Houston A+ Mathematics Coach Jen Mascheck sat down with Monique following the recent ranking announcements for Texas public schools.
Jen Mascheck (JM): It seems like just yesterday we were together discussing how much we both wanted to see the campus improve and hit goals sooner rather than later. I remember meeting with you shortly after you took the position and I could see the excitement in your eyes. Now, I still see excitement to take it to the next level. Today I want to hear about your first steps in Galveston and what’s next for you and the team. So let’s jump into the questions everyone is waiting to be answered.
Let’s start at the beginning. Can you give us some background context to the school’s story and your decision to join Galveston ISD in 2017?
Monique Lewis (ML): The opportunity to lead a six years Improvement Required School played a big part in my decision to join the team in Galveston ISD. The building was home to two schools in one: 5th-6th grade was called Weis and 7th-8th grade was called Central. Two separate principals ran the schools within the same building, carrying their own mission, vision, goals, and ways of thinking. Both schools had been failing since 2011.
In 2017, Central inched its way out of IR. Weis did not make it out. Galveston ISD was grateful for Central’s success. However, they knew there was more that could be accomplished. It was evident to them that the student and school community deserved a great school.
Academic struggles were not the only concern. Systemically, the school and its community were disjointed. What stood strong was the school’s history! Many graduates of this former higher school were passionate about its success and would do anything to see it thriving again.
I presented a plan to bring in a turn-around team, submitted it to the Superintendent and Board of Directors. The team consisted of a math specialist, literacy specialist, data/technology director, marketing & communication director, social studies specialist, two assistant principals and a principal. They agreed this would be an aggressive approach to impacting the community in a big way and getting Central on the path to Academic Recognition. Fast forward 11 months later. Central received 5 distinctions under the state’s new accountability system, moving the school from a D to a B.
JM: Tell us some of the contributing factors to your success here at Central Media Arts Academy.
ML: Lots of celebrations and appreciation. Weekly communication to create inclusion and collaboration. Over-communication. Authenticity. High expectations. One-on-ones with teachers and staff, and with student leaders twice a year. Revolving door of resources that are effective for departments. Continuing teacher education and coaching with Houston A+ Challenge. High energy! Making accomplishments public.
JM: Where did you find the most resistance? Is the challenge still present? If not, how was it resolved?
ML: Parents were the most resistant. The challenge is still present, but not nearly to the degree it was last year this time.
JM: What shift or shifts in school culture were necessary?
ML: Requiring teachers and students to be in attendance daily, to arrive to campus on time. Building a culture/climate of high expectations for teachers and students. The culture and climate should breed respect, collaboration, teamwork and focus on high quality instruction delivered daily.
Lesson cycles enforced in all classrooms. Lesson plans due weekly. Teachers must teach and not show movies. Teachers can’t leave students unattended. Dress code for teachers and students. Teachers must be at their classroom doors during transitions and on duty after school. Students not allowed to hang out on campus after school.
JM: Any shifts in culture with parents or community?
ML: None to brag on. This is a work in progress. Just like attendance in middle school, parents and community mind set shifts are tough and take time to build trust. Parents not allowed to curse/disrespect teachers or staff. Parents and community members not being allowed to walk around the building.
JM: What instructional practices contributed to your overwhelming successful student growth in the classroom this year?
ML: A change to the master schedule allowing teachers to plan within content was a huge shift to instructional planning. Standardizing the lesson cycle. Standardizing lesson plans. To narrow focus on instruction and maximize the time – required a timer to pace all parts of the lesson cycle. Practicing lessons before going live. Feedback on practice: coaching with Houston A+ Challenge and our leadership team. Requiring students respond to questions in complete sentences. Requiring students to engage notes before responding. More collaboration/structured conversations about the objectives. Infused technology. Engagement versus passive compliance. Over-communicate with parents.
JM: How did the community support your improvement? Was there an impact from parent support?
ML: [We had] less than one percent parental support. Community support was present. However, I don’t have a true measure of how much it helped us meet our goals. My support came more from one or two board members and some members in Central Offices’ Support Center.
JM: I know you are always learning. Tell me about the development of you and your team. What are you reading?
ML: My team and I are currently reading Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves by Diane Sweeney and Leanna S. Harris. We are moving our practice to a place beyond excellence. We are focusing on refining our feedback to teachers to develop them faster and move students to mastery quicker, on improving our approach to coaching teachers to push students in the areas of thinking and problem solving, on ensuring literacy is laced throughout all contents with fidelity: clear succinct plans and provide feedback on those plans. On training teachers throughout the year in improving and sustaining classroom routines, procedures and systems. More infusion of technology in every classroom. Monitoring the way teachers are utilizing exit ticket data.
JM: What advice would you give to other principals in a similar situation?
ML: Set the master schedule up to reflect the direction of the campus (academic aggression). Set up time to plan and develop teachers and keep that time sacred. Recruit and/or build a strong team with professionals who are experts in their content. [Work on] building a culture/climate of high expectations for teachers and students. The culture and climate should breed respect, collaboration, and team work and focus on high quality instruction delivered daily.
Focus on showing love and appreciation to teachers and staff who are performing and going beyond the call. Be creative and fun with finding ways to praise students for academic performance and self-control. Build friendly and fun competitions between departments or grade levels. Build partnerships like with Houston A+ to help with planning, coaching and assessments. Plan by content – allows for vertical planning. Require all teachers to practice lessons before going live.
JM: What are the next moves for Central and your team?
ML: Our next steps include building a formerly low performance school into a dynamic comprehensive middle school. This includes AP classes, additional high school credit courses, project-based and community-based learning. More fine arts. Dynamic sports programs. Student leader programs. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Effective teacher-student Data Conferences.
JM: Monique, thank you so much for your time. I’m sure your head is spinning from all the questions, but I feel like we have only scratched the surface. Hopefully, your words will jump off the page and speak to principals and teams attempting to break the cycle of Improvement Required and move toward their own distinctions. I look forward to following up with your success this year. See you around the schoolhouse!