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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Turning a Program Improvement School Around: An Honest Look at What Is Needed

I am the principal of Fairview Elementary School, in Modesto, California, which has been designated a Program Improvement School. For those of you who may not know, PI is a formal designation for Title I-funded schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years. During each year a school is designated as a PI school, it must implement required services and/or interventions.

Recently, my WestEd program-improvement consultant asked me if I knew why Fairview is a PI school. What a hard question. I had never been asked this question. Who was to blame -- the school district, the teachers, the parents, the students, me, No Child Left Behind? At one point, I even considered whether my commitment to my school being a First Amendment School had prevented students from becoming proficient readers yet had kept Fairview from the stigma of being designated a low-performing school.

I responded with a story: This summer, during the Tour de France, Floyd Landis demonstrated in stage 15 what we lack. My staff and I lack a personal burning passion for winning. This passion exists in each one of us, but collectively we don't have a winning team spirit. I learned from Landis's bike coach that his team pushed for forty miles to tire out the other cyclists, and then Floyd sprinted thirty-plus miles alone to the finish line. We need that type of teamwork and that kind of inner personal commitment in order to have a winning school.

Over the next couple weeks, I'll share some of the things we're doing in order to remove our PI designation. Will the various intervention activities the program requires cause us to put aside the teaching and practices of the First Amendment Schools project? No, it won't.

I know from daily contact with students, teachers, and parents that a school without a clear purpose is meaningless. Being a First Amendment School has made the school community more focused, has improved our relationship with parents and the broader community, and has given me focus as a principal. I come to work each day knowing that I am graduating the future leaders of California's Central Valley.

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