The principal’s perspective

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Why did you select SAS?

When Dr. Sizemore returned to Chicago three years ago, our students were already improving scholastically. This was partially because, as a CANAL Project school, we had been trained in site-based decision making, developing leadership teams, designing curricula and instruction, parental involvement and staff development. After hearing Dr. Sizemore describe SAS, we decided we could improve the way we delivered instruction to our students. SAS didn’t call for a lot of special materials. Instead, it identified basic processes that must be in place for a school to improve student performance.

What are you doing differently?

I spend between 70 and 90 percent of my school day monitoring classroom instruction. Before SAS, it was less than 50 percent. I have many more conferences with teachers regarding what I expect of them during the current school year based on students’ previous-year performances.

What are teachers doing differently?

We view reading and mathematics as the school’s most important subjects. For example, music and art teachers devise methods of teaching their subject in such a way that it reinforces the importance of reading and mathematics. All of our teachers compile statistical profiles of each student’s progress and make adjustments necessary to assure success.

What are children doing differently?

We discuss our daily objectives with students so that they know what they’re supposed to be learning that day and what activities will help them. They won’t sit all day doing worksheets with pens and pencils in hand. We encourage dialogue, rather than lecturing, because it helps students become more responsible for their learning.

What is the faculty doing less of?

Teachers do much less lecturing and less pencil-and-paper testing, spend less time at their desks and more time circulating among the students, who are grouped by skill levels. These groupings are flexible, since students may be very expert in one area but not in another. Similarly, a student currently doing poorly may get a few key concepts under his or her belt and suddenly zoom ahead of others. We want them to move as quickly as they’re able. It would be a lot easier to teach the same thing on the same page at the same rate, but you just wouldn’t get the same results as you do when you divide students into groups according to their skills.

What are students doing less of?

Students depend less on teachers for their learning, less on the paper-and-pencil-sit-at-your-desk-and-write-all-day kinds of activities.

What are children doing more of?

SAS is data driven and very focused. Our students learn skills that are going to be on the ITBS and IGAP [tests], and we make sure that they cover all of those skills. Students score well on tests only because they’re test-wise, so SAS helps them become test-wise.

What’s the essence of why SAS has helped here?

We don’t stick with teaching skills only. Our program is holistic, the best of all worlds. We have direct instruction for phonics. We have the Paideia program to develop analytical skill. We’re very literature-based with the Houghton Mifflin Reading Series, which is a whole language basal for all the grades. Our teachers are taught to teach skills as they arise in their subject areas. For instance, one of the skills might be finding the “main idea.” You can find the main idea in every subject.

Other voices

Barbara Wade, 1st-grade teacher: “I spend half of my day with Direct Instruction.” In phonics drills, she sends students to the blackboard to practice writing and spelling, and to hear phonetic sounds.

Althea Brown, teacher assistant: “SAS is working. The children are very attentive. When I started here five years ago, school statistics were shared only by the principal and teachers. Now, because students are part of the monitoring, they’re able to see their progress. That encourages them to do better. Our phonics program helps their reading.

“When discipline is necessary, I talk to kids firmly. You have to let them know in the beginning what you will and will not accept. They used to call me mean Miss Brown, but now they see that when I’m telling them something it’s for their benefit. You have to talk to them, not at them.

Lee Daniel, 13, whose goal is to be an architectural engineer: “I think SAS is a good technique. When the teacher teaches us, you understand better.”

Melberniece Devers, 13, who wants to become a school teacher: “I like my classes fine. The phonics we have helps to improve our speech. We have fantastic teachers.”