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What is it like being designated as a low performing school?

I am currently the principal of what our state of North Carolina deems as a “low performing school.” Based on our EOG proficiency and value added analysis, we are an “F” school that showed no growth last year.

When I began at my school on July 1, 2015, I knew the situation. My superintendent was very clear with me about what I was “getting into” as some folks would word it. Then we received the official designation in September as part of new state policy. We are still in the process of figuring out the in’s and out’s of being a low performing school and it is now almost February.

We are halfway through the school year, and all I’ve seen from this designation is additional paperwork and demoralized teachers and staff.

I must admit, I am so disappointed in how the low performing schools are being “supported” as low performing schools. I know that some of these requirements are from NCDPI and not necessarily from the State Board of Education. As the “new kid” at the school, I’ve asked myself many times, “Why are we a low performing school?”

Concord Middle has had 4 principals in 5 years. It has never performed GREAT in those last 5 years, and has traditionally had low proficiency. We serve a community that has the lowest of the low (for our area) and students that are not able to get home reinforcement of school learning. We are not Title 1 as we only have 73 percent free and reduced lunch. We are 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 black, and 1/3 white.

Our kids are amazing.

They have so much to offer the world, and they just need a school that will allow them to reveal that potential. With all the leadership transition, what does one expect when they have had four different hiring expectations in five years? I often feel like our staff has PTSD from all the change. There is so much emotion in our school surrounding change because it has been so constant for those that have chosen to stick around for whatever reason.

Becoming a low performing school does not happen in one year. It’s a process.

We will be having a meeting in mid-Feb with the NCDPI transformation team to learn of additional “support” for our school. But I honestly have low expectations for that meeting. Thus far, our additional requirements as a LPS have been simply to re-vamp our SIP and submit it to NCDPI and now additional evaluation requirements. Neither of these requirements will improve student achievement at our school.

I wish someone would ask our low-performing schools/LPS principals, about the reality of our school. I wish someone would ask,

“What do you think we (SBOE and NCDPI) can do to help your school help kids learn?”

My local board has asked us that. But my local board doesn’t have much control in these requirements. Our local board and school district have been incredibly supportive within the parameters that they have.

Perhaps if there was a less experienced principal at a LPS, then these requirements would help?  To be perfectly honest, and please know I don’t “pull this card” often, but I am former NC Principal of the Year. Not that I know everything, as I most certainly DO NOT, but I do know some things. I know that these two requirements will not help kids learn. They have created huge pockets of time taken from me as the principal and my school leadership team to submit paperwork just to be compliant with the rules. When none of that paperwork changes our day-to-day instruction.

What does change day-to-day instruction?

Excellent teachers.

Excellent leadership throughout the school.

I worry that these new evaluation requirements will decrease teacher morale of my strong teachers and encourage them to leave my school because being in a LPS is just “too much” compliance now with no purpose. I worry for OTHER schools that if there is a good principal there, that these additional time suckers will encourage that good principal to say, “Peace out, I’ll go to a school that is not ‘low-performing’ and doesn’t have these additional requirements.” If I had no integrity, I could easily say the same thing. But I won’t. I care too much already about our kids and our staff and our community.

What would help me as a seemingly good principal at a LPS right now?

Incentives to get excellent teachers to my school.

One year contracts for EVERY teacher in my school as part of being a LPS so that we all know that our performance right NOW as a teacher matters.

This would encourage those that love it to stay and those that do not love it to go. I need an experienced educator to sit with me and problem solve. I don’t need a team to monitor plans and evaluations. I need a problem solver. I need financial support for additional technology so that teachers actually have up-to-date resources to engage our students in powerful instruction. I need my good teachers to hear SUPPORT and affirmation for making the CHOICE to teach at our school, not additional requirements that demoralize that choice.

I am scared that we will not grow.

I am scared that we will not see success as quickly as we really need to.

I am scared I will disappoint others.

I am scared that I will not help our students learn.

But all of these fears were the same fears I had on July 1, 2015. Becoming a low performing school has not created these fears nor exacerbated them. They just are.

I want to help our children. I want them to see success. I want them to see growth. I want our good teachers to see that same effectiveness and growth and success. I don’t know how long it will take, but it will not happen in one year, and we will not improve with these requirements as our stimulus. We will improve because we want to do what is right for the children in our school. We will improve because we WANT to, and we have the right team to make it happen. We will improve because our district cares and wants to support our students. We will improve with TIME and consistent expectations for students and staff.

You can read Carrie Tulbert’s blog here.

Carrie Tulbert

Carrie Tulbert is the principal of Concord Middle School and the 2014 North Carolina Wells Fargo Principal of the Year.