Building From the Ground Up, Part I

Originally published in CenterEd in April, 2014.

A new charter school builds around the Marzano model and teachers with big hearts.

Stacy Schmit is very clear about what she was looking for when she was assembling her team for the brand new Rennaissance Charter School at Tradition: “Our teachers were hired because they have that special glimmer in their eyes when they talk about why they are teachers. They have big hearts, and in the very center is their unwavering stand to do what is best for every student. Many of our teachers did not know about Marzano’s framework before starting with us.”

Schmit is principal of the Renaissance Charter School at Tradition in Port St. Lucie, Florida, which opened its doors for the first time in the 2013-14 school year. The curriculum is built around academic rigor, character education, and individualized instruction and is open to all K-6 students in Port St. Lucie County, with expansion up to 7th and 8th grades planned for next year.

“The mission of Renaissance Charter School at Tradition is to develop students with active, creative minds to have respect for themselves and others, and grow their compassion and courage to make positive contributions to society. We will do this by helping students learn to set and reach goals, problem solve, and track their progress throughout their learning journeys,” Schmit explains.

As a former staff developer for Learning Sciences Marzano Center, it was no surprise that Schmit chose the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model to help build the new school’s pedagogical ideals. This was a unique opportunity to shape a school from the ground up using the model.

That being said, although Renaissance Charter School at Tradition might be new, many of its teachers are not. Highly qualified teachers and support staff were drawn from throughout the county and around the state, many of whom had not yet worked with the Marzano model.

Despite time constraints, teachers dove right in
  When the occasion came to prepare the school and implement the model, you can imagine that time was a factor.

“Time is always the greatest challenge when implementing anything that is new to a group or different from the way things were done previously. Being a new school was actually helpful for us, as there were few expectations about what our instructional focus should be, how our professional development should run, etc. Our teachers dove right in, some of them fitting their previous instructional practices in appropriately with our way of thinking about teacher practice, and others discarding practices that just did not fit with moving students to high standards and achievement.

“To help combat the issue of time, we dedicate time in our schedules. We work together in professional development weekly, meeting one day per week after school for 1 to 1.5 hours each session to focus on new strategies as well as to reflect on and share previous learning,” Schmit explains.

Outcome-based education
  Schmit is a forward-thinker. For her, the goal in any educational enterprise is to help students reach desired outcomes. She feels Dr. Marzano’s work is the most effective way to reach those outcomes.
  “Marzano’s work is at the heart of our mission, helping our teachers understand the relationship between the use of instructional strategies and how those strategies facilitate rigorous student work. In the end, it is our belief that the most important factor is student outcomes. We rely on the framework to help center us and to help us reflect on how we can better help students engage in rigorous activities in the classroom. Marzano’s categories of instructional strategies all serve a very specific purpose, each moving students toward a specific outcome. We focus on those outcomes and assess whether our students are achieving what we intended (planned) for them achieve,” says Schmit.

Design Question 1 and the establishment of desired outcomes
  One of the key steps in Design Question 1 of the model is providing clear learning goals and scales. But where do those goals and scales come from? For many schools, those goals are provided from a higher level, such as national or state college and career readiness standards, or on the state legislative level. Districts may have distinct learning goals and outcomes that they would like to achieve based on local needs and performance data.

In the Renaissance School’s case, aside from Florida’s standards, administrators and staff could establish many of their own desired learning goals, centered around the school’s mission, thanks to their charter status. A Marzano Center blog series has outlined steps that a school leader can take to establish desired learning outcomes:

  • Step One: Consider the goals that have been identified by your local district.
  • Step Two: Consider what you already use to analyze your student performance.
  • Step Three: Identify the teaching steps that must be taken in order to achieve a learning outcome.
  • Step Four: Consider what the evidence of implementation might be for this goal.
  • Step Five: Consider what the evidence of effectiveness will be for this goal area.
  • Step Six: Consider who will review the evidence of effectiveness, the opportunities to review these data sources, and the documentation that demonstrates they have done this.

A sense of urgency for learning
Now that the school has established its desired outcomes and the staff is working methodically toward their goals, the Renaissance Charter School at Tradition is moving forward in their planning for the next school year and beyond as they expand to serve grades 7 and 8.

“Our teachers are targeting individual student needs in their classes, and students in all grades have had significant growth from the beginning of the school year to now on benchmark assessments. Things are going very well. There is a sense of urgency for learning on the part of the students as well as the teachers. This is a great school to be in, and that is echoed in the number of students recommitted for next year—all but four students are coming back.”

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