materials.

Table IV: 21st Century Common Core Grant


Expected funding

200,000

Network upgrades
Computers for Smarter Balanced Assessments
Classroom projectors
Professional development
Materials

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30,211
36,288
2,500
70,000
60,000

School Staff

The teaching staff consists of five teachers at each of the three grade levels and two Special
Education teachers. We also have a full time Title 1/ELD paraprofessional, two part-time general
education instructional assistants (1 hour/day each), a Computer Technology paraprofessional,
Library Specialist, and three Special Education instructional assistants. There is a handful of
part-time classified staff for yard supervision, lunch service, photocopying/materials preparation,
one full-time and one part-time custodian, and the school office manager (full time). The District
school counselor, school nurse, psychologist, and speech therapist are on site 1 -2 days each
week. Other than the principal, one teacher, the custodians, and 1 part-time yard supervisor, all
the staff are female; all of the staff are white, except the custodian and one instructional assistant.
Teachers often dress somewhat casually, while still professional in appearance and appropriate
for the work they are doing. Some of the women wear dresses or skirts occasionally, but most
usually wear slacks and a shirt or sweater. The male principal always wears a tie and jacket.

After her walk through Strawberry, Joan Boyce wrote that the staff was calm, quiet and
respectful with students. There seems to be a genuine mutual respect. Teachers are smiling and
interested in what kids have to say. They stop and listen and respond to students.

Staff members are very friendly and professional though they usually have too much to attend to
during the day to socialize. Only a few teachers have lunch together regularly in the staff lounge
or outside. Many work through their lunch and take only a short bathroom break in the morning.
As my class partner observed, teachers are very busy; most of the interaction outside of formal

23

meetings is on the go. Conversation is usually centered on students or instruction and most often
with other teachers at the same grade level. However, all the staff members take genuine interest
in and are very supportive of one another. Several staff members had serious health problems last
year. When there is a need, most everyone is quick to pitch in, as was the case when the principal
and his family suffered a tragedy last year. Since then, family needs have significantly affected
his availability (he is often not on campus) and follow through on things. As time goes by, there
is an increasing level of frustration. I think it would be good for him to openly communicate to
the staff what changes in his availability and priorities are now necessary. I think if I were in a
similar situation, Id want to ask the staff what they need most from me and discuss what can be
delegated or let go. Instead, everyone is carrying on as business-as-usual, only it is not usual. Out
of respect for him and sympathy for his situation, the staff is hesitant to say anything to him;
issues that would normally be brought out in the open have become non-discussables.

Another non-discussable involves the Title I/ELD paraprofessional. She is a long-time


employee at the school, sort of royalty. She does many nice things for the staff, supplying
candy and food in the staff room and decorating for holidays. She does a good job of explaining
things to students to help build schema and makes her students feel special by providing many
little treats and gifts. However, her program lacks rigor. Students are successful with what she
spoon feeds them, but they are not pushed or held accountable for doing anything on their
own.
However, one simply does not question or criticize what this venerated person is doing or
suggest anything different. Im not totally sure why. I think some of it has to do with her

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closeness with the most tenured and formidable staff member at the school - recently retired - or,
perhaps for fear shell stop bringing candy.
The office manager is very competent, but can be rather cold and uninviting. Several teachers
have complained about her being moody and not helpful at times. Since she is the first person a
visitor encounters when they come to the school, this is a concern.

Teachers are very committed to providing high-quality, challenging instruction that will prepare
our students to be lifelong learners and enable them to be successful in school and beyond. To
this end, many spend countless hours when they are off duty researching best practices in
teaching, creating lessons, and communicating with the families of their students. Teachers at the
same grade level freely share ideas and resources and consult with one another when they have
questions or problems. The grade level teams work independently of each other; there is little
cross-grade level collaboration on curriculum or instruction. Most teachers take on additional
duties: student council, noon league sports, geography bee, spelling bee, sunshine, etc. The
distribution of the extra duties has been a frequent topic of discussion. Some teachers take on
much more than others; several are involved in leadership roles for the school and/or district. The
District and teachers union are looking at a fair way of distributing and/or compensating for
extra duties.

There has been little budget for outside professional development. Teachers new to the teaching
profession participate in BTSA, along with an experienced teacher as support provider. Teachers
who are not new to the profession, but are new to the school or the grade level, are assigned a

25

mentor at their grade level. Some teachers go to summer or weekend workshops on their own
time and dollar in order to improve their practice.

The District has two or three professional development days for all teaching staff each year.
These are usually held before the start of school in the fall or after school gets out for the
summer. To pave the way for Common Core State Standards and teaching in the 21st century, a
team of teachers from the different grade levels at both district schools attended a weeklong
institute during the summer and are attending various workshops periodically. It will be their job
to determine how to best pass what they learn on to the rest of the teaching staff.

