"You don't get well-developed professionals with two in-service days a year."
New Stanley Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas, is typical of many urban elementary schools -- two-thirds of its 360 students are from minority backgrounds (African-American, Asian American, and Hispanic) and 75 percent of its enrollment qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.
With the help of a grant from the RJR Nabisco Foundation's "Next Century Schools" program, the school developed an innovative blueprint for learning that extends the school year, provides for a longer school day, groups teachers with the same students for several years, and encourages teacher collaboration.
At the heart of the effort: high expectations for all students, backed up by innovative approaches that combine the best features of the Effective Schools movement, theories of student effectiveness and autonomy developed by the Efficacy Institute and Dr. Jeff Howard at Harvard University, and the pioneering work of Yale child development expert James Comer.
Among the features that help the school work: New Stanley is on a nontraditional year-round school calendar. Students attend school on 60/20 tracks with 20 additional intersession days, totaling 200 student days a year. Built into this schedule is a two hour block each Wednesday afternoon for teacher training, team planning, and collaboration. "You don't get well-developed professionals with two in-service days a year," says Principal Donna Hardy.
Teams of three teachers are responsible for the instruction of students for two-year periods. Teachers and students get to know each other. Johnny's reading problems or Towana's attention difficulties do not have to be rediscovered in class next year and the students have a chance to develop a lasting relationship with an important adult. To meet the needs of working parents, New Stanley offers breakfast; before- and after-school programs such as day care, which include tutoring and enrichment; and recreation.
According to the school's staff development director, "the restructured school year is not the most significant thing about New Stanley." That may be so, but what the extra time buys is an extraordinary amount of professional staff development.
Does any of this make any difference? So far the signs are encouraging. In justifying these changes, the school district guaranteed that all students entering middle school who have attended New Stanley for at least three years, would perform at or above grade level. To date, the warranty has been kept.
Equally impressive, when funding from RJR Nabisco ran out, the district picked up the extra costs of maintaining the program at New Stanley and many of the concepts at New Stanley have been implemented in other schools in the district.
For additional information:
New Stanley Elementary School
Kansas City, KS 66106