Monday, January 20, 2020

How an Award-Winning Teacher Turned Principal Transformed Bennett Elementary

I like to see news about Bennett Elementary out there and especially if it's good news. This time about the current principal of Bennett School from March 2019:
Today Principal Teresa Huggins takes pride in her successful turnaround of Roseland’s Bennett Elementary. Since she took the helm in 2013, Bennett has transformed from a school on probation to a school at the top of the district’s accountability ratings. It’s one of 22 neighborhood elementary schools on the South and West sides of Chicago where students are showing high growth on the NWEA MAP test.
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Huggins’ role in Bennett’s turnaround sounds similar to successful turnaround stories I’ve heard from other principals over the years. When she arrived, she made a point of observing without trying to make big changes right away. “When you come in and try changing everything at once, you rub people the wrong way,” she observed. But once she had the lay of the land, she was unafraid to push for improvement. She insisted on basics like grade-level meetings, teachers showing up on time and taking a hard look at what test score data said about how well students were learning. To increase student engagement, she coupled a behavior reward system with a requirement that teachers schedule quarterly field trips to give students wider experiences beyond the classroom.

To no one’s surprise, teachers pushed back. When Huggins put up data charts by classroom and named the teachers, she received emails complaining, “You cannot call us out.” She emailed the entire staff, reminding them that since they work for the public they must answer to the public. “I didn’t get any more complaints after that,” she said.

Teachers started bringing student work to grade level meetings. Huggins encouraged them to ask themselves questions straight from the National Board playbook: What is the student’s level of understanding? How do you know? What are your next steps as a teacher? Huggins also worked to improve teaching and learning for the 15 percent of Bennett’s students in special education, pushing for greater inclusion and revising IEPs. In her second year as principal, their growth led all the schools in Bennett’s network.

When teachers stepped up their game, Bennett rewarded their efforts with special events, like dinner at a restaurant for the entire faculty on her during staff appreciation week. These days, teachers have built a stronger culture, with a social committee that celebrates birthdays and more teachers staying late after school to plan and prepare. “Sometimes I have to put them out,” she joked.
If I may offer some commentary, elementary school I think is too soon for students to think about being college bound....