MODESTO — Principals got to sit and squirm this week, waiting their turns to give an oral report and be graded by their bosses.
Modesto City Schools held its Principals Summit, asking every site leader to step up and say what is working well and – gulp – not so well at his or her campus.
Teaching strategies, team building, using test scores to tailor tutoring – it all fits in the nuts-and-bolts picture of campus life under scrutiny at the summit. Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson opened the normally closed door process to include a wider swath of administrators and peer review last year.
The intent is to raise the bar for campus leaders. “Our research showed this works,” Johnson said. “It forces you as an administrator to look at your school and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.”
Gregori High School Principal Jeff Albritton, with 17 years of administrative experience under his belt, volunteered to a public screening of his hour-long session.
“It’s a pretty stressful job. There’s a lot of moving parts,” Albritton said, taking his turn Monday in front of administrators, school board members and fellow high school leaders Monday. Associate Principal Brad Goudeau joined in the presentation.
Albritton ran through a litany of test result statistics, noting where student achievement improved and what needs more work. This year, Gregori teachers will work on better coordination with junior highs that send their students to Gregori. Almost all the school’s freshmen arrive from other elementary districts, Albritton noted.
Attendance, at 98percent, beats the district goal. He credits the higher numbers to the school’s Small Learning Communities, dividing students into four concentrations. The teens within each group share core classes and the communities compete to raise club and sports participation.
The focus on keeping kids connected with adults and one another pays off. “It’s knowing who’s in your classroom,” Albritton said. “I look for teachers that are going to change a kid’s life, teachers that make a difference.”
What has changed is a greater focus on poor students, who make up nearly half of Gregori’s 2,111-student enrollment this year. Sophomores are the challenge group, with 77percent on track to graduate, compared to about 85percent in other classes, Goudeau said.
After the Gregori presentation, Albritton faced questions from his bosses, Superintendent Pam Able and Johnson, before other administrators chimed in.
How will you raise the difficulty of classes to raise student achievement? How do you coordinate staff training? What are your roadblocks and challenges? Albritton acknowledged scheduling four sets of core classes as his biggest headache, empowering staff to improve things as the best idea he’s working on.
After the presentation, Albritton said the summits, now in their second year, brought other principals into the evaluation loop. “It was isolated. It used to be that divide and conquer,” he said.
“We take a lot of pride in sharing our ideas. There’s a lot of commiserating. We all have some struggles. But I don’t feel I’m getting judged, I feel that support,” he said.
“It’s a different perspective, being able to share experiences,” said Beyer High Principal Dan Park, who stood before the group earlier that day.
First-year Johansen High Principal Nathan Schar, said he apprehensive stepping up before the crowd. Both Schar and his associate principal are new to Johansen this year. “Most people have a history on their campus, where we’re adjusting on the fly,” he said.
Mike Rich, who moved into the Davis High principal’s chair this year, said he’s contending with having more students than expected. Scheduling glitches aside, he said, “It’s good problem to have.”