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What Are the Best Moves Your Schools Ever Made?

I am suggesting we take a short break from our usual (but always useful) wallowing in what is wrong with our schools and their leaders, and briefly accentuate the positive. In my Monday column (just below this item on the blog) I pick the eight best moves I have ever seen Virginia educators make. Two were by governors, but the rest were by wise and hard-working local educators, like Alexandria reviving Maury Elementary or Fairfax opening honors and college-level courses to all.

It occurred to me that celebrating such wise policies might be an exercise others would enjoy when the editor of my piece, school-savvy Lenny Bernstein, sent me unsolicited his own pick---California Gov. Pete Wilson's bonuses for schools that kept class size at no more than 20 kids.
We got time today. It is a holiday for a lot of people (though not us at the Post.) As Columbus discovered a new world, we can share with each other smart moves made by educators who affected our lives, and those of our kids. Tell me what you know as comments to this post. If we get enough I might do something more with it, maybe have a vote on best school-improving move of all time.

By Jay Mathews  | October 12, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's vision and the Florida Legislature's leadership in creating policies to allow for the creation and growth of Florida Virtual School (a state-wide, pubic program) has had a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of students over the past 13 years. Beyond directly supporting students and families, Florida Virtual School works in partnership with all traditional district to offer students more choices in education and to supplement course offerings. This growing national toward virtual learning can be attributed to the success Florida has experienced and to the leadership of former Governor Bush, state leaders, and the team at Florida Virtual School.

Posted by: JPOlano | October 12, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

The best moves I ever made as a teacher was to persuade my school to give me two extra months to teach students the skills they need to achive what they want. No longer can teachers be content deliverers, but educators, realizing that what is best for their students is best for their school.

I teach students the following skills in two months:
1) Memory improvement so that they can remember not only my subject but other subjects as well.
2) Reading improvement so that they can read a novel in two hours and move on to other things that they like to do.
3) Time management so that they can manage their classes, jobs, family and social lives.
4) Various note taking methods to enable them to learn more from each class.
5) Learning styles so that they can tailor any class they have, any teacher they dislike, and funnel it into something they can intake and learn.
6) A Review of basic speaking and writing skills for any assignment.
7) A Yoga system of 20 exercies that they can do anywhere so that they feel better, have more energy, and stop sleeping in other classes.

Those were my best moves.

Posted by: ericpollock | October 13, 2009 2:43 AM | Report abuse

The principal at our suburban high school (Heritage HS in Littleton, CO) has partnered with the local community college in a variety of ways.

Some community college classes can be taken for joint college and HS credit (some taught by highly accredited HS teachers), some HS classes that were no longer supportable as a HS class, due to enrollment, are now taught by community college professors at the HS.

This blurring effect between the HS and college is fantastic for students who have needs or abilities that the HS cannot serve, and looks like the future to me.

Posted by: Lizz1 | October 13, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Our school instituted "Major Time," a class period which may resemble a study hall but is very different. Thirty minutes of reading are observed, then students who arranged for a pass may visit another teacher for help. The accessibility to teachers outside of regular class benefits all students, from ESOL to IB. The Major Time period also provides a time for counselors to meet with groups of students, or for college representatives to meet with them. Mount Vernon High School in FCPS offers this period to help students manage their coursework.

Posted by: whitworth11 | October 13, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

The best move our principal ever did was to cluster kids in classrooms according to ability. The students who needed extra help got it, the kids ready to zoom ahead did that. Everyone had their needs met. My kids never had a better year in school than that year.

Posted by: princessmom | October 13, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful question, Jay. It's about time that instead of bemoaning the bad we celebrate the good. There are so many wonderful things going on at all levels of education. Thanks for giving your readers an opportunity to read wonderful posts made by others.

Andrew Pass

Posted by: ap1123 | October 13, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

2 things-

1) Early release Wednesday. The teachers accepted a longer work day Monday, Tuesday, Thrusday, and Friday. But students were released early on Wednesday. Wednesdays are a time for common planning and grade level team meetings.

2) Our district began at the top- Every child will take & pass an AP class in high school. Then planned a curriculum and common assessments backwards grade by grade 12-K to ensure every child has the background knowledge necessary for AP success. Then the entire curriculum (down to the lesson level) was made available to parents online.

With common planning time & a common curriculum teachers are accountable to each other and their work is open to full view from parents. Additionally, any lesson planning or resources are shared across the district which helps eliminate duplication of effort.

Charles Duerr
Bellevue, Washington (the state).

Posted by: CDuerr | October 13, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Ditto on virtual schools and dual enrollment programs. Also the creation in many states of specialized boarding schools for extremely gifted students.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | October 13, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Great stuff. keep it coming. I am going to figure out a way to expand this exercise, and help people appreciate the creativity of fine educators.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 14, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

When I worked in middle school, we did multi-age looping on interdisciplinary teams. Now that seems like a bad game of edujargon buzzword bingo, but what it did for about five years was partner 4 teachers (math, science, social studies and english) with a group of 7th and 8th graders that worked with that team for the entire time they were at the middle school. The consistent, interconnected and coordinated approach was an enormous hit with all stakeholders, save the administration. When the school decided to move in a new direction with organization... so did I. But when we were in it, it was a thing of beauty.

Posted by: dlaufenberg | October 14, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

An elementary school in Fullerton, CA 97% Hispanic, 80% poverty, 68% English learners in 2004-05 actually began to deliver on the promise of teaching grade level standards to each student and increased reading by 25% points (from 17% to 42%) and math by 25% (from 36% to 61%). Closed the school vs district achievement gap in reading by 35% and math by 50%.

Posted by: fransdottr | October 15, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

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