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Federal, State Education Officials Visit Lakewood Elementary
Lakewood Elementary is a school on the rise. After more than 12 years as one of the lowest performing schools in Florida, the school’s district – Pinellas County Schools – selected IE to partner with Lakewood as its external operator. IE’s mission at Lakewood since 2018 has been to help faculty and staff improve the quality of teaching and learning. Although achieving large gains in student achievement in 2019, the school missed raising its letter grade to a D by 2 points. The Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, recently visited the school to determine whether it should continue working with IE as external operator or seek a different path to improvement. Impressed by Lakewood’s transformation and its innovative approaches to providing high quality, personalized learning for all students, he invited Assistant U.S. Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan to visit Lakewood Elementary School on February 21. Accompanied by Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego and St. Petersburg City Council Member Robert Blackmon, both Commissioner Corcoran and Assistant Secretary Brogan expressed their amazement at the changes that had taken place, and complimented the principal, school leadership team, faculty, staff, and students for their remarkable progress.
We recently talked with James Mills, IE Practice Leader for Turnaround Schools and the School Leadership Coach for Lakewood Elementary during the 2018-2019 school year, to get his reflections on this visit.
IE: What did the school and IE do to prepare for the visit?
Mills: When we learned the commissioner and guests were coming, we wanted them to see the true, deep work that was being done. We also wanted them to see all the work the school teams had done to establish strong relationships with the children and their families. We showed them the Collaboration Room where we do our daily standups and track our progress. This is how we are moving Lakewood further than anyone thought it could go. Now everyone owns the data.
We also wanted them to see the strength of our partnership. IE works in tandem with the school, the district’s Transformation Zone office, district leadership, and the state Bureau of School Improvement. Everyone is on the same sheet of music and pulling for the students of Lakewood. Everyone understands the ‘why’ of our work together.
IE: What growth have you seen over the past year and a half?
When we first began work at Lakewood, there were no systems and structures to support learning. By the end of the year, we had collaboratively developed effective systems and structures that allowed everyone to focus on core instruction and use data to get better every day. Our greatest learning from this has been that the quicker you can deal with conditions that impede student learning, the sooner you can attend to improving instruction.
You can see teachers now who have assumed strong leadership roles. We see more distributed responsibility across the school teams. You see teams that take care of each other; if anyone falls, someone else lifts them back up. Everyone owns the work. The systems they have established support the needs of students, teachers, and staff. This has been the key to the high rates of faculty retention at the school.
IE: What growth have you seen in the students?
Mills: We see peer accountability now – students taking responsibility for their own behavior and learning. Students know their progress toward mastering the standards. They are developing strong foundational skills in reading and math and building social and emotional skills. We still deal with problems each day, but there are supports on site that allow us to handle issues on the spot. Students learn to cope with problems while they are in the classroom, rather than run away from them.
IE: How does the faculty and staff feel about the positive comments they received from the Assistant Secretary of Education and the Florida Commissioner of Education?
Mills: They are enjoying it and feel validated in their efforts. However, they remain hyper-focused to keep the students on track. Despite its improvements, the school remains very fragile. They know there is still a long way to go. The supportive environment that has been created by Principal Stephanie Woodford and Assistant Principal Renee Nellenbach have positioned the school toward continual growth and sustainability.