With the recent release of Academic Performance Index (API) and California Standards Test (CST) data, there has been a wave of press releases and news articles talking about student achievement results. Notable is the mention that in almost every subject and at almost every grade level broken down by targeted subgroups, scores have risen.

However, the achievement gap still remains. Significant gaps for Latino and African-American students are evident in virtually every measure of achievement, as are gaps between low-income and higher-income students.

Failure to achieve in school has lifetime consequences for students of color and students living in poverty. As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan describes, “State and local governments are overwhelmed by social costs directly linked to our shortcomings in the classroom—whether it is prisons, welfare, other social services or simply the lower lifetime earnings of people who lack the education needed to compete in the global economy.”

But closing the achievement gap is possible and progress is being made right here in San Francisco.

“What is going on at Everett? It used to be one of our schools that really struggled with hiring teachers, now there are dozens of candidates for each vacancy.  Unlike the past, we even have teachers wanting to transfer from within the District to teach there.”

– Scott Gaiber, Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support, SFUSD

The Story of Everett Middle School

In years past, Everett had been a low-performing school. In 2010, less than one in five students were meeting grade level standards in Language Arts, and only one in ten were proficient in mathematics. Student engagement was low, and in 2008 alone there were 79 suspensions.  Teachers worked in isolation with few opportunities to collaborate or receive support.

Richard Curci (pronounced “kur-chi”) started as principal at Everett around the same time the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) identified Everett as one of California’s persistently low-performing schools (based on its CST scores).  To help facilitate better results, SFUSD brought in Partners in School Innovation. Our approach was to work with the leaders and teachers to create a plan for transforming the school and for accelerating student achievement.  The collaboration focused on building results-oriented leaders, putting in systems to support teachers and developing the core instructional program that would be needed to create a thriving place for teachers to teach and students to learn.

Effective Partnership Closes the Gap

Partners identified a team with extensive experience to support the change. Key to the success was the appointment of two School Innovation Partners (SIPs) who helped Curci and his team ensure they were set up for success. Both SIPs had extensive middle school teaching experience—one was previously an assistant principal; and the other an instructional math coach.

Curci and the SIPs also developed a clear vision of the teachers they needed to have to transform the school. Together, they recruited a team of people who had demonstrated excellence working in underserved schools; people who practiced standards-based teaching and, crucially, had a data focus underlying their approach.

At the beginning of the partnership, a review was conducted to assess the current capacity of the school and to identify strengths to build upon.  This included observing classes and interviews across the leadership team, teachers and coaches. These findings (in combination with the CST results) were then used to set goals collectively, create a vision, and develop a detailed action plan.  The plan focused on supporting leaders to gain clarity on their roles and responsibilities in leading school transformation and on monitoring both student achievement and instructional practice to ensure the plan was working.

Partners’ team further worked with Curci to systematically support teachers.  Success meant providing time for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues, facilitated professional development sessions, and ensuring that teachers had access to instructional coaching resources. Partners’ staff played a key role assisting in the implementation of an ongoing system of school monitoring.

The collaboration among the transformation leaders from Partners, Everett Middle School and SFUSD was essential to breakthrough student achievement results.

“Partners has been a driving and supportive force that has helped to turn our school around on multiple levels. We are a stronger Professional Learning Community thanks to them.”

– Richard Curci, Principal, Everett Middle School

Great Gains All Around

CST results were a key measure of the success of our partnership with Everett.

After the first year of engagement, CST scores saw an increase in those who were Proficient or Advanced in English Language Arts. Students went from 17.9% to 24.2%. In Mathematics, students went from 12.3% to 18.4%.

The second year saw the hard work validated with a significant growth in student achievement:

  • In 2011-12 Everett achieved the highest growth of any middle school in SFUSD,  going from 639 to 693 (54-point growth) on the API.
  • Everett experienced exceptional growth in the percentage of students moving into the Proficient and Advanced bands on the CST-ELA, at three-and-a-half times the state rate for middle schools.
  • The percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced on the CST-Algebra 1 rose 14.2 percentage points, over 7 times the state rate of Algebra 1 grow, which was only 2.0 points.
  • It was found that in less than two years that student capability had increased a grade level or more. The student level of engagement had also significantly increased.

The year also saw the emergence of a new kind of culture, one driven by leadership and teacher teams using data to help drive student achievement.

“Working with Partners has catapulted our school forward. By supporting communication, the use of data and constant reflection amongst the school leadership team members, Partner’s work has been transformative.”

– Lena Van Haren, Assistant Principal, Everett Middle School

Furthermore, the school’s assessments showed the attendance rate had increased. Student and staff satisfaction survey responses reflected an upward trend.  It was also in this year that Richard Curci was recognized as Principal of the Year by the Unified Administrators of San Francisco.

Sustainability and the Future

Now in its third year as a turnaround school, Everett is poised for tremendous growth. The work with Partners is being designed to ensure that when our partnership ends, the impact continues.

Today, Everett boasts a strong core instructional program and an integrated system for professional learning, helping all teachers deliver excellent instruction.  Underpinning this is the ability of the leadership to focus on student outcomes and align school resources, structures and ways of working to achieve their goals.

There is now also a mindset that holds collaboration as a core value. And the school culture is one where everyone, from staff to parents, believes that every student, no matter what their background, can succeed. Most importantly, there are now more students in the classroom engaged in learning and achieving at higher levels than ever before.

Congratulations to our friends and partners at Everett Middle School!