Case Study of a Public School Turnaround
Once the eighth lowest-performing middle school in the state, Cochrane Collegiate Academy reversed course and is swiftly raising student achievement by investing in research-based teaching strategies, enhancing teacher excellence, and fostering strong relationships. Read the article.
Release Date: 11/30/11
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Lessons from a Public School Turnaround (Transcript)
Joshua Bishop: In the 2006, 2007 school year, we were listed as one of the 30 worst performing schools in the state of North Carolina.
Rosalyn Alston: The things that I saw when I got here were children just running up and down the halls, hollering, screaming, just a level of almost mayhem.
Joshua Bishop: A fair amount of them come without any resources at all. Some days our children go home and they may not have a home to go to. Some days our children go home and there may not be food.
Shana Oliver: There was a lotta teacher turnover back then and I think we were in a mentality where it was just about teachers surviving.
Vicente: There used to be bullies. Like the bullies, like make you scared, like you didn't even want to look at them, because they were like, "You have a problem?"
Shana Oliver: Back at that time, it kinda felt like the students were running the school in a sense.
Angela Johnson: I quit my first year here, because it was just so difficult for me.
Shana Oliver: We had a principal that came in, maybe in September, October of the school year. She spent the first couple of months just identifying everything that we needed to change about the school. Number one thing is, we had to look at our staff. If you weren't here for the kids, this wasn't the place for you.
Angela Johnson: The new principal who came in at the time, she called me and she said, 'Miss Johnson, we really need you. We know that you're a phenomenal teacher. Could you please just come back?' And my only request from her was if I come back, something has to be different.
Shana Oliver: Then once we got all of the right people, that's when we began to look at what we were doing in the classroom and why our kids weren't getting it. And we found the root of that to be the way that we were teaching our students.
Teacher in classroom: Once we go over each of these big pieces of the lesson planning process, you need to go back to your plans and adjust. Implement whatever we've learned in the session, correct it, revise it, do whatever that may be.
Shana Oliver: Four teachers from our school went to a training in Atlanta to look at this new instructional model, and that's when we brought in the non-negotiables.
Teacher in classroom: (Here's the) essential question and then we have our key vocabulary. Then we went to essential and hot water thinking questions, which we spent time on.
Joshua Bishop: I think the biggest thing that we've had to focus on here is creating a professional development plan that's consistent. What does research show that really works? And then being consistent in the implementation across multiple years.
Shana Oliver: 'How do you craft questions?' will be one question, and then what?
Shana Oliver: How do we challenge our students?
Teachers, repeating: How do we challenge our students?
Angela Johnson: Now we have collaborative learning where students are on board, and they are participating. And they know what to expect. So there's a huge difference between what it was like four years ago and now.
Student 1: And how like they dress or do something in public. So they're sagging, or something like that? And like the stereotypical ways, like they come from a bad home or they're like around bad people or something like that.
Angela Johnson: Okay, so you answered two questions in one. You talked about the character motivations and then you went into one of the hot Qs, which was generalizations and stereotypes.
Shana Oliver: If I were to give some advice to any teachers, staff, schools that are in our situation or similar, the one thing that I would tell them is, you have to be intentional about building relationships with your students, so that they will want to work and want to be successful. It feels good when you can walk around every classroom and kids are engaged. It's a great thing when students talk about teachers that they have good relationships with.
Labria: I think the teachers here, they are so hands on, and they'll come to you. And I think Miss Johnson cares a lot.
Teacher: What is that?
Student 2: That looks like a cloud.
Labria: Yeah. Do the little ruffle thingies.
Angela Johnson: Maybe you can put layers of those.
Student 3: Okay.
Angela Johnson: Okay, good.
Joshua Bishop: It's all about relationships for us. Having those relationships with our staff, with each other and with our students, that's what works. That's what makes a difference here at Cochrane.
Angela Johnson: The reason why I do what I do is for my students. If I didn't get the results that I got, if I didn't see their faces every day, there would be no point in me being here. The gift that I receive, more so than monetary gifts, is knowing that my students are empowered.
- Zachary Fink
- Mariko Nobori
- Daniel Jarvis
- Doug Keely
- Hervé Cohen
- Zachary Fink
- Brett William Hunter
- Maili Holiman
Video Programming Producer
- Amy Erin Borovoy
- David Markus
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- The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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