To Cliff Hong, the principal of Roosevelt Middle School in Oakland, Calif., the purpose of a public school is to “empower students to be creative thinkers.” But students couldn’t reach such a goal if they weren’t in class. The school’s attendance data in 2010 showed that too many students—15 percent—were chronically absent, and almost 20 percent were serving out-of-school suspensions. Through gathering honest feedback from both students and teachers, school leaders have been able to uncover the reasons why students were missing school or getting in trouble and have turned Roosevelt into a community school that centers about the needs of students and works with partners to address those needs. A student satisfaction survey showed that some students felt unsafe walking to school, so administrators began working with the Oakland Police Department to better monitor routes to school. Other students responded that they were experiencing bullying during lunch or at other times out of class, so more adult supervision was added. Lack of health care, housing struggles, financial problems and other conditions were also contributing to both absenteeism and student behavior problems. Now given three times a year, student and staff surveys are part of a continuous improvement cycle that starts with identifying needs and uses a design thinking approach to find solutions.
The community school manager, part of the school leadership team, works with partners and other school-based teams to pull together the right services for students at the right time. The leadership team demonstrates the school’s attention to students’ academic and non-academic development by using a flip-flop approach in which they focus on instructional issues one week and school climate the next week.
An attendance team now meets weekly to review data and implement strategies such as home visits and teacher calls to parents. The East Bay Asian Youth Center, one of the school’s partners, also provided case management for 40 students with severe absenteeism issues. When necessary, students are referred to the Coordination of Services Team (COST), which includes school and after-school staff members, mental health professionals, partners and a parent liaison. The COST determines which intervention services or resources can best address the problems that are
keeping students from being successful.
A problem-solving and collaborative leadership approach has also impacted the school’s instructional program. To improve student engagement in the classroom, teachers worked together to create interdisciplinary academic teams and pilot a humanities curriculum. A School Design Blueprint outlining plans for personalized learning has also been developed to target individual learning needs, and over their three years at Roosevelt, students are now required to
complete five projects focused on solving community problems.
Listening to parents’ needs and concerns has also led to structures that strengthen teachers’ relationships with both students and parents. A parent leadership team, representing the various languages spoken at the school, worked with teachers to implement an advisory program. The advisories not only give students more say in their learning and address academic needs—particularly reading—but they also give parents a regular point of contact regarding their children’s progress. Feedback from parents was showing that they felt comfortable communicating with afterschool program staff, but felt disconnected from their children’s teachers. Because of the advisories, student-led
parent-teacher conferences have been implemented and teachers stay in regular contact with parents by text.
The advisories are also a place for “restorative circles” in which students can discuss issues that might be troubling them. The school has two social-emotional learning coordinators who oversee the restorative practices and implement Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports.
The school’s comprehensive approach to students’ academic and social-emotional needs, combined with Hong’s commitment to shared leadership and encouraging innovative ideas, has led to positive results. Suspensions are down to three percent and the chronic absenteeism rate has declined to less than six percent.
“I am very proud of the progress we’ve made,” Hong says, adding that systems are in place to sustain these outcomes, and that “partners have been essential to addressing” the various issues that were keeping students out of school. “It’s a team effort, and a testament to a continuous problem-solving attitude by the staff.”