April 17, 2010
I’m trying to imagine the climate at Oakridge Elementary School last week, based on my friend Alice’s description:
I arrived at my school Monday to a site abuzz. Coworkers had heard from teachers at other school sites in the district sharing that on Friday, they had received an email that was going out to “a select group of teachers” in our district, offering them the chance to work in high needs schools. Recipients were directed to a site for the Talent Transfer Initiative, a project from the Department of Education ARRA (stimulus) funding. More information about the background of the program can be found on the site for Mathematica, who will be evaluating this project. Although “priority schools” are not mentioned in the email, it’s pretty clear that in the district, my school in particular (being identified by the state as bottom performing) and the other five priority schools are the “target” school or schools for the program.”
It was only last month that the greater Sacramento area was treated to the SacBee’s front page feature story on the possible closing of Oakridge (which I blogged about here.) I work in the next district heading south down Hwy 99. Oakridge is situated in south Sacramento. The northern part of my district is also in south Sac. Not surprisingly, there is a good bit of flow through traffic in our transient Title 1 populations, with students starting the year in Sac City USD and then transferring into Elk Grove USD and visa versa. Therefore, ‘those students’ can potentially become our students.
If you continue down Hwy 99, past the off ramp for Oakridge, and take the Florin exit, as I did last Tuesday, and head over to David Reese Elementary School, you will find a more promising environment for teaching and learning – despite that fact that Reese is also in Program Improvement. The school has had a series of administrative changes, but I’ve heard more than a few teachers refer to their current principal as “a gift.” And how many school websites feature their administrators and office staff dancing in chicken suits?!
My first stop at Reese was Mr. Alfonso’s 5th grade classroom. I joined SECC cameraman Doug Niva as he interviewed a number of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers about their SEVA film entries. Hearing students share what they were learning from movie making (e.g., storyboarding, script writing, camera shots and angles, teamwork) made me wish all Title 1 students had access to project-based learning as part the school day – even during the month of April, which is often referred to as “the cruelest month of all” in terms of drill ‘n kill at Title 1 schools.
Mr. Alfonso was not in the classroom during the interviews. An off-track 5th grade teacher was covering his classroom (working with students on a vocabulary building exercise) while Mr. Alfonso and a film team were somewhere else on campus working on a film production – with a Friday deadline. When the crew returned to the room, I was treated to a preview of The Secret to the CST, a production that would be shown during a Friday assembly to remind students about testing strategies. Hmmm…students consuming AND producing tips on test taking…
Thursday I was back at Reese, this time to join Teresa Cheung’s 4th grade students for an interview with earthquake relief worker Leisa Faulkner who had just returned from her latest visit to Haiti. Thanks to two of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers, the interview was recorded.
Next week, I’ll be back at Reese to help Ms. Cheung’s students decide which medium (podcasting, movie making, blogging) would be the best tool for taking Miss Leisa’s interview beyond the walls of the classroom and for honoring her request “to not forget Haiti.”
Will the Reese students achieve higher CST scores than the Oakridge students? I don’t know. No matter how demoralized the Oakridge staff is, I know Alice and many of her colleagues will continue to work well past contract hours in their race to level the playing field of grinding poverty from the surrounding community – as will the Reese staff. Come September, CST scores will be published. But if I were to place a bet…
Two Title 1 schools, both in PI, only a few off-ramps apart, but while one site is being taken apart from without, the other is rebuilding from within….
Sorry, Alice, but based on the apparent total lack of support coming your way from the “higher ups,” I’m betting on Reese.