Strong Principals Use Common Practices
Calling his approach “old school,” a Silver Consolidated Schools official said classroom engagement and data-driven accountability helped the struggling Harrison Schmitt Elementary School improve student performance.
The comments from Gus Benakis, a former Harrison Schmitt principal, echo testimony from other successful principals who have spoken to the committee.
About two-thirds of the students at Harrison Schmitt are economically disadvantaged, a strong predictor of whether a student is at risk of failure, but 73 percent are proficient in reading and 72 percent are proficient in math, much higher than state averages. In 2005, 62 percent were proficient in reading and 32 percent in math.
Benakis, now an associate superintendent in the district, told the committee at its May meeting that he made interacting with parents, children and teachers a high priority. He frequently visited classrooms to observe and teachers knew he might stop in at any time. High visibility in the classroom, he said, breeds consistency and accountability.
Teachers were required to provide parents with weekly progress reports and welcome the children every day so the students would feel the staff was happy to see them.
Teachers were also pushed to collaborate and follow their students after promotion, a step that encouraged teachers to do their best because they knew the student was moving on to a colleague.
Benakis said he used charts and data for greater accountability to get teachers to buy into student success.
In addition, he said the school community tried to remove the stigma of retention. Although a small school, about a dozen students were held back every year in kindergarten and first grade, when it is easier to identify deficiencies and before the deficiency becomes a serious problem.
Linda Paul of the New Mexico School Leadership Institute said the institute’s professional development program focuses on teaching school leaders to use data effectively, observe teachers and classrooms comprehensively, implement common core standards.