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Shamrock Gardens Elementary School: A Blueprint for Educator Innovation

For several years, a primary focus of BEST NC’s student-focused advocacy work has been around the importance of having strong, well-supported educators in every classroom from; pre-K to higher education. Without great educators, anything else we advocate for is unlikely to work. That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation. It is based on the premise that the status quo systems and structures for recruiting and supporting educators are dangerously outdated, and, most importantly, cannot adequately prepare students for a new economy.

Educators, for example, do not receive the same support or compensation enjoyed by highly-skilled professionals in other industries. In fact, we recently released a video highlighting some of these disparities – click here to watch it. By not keeping up with other, highly-skilled professions, our ability to recruit and retain top talent in the education profession is hampered as a result. And yet, there is hope. We know that passionate, effective educators and leaders across North Carolina are already reimagining the educator experience; like the educators at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School.

Nestled in the city of Charlotte, Shamrock Gardens is one of a handful of schools across our state demonstrating how schools can achieve amazing results by prioritizing and professionalizing teaching and leading. In fact, the BEST NC Board and Team was recently extended the privilege to visit this school so that we could better understand how educators utilize many of the core business principles that we believe are critical for empowering great educators and improving student success.

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We initially found Shamrock Gardens as a result of their impressive and steady academic improvements. The school has been led by Principal Sarah Reeves for three years. In her first two years, Shamrock Gardens moved from a D to a C school letter grade. And last year, with rigorous leadership from the principal, every single one of the teachers at the school met or exceeded growth.

Put another way, not one student at Shamrock Gardens has a low-performing teacher. And this has made an unbelievable difference in student performance. Over the past three years, proficiency at Shamrock Gardens has increased by 15 points – from 42% to 57% – an achievement reached by fewer than 5% of schools in North Carolina during the same time period.

Picture1The key to Shamrock Gardens’ remarkable success is not based on just one thing – there really is no silver bullet in education. They clearly have a great school leader, which is paramount for any organizational transformation. And teachers respect their students – or “scholars”, as they have been dubbed. However, the rest of their recipe for success revolves around sound design principles that private sector employers strive for every day: supporting developing employees, creating clear career paths for leaders, and adapting their delivery of services based on data to meet ever-changing needs.

First Things First: Great Leadership.

As with any successful organization, leadership at Shamrock Gardens is not left to chance. As a successful teacher, Sarah Reeves was recruited to become a principal and received leadership training that included an intensive residency program. She continues to get on-going support from her school district through a program called Success by Design. This program empowers school leaders to design personnel systems that best meet the needs of their students and the skills of their staff.

Support for Beginning and Developing Teachers.

At Shamrock Gardens, beginning teachers are given intensive daily support. In most schools, new or developing teachers get little support, sharing their principal with an average of 50 other direct reports in a flat organizational structure. What we saw at Shamrock Gardens was very different – with six teacher leaders in a tiered organizational structure, working daily in classrooms to provide teachers and students with direct support and guidance.

As a result of this distributed leadership model, teachers at all levels are constantly receiving useful feedback. In fact, I am not sure I have never heard the word “feedback” used as frequently – or as positively – in any work environment; let alone in education.  Just like any professional would want and deserve, the teachers at Shamrock Gardens are given the autonomy, respect, and support they need from an inspiring, well-prepared teacher leader.

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Professional Pathways for Teachers.

And leadership roles abound! Beginning teachers receive great support because they have teacher leaders to support them. Advanced teachers are able to take on more challenging roles that ensure their maximum impact for student success. There are actually five types of advanced roles in the Success by Design program: Reach Team Teacher (RTT), Senior Reach Teacher (SRT), Master Reach Teacher (MRT), Multi-Classroom Leader 1 (MCL1) & Multi-Classroom Leader 2 (MCL2.). The principal works with the district to reallocate resources in order to pay these lead teachers differently, based on their individual talents and contributions, while staying within the normally allotted school budget. The results are that teacher leaders can earn anywhere from $9,800 to $20,000 in additional income.

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Because it’s time to challenge the status quo of the education profession. It’s time to listen. It’s time to learn.

It’s time.

 
 
Brenda Berg

Brenda Berg is the president & CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina). She has over twenty years of experience as a business owner and public policy professional. Her two children attend public schools.

Photo by Raleigh portrait photographer Christer Berg.