By Lori Dresner
**Image by Lori Dresner/The Current. Normandy Task Force Committee and Joint Executive Governing Board members at Marillac Halll
The Normandy Task Force Committee and Joint Executive Governing Board (JEGB) came together to discuss, evaluate, and assess plans and initiatives that will affect the future of the Normandy School District. The meeting took place on March 9 in the Boeing Auditorium, located in the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center in Marillac Hall. There were 11 people in attendance, some being members of the Normandy Task Force and others being JEGB members. Topics of discussion included assessing and evaluating strategies that have been and could potentially be implemented in the classrooms, ways that Normandy parents could help their children learn at home, the current budget of the Normandy School District, and what needs to be done to keep Normandy schools’ doors open.
The Normandy Task Force Committee was established in February 2014 in an attempt to save the Normandy School District after it lost its accreditation. As a result, Normandy students were allowed to transfer to accredited schools. Normandy faced financial trouble after having to pay the tuition of those who transferred.
Dr. Carole Basile, dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri—St. Louis and chair of the Normandy Task Force, said the purpose of the meeting was to regroup after not being connected for “Folks are just really wanting to know what’s going on,” said Basile.
Charles Pearson, interim superintendent of Normandy schools, began by discussing the implemented accountability plan for Normandy schools, which focuses on four areas: leadership, collaborative culture, curriculum and assessment, and effective instruction. The area of leadership focuses on principals giving teachers effective feedback so that instruction can improve. Collaborative culture refers to the fact that teachers are now working more effectively to look at students’ assessment data. The first semester was spent training teachers in how to implement a data team process. Pearson said that while the first two areas contain solid and appropriate strategies, he believes that these areas of the accountability plan contain too many goals.
“You never put this many goals and this many strategies into any plan you put together,” said Pearson.
He went on to discuss curriculum and assessment, which entails implementing classroom curriculum that adheres to Missouri Learning Standards. Developing curriculum is a multiyear process, and Pearson said that there is a strong curriculum and instruction team who have compacted into several months what typically takes several years. Lastly, effective instruction pertains to principals giving feedback to teachers around the Rutherford model. Teachers set goals at the beginning of the year around what became the Rutherford model, and principals give them feedback around those particular types of instruction that they seek.
“Rutherford work is solid, in terms of what makes for effective instruction,” said Pearson.
Pearson said that Normandy received a $485,000 grant for literacy, which was approved in December 2014. This grant allowed Normandy to have literacy coaches and ACT prep. Sylvan is also now a reading initiative in the district, and came in to test all students in grades 2-8. They identified which students had reading problems, and are now offering support for students who need it.
Another topic discussed was how Normandy parents can be encouraged to cultivate learning in the home environment.
Pearson brought up the initiative to encourage parents to read with their children at night, and track how many hours they do so. He said, however, that strategies need to be suggested to parents about how they should read to their child, and how to ask their child questions when reading.
Pearson went on to say that 43% of staff is new to the Normandy School District this year, and that there was no new teacher orientation, so new staff members were not trained with proper classroom management strategies. As a result, content in the accountability plan had to be put on hold while classroom management and discipline were focused on.
“Staff need to realize that they are the change,” said Rich Ryffel, assistant chair of JEGB. “They don’t have to wait for someone to come in and tell them what they are doing is right.”
“I’m always reminded that revolution does not happen at the top; it happens at the bottom,” said Sheila Williams, board member of JEGB. “I don’t hear enough talk about teacher leadership, teacher involvement, and teachers being leaders of change, not objects of change. Teachers feel as though they have no choice; everybody is telling them what to do.”
Williams believes that the solution to Normandy’s problems is for teachers to sit down and talk about how to handle the problems.
“It is the only way I have ever seen anything really change,” she said. “They need time to sit, talk, and plan.”
Pearson said that they are looking at what needs to be reconfigured in the central office and what has to happen with the budget, to ensure that they have a growth budget. He said that right now they have a survival budget, and growth does not come from a survival budget.
“I think we have a shot,” said Maxine Clark, former CEO of Build-a-Bear. “We are not irrational. We think we can transform this district.”
“Identifying what I have found, there are some pockets of excellence in this district,” said Pearson. “There are some classroom teachers that are phenomenal. But I say pockets.”
For more information on the Normandy School District, visit the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education’s website http//dese.mo.gov/Normandy.
(c) The Current 2015