Another team of teachers with principals from both schools developed a new process for
evaluating teachers. Instead of the traditional dog and pony show observations, the new
program has a professional development approach to teacher evaluation. Teachers rank
themselves on a detailed rubric of performance standards, set goals for professional
development, have frequent informal observations by the site administrator, and follow up
conversations. The new process is intended to provide a more meaningful evaluation that would
help teachers continually improve their practice. The new process is being piloted this year;
teachers may opt to participate in the pilot or chose the traditional evaluation. Teachers with over
7 years of successful evaluations may do a project instead of the traditional or pilot evaluation
process.

As stated previously, staff members at Strawberry School are generally friendly and respectful of
one another. There are no major conflicts, though some classified employees have reported not

26

feeling valued by the certificated staff. The teachers claim they consider the classified staff no
less important than the teaching staff; many say they go out of their way to show appreciation to
the classified employees. However, they have high expectations of everyone on the staff, and a
few of the classified employees are not very competent in aspects of their jobs. This constantly
leads to problems the teachers then need to resolve. For years, administration has claimed to be
working with these employees, but teachers are frustrated nothing seems to be improving. It is
especially discouraging to the teaching staff, especially when our sister school has top-notch
folks in the same. Compounding the tension, is the bitterness one classified employee has about
having hours reduced several years ago. She has taken it as a personal insult despite the fact that
everyone took cuts (In fact, teachers voted to take no pay increases and take furlough days
specifically in order to retain classified positions!).

There is an undercurrent of conflict between the Resource Specialist and some of the teachers,
especially at the 6th grade level, that has persisted for several years. It revolves largely around
the belief that students are not being served adequately by Special Ed. Students with IEPS are
being pushed into the general ed. classroom without any support. The rationale is they will not
get that support when they go to middle school next year. However, the general ed. teachers have
30 kids (many of them with 504 plans or Title I students) with no help while there are two
Special Ed teachers with three aides. At times, there are no children in the one Special Ed.
teachers classroom, or if there are students, the aides are working with them while the teacher is
doing paperwork. Other points of contention are IEPs being held without an administrator
present and comments made by the Special Ed. teacher during IEP meetings that reflected poorly
on the general ed. teacher. The friction is greatest between two of the sixth grade teachers and the

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Special Ed. teacher, but it affects the entire grade level. Both sides have complained to
administration, but nothing has been done to help reconcile differences.

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Leadership, Decision Making & Communication

The school site administrator attempts to involve the staff in decisions made at the school. He
publishes a weekly bulletin of events, meetings, and reminders and often will solicit input via
email before making decisions on things such as scheduling. Often committees are formed to do
the work on a project and make recommendations to the staff. Committees are asked to report at
staff meetings, so people are aware of their work. When a committees recommendation is made
or a new procedure established, it is generally supported. Most teachers feel they have a voice in
how the school operates.

The principal works hard to protect the teachers from being overworked (even so, they are!). He
has won the favor of staff members for his resistance to some District requests asking teachers to
carry out various tasks that serve no real purpose at our school. Some decisions are made at the
District level, by the superintendent, principals, and a few selected committee members. While
this works for the most part, sometimes teachers feel the committees do not always represent the
general staff.

The school principal is very cordial and has a wonderful sense of humor. He knows nearly every
student by name. The door to his office is usually open and he has not been known to turn away
anyone wanting to see him. Since his family crisis, though, he is harder to access as he is often
not at school. On most days, he referees a soccer game on the field during both morning recess
and lunch and, on Fridays, recognizes students who have been awarded tokens (Eagle Feathers)
during the week. However, other than that, he is rarely seen outside his office, except when he

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attends meetings. There is a sentiment that he should be out and about on campus more,
especially at dismissal time. The only time he observes in a classroom is when a teacher is being
evaluated.

It is nice that administration gives most staff members lots of autonomy and trusts them to do
their jobs, but in some cases, more direct supervision and coaching is needed. Furthermore, the
principal is very good at dealing with conflict between students, but his style of dealing with
conflict with personnel is mostly accommodation and avoidance. He will listen sympathetically
to the complaining party, but usually do nothing about it. The personnel conflicts mentioned in
the previous section are not likely to resolve on their own; it would probably be beneficial to
bring the parties together and facilitate some resolution.

Union leaders from both sites meet monthly with both principals and the superintendent to voice
any questions or concerns, problem solve, and make non-contractual decisions. Contracts are
negotiated with the District through Interest-Based Bargaining by both certificated and classified
associations. The relationship between the District and Union has historically been good, but
certificated employees at Strawberry are increasingly fed up with being overworked and not
being compensated for all they do.

