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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Systems and Budgeting: At YES Prep, Money + Time = Great Teachers

The Houston charter school arranges its schedule and resources to constantly improve teaching.
By Grace Rubenstein

Administrators at Houston's YES Prep North Central organize around a clear educational strategy -- invest in teachers, and help them to have strong relationships with their students. Budget and structure are dedicated to the priorities of teacher quality and the enrichment of student-teacher relationships; they are the motivating principles of management at YES.

"We put all our resources into the teachers and students," says operations manager Michael Olson. "As for facilities, if the lights go on and we stay dry, that's fine."

The North Central budget emphasizes teacher salaries, college counseling, and student trips (supported by fundraising) for team-building and college visits. The school has two computer labs (also supported in part by grants), but not many other bells and whistles in plain sight. Students at North Central can take basic art electives and participate in standard after-school sports, but the school doesn't intend to excel at those things. As basketball coach, teacher, and high school principal Bryan Reed says, "We’re not going to be the YES answer to Duke on the basketball court anytime soon."

"It would be nice if the kids could have all the things a St. John's kid has, but that's the tradeoff," says YES Prep founder Chris Barbic, referring to a private K–12 school in Houston. He adds, "You’ve got to have a great teacher in every classroom. The rest of the stuff -- computers and things -- that's all dandy. But if you don't have a great teacher in the classroom, it doesn't really matter. So from the beginning, that was the focus."

The schedule, meanwhile, builds in time for teachers to meet and collaborate, and for teachers to develop relationships with students. Teachers meet weekly in grade-level teams and set aside one afternoon a week, when the students do activities and extra studying, for all-staff professional development. The extended school day -- which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. -- includes a weekly advisory period of 50 minutes that is divided between focused discussion and socializing over a meal. The advisory groups become tightly knit teams that provide support for both academic and personal challenges.

"YES was founded by teachers," says Barbic. "I'm a teacher. We're all teachers. And we wanted to create an organization that was going to be a good place for teachers to work, where teachers can have a voice in how the school is run, where every decision is made in the interest of what's going to be great for kids and teachers."

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.


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