One concern the Superintendent has is how the Local Control Funding Formula will affect
potential salary increases; she claims districts will not all be getting the same COLA, so there
could be big differences in teacher salaries.

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At the district level, the Superintendent does attempt to involve vested parties in the decision
making process and strives for transparency. As previously noted there are a number of
committees that provide direction and make decisions. However, there are times when decisions
are made somewhat rashly based on the input from just a few vocal individuals. Conflict has
arisen at times when decisions that have been carefully considered and agreed upon by
administration and union leaders have been changed because of these same individuals.

Grade level teams collaborate often to plan curriculum and review student data, but major
change is usually driven from the top. However, several years ago when the school lost so much
of its funding, the superintendent met with all interested staff members to identify priorities and
brainstorm possible options for continuing to operate and deliver high-quality education in such
a crisis. The involvement of staff at all levels made the necessary changes, though still a bitter
pill, easier to swallow.

Most of the communication within the school, other than in person, is done via email. Email is
also the primary means of communicating with parents, though there is also an automated phone
messaging system, and District, school, and classroom websites. Parents can elect to receive the
monthly newsletter electronically or on paper.

The principal holds a monthly staff meeting with certificated staff; he meets separately with
classified staff periodically. A recent survey revealed much dissatisfaction with the agenda for
monthly faculty meetings - mainly announcements and conversation about scheduling. A few
committees report, but most of the reporting is informational only and could be done via email.

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The teachers want more time to discuss curriculum, instruction, and meeting student needs. At
the bottom of every agenda, is a list of meeting norms which have never been discussed or
agreed upon with the staff. They simply appeared on the agenda (but not discussed). Though they
are worthy ideals, there is little to no awareness or buy-in to those norms.

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Synthesis & Reflection

Strawberry School is an excellent school in many ways. The educators are highly skilled and
professional. They are deeply committed to their students and the school. They have high
expectations for student behavior and achievement which result in it being a highly-ranked
school with high student performance and few serious misconduct problems. The curriculum is
rigorous and rich in music and art as well as the core subjects. Opportunities exist for students to
get involved in many different types of activities. The number of students transferring in from
other districts is testament to the reputation and quality of the school.

We are very fortunate to have an active parent community, without whom we would not be able
to offer some of the programs. We are also fortunate that most of the students come from middle
or upper socioeconomic classes, so there are not as many negative external factors affecting
student success in school. Yet, demographics are changing; we need to be more aware of cultural
and ethnic differences. We could do more to promote diversity and find ways to involve those
marginalized families.

School staff take pride in their work and in the school rightly so. There are many things being
done right. Yet, there is definitely room for improvement, especially in making major decisions.
We need to get better at understanding the situation thoroughly, identifying all options, and
evaluating proposed solutions based on evidence. We also need to look at our practices more
often and provide more opportunities for collaboration, especially as we transition to Common
Core and more diverse populations.

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From my observations at Strawberry, I think a school leader needs to spend time outside the
office. He/she needs to observe staff members and students in class, during recess, and before
and after school to better understand what goes on. The principals presence around school
communicates a message to all staff and students that everything that takes place at school and
everyone is important; each person plays a vital role in carrying out our mission. I can see how
easy it would be to get wrapped up in the many other responsibilities and demands thrust upon a
school principal, but think seeing and being seen is essential. Furthermore, how else can a leader
understand what kind of leadership employees need without observing them in the various
situations that occur on a school campus? There are definitely individuals who need more
training, direction and supervision to enable them to learn how to perform their duties
competently. An investment of the principals time here would return fewer problems/complaints
in the long run and develop staff members for greater responsibility.

So much of an educational leaders role revolves around relationships. He/she must build strong,
trusting relationships with the school community and involve invested parties in bringing about
change when change is needed. Without this, a leader may not have followers. Furthermore, a
leader needs to foster positive relationships between other school employees by clearly
communicating expectations, roles and responsibilities, facilitating the development of agreedupon norms, helping to resolve conflict, and modeling positive intent. Long-standing conflict
between certain staff members at Strawberry needs to be addressed. Sometimes a problem will
go away if it is ignored long enough, so it may be wise to give some time for conflicts between
employees to work themselves out, but the few conflicts between personnel are only getting
worse with time. More importantly they affect the quality of the instructional services and school

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experience for our students. Despite some animosity, the parties treat each other with
professional courtesy, so the problems are not very visible outside the staff and easy for
administration to avoid.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the leadership at Strawberry School. Though I have
ideas about some things I might do differently, there are many things in which the school
principal excels and which I know so little about. This assignment helped me see how
challenging the job is and how important it is for an educational leader to get to know his school
and school community inside out. The components set forth to include in this paper can serve as
a guide for me to get to know whatever school setting I may find myself in as an educational
leader.

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