A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

H. Case Study Summaries

3. Linda Vista Elementary School

Linda Vista had undergone a process of systemic reform in order to serve the whole student population with an integrated educational program. The reforms were implemented in response to the fragmented structure that previously existed at the school, in which language development programs for LEP students were isolated from regular classroom instruction. The restructured school featured innovative curriculum and instructional strategies and a program for LEP students that was embedded within and supported by the whole school structure. The organizational structure and pedagogical approaches were adapted over time to respond directly to the educational needs of the constantly changing student population. Support for the implementation of innovations came from partnerships and grants that were obtained as a result of the staff's entrepreneurialism.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

The classrooms at Linda Vista were striking because of the variety of activities in which the students were engaged. The high level of student engagement was the result of a number of instructional and curricular strategies: the use of meaningful curriculum; the focus on language development; the organization of students into heterogeneous, cooperative groups; and the effective use of instructional technology.

Teachers at Linda Vista developed curricula that made connections with students' life experiences. The use of oral language, literature, writing that reflects real-life situations, research-based writing, directed and "free" journal writing, and dramatic interpretations of literature reflect pedagogical strategies that were employed at Linda Vista to promote language development in a natural, authentic context. Teachers advanced these strategies by encouraging on-task student interaction and providing opportunities for language development in a natural setting through the use of cooperative learning.

Linda Vista at a Glance

Location--San Diego, CA
Grade Levels--Pre-K-6
Number of Students--950
% LEP Students--66%
LEP Student Language Diversity--50% Spanish, 22% Hmong,
16% Vietnamese, 6% Lao
LEP Student Programs--Spanish Transitional Bilingual, Sheltered English
% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch--88%

Working in groups also gave students an opportunity to learn from and teach one another, allowing them to expand on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. By the time students at Linda Vista reached fourth grade, they had been working in cooperative groups for a number of years. As a result, students were expert cooperative learners and were able to direct their own work, freeing time for teachers to work one-on-one with students who needed extra support.

Teachers at Linda Vista also made remarkable use of computer-based multimedia systems, allowing schools to use technology as a tool rather than relying on it for instruction. The use of technology excited students about writing and producing oral language. When used in cooperative group settings, multimedia technology allowed students to serve as experts: groups at Linda Vista typically were composed of a complementary mix of students with respect to academic strength, computer skill, and English fluency. Computers at Linda Vista were also used to provide opportunities for hands-on, self-directed, student-centered learning.

Program for LEP Students

Educating LEP students was understood to be an integral part of Linda Vista's mission. The school was restructured to accommodate students' varied levels of previous schooling, support an individual pace in the acquisition of English, and to meet the needs of students from multiple language groups. A major strength of the school's restructuring process was its ability to adapt programs in response to changing community demographics. This is perhaps best illustrated by the school's development of two distinct programs for its LEP students.

For all students, each day began with more than two hours of uninterrupted language arts instruction. LEP students were grouped with students who had similar levels of English proficiency or, in the case of the Spanish-speaking students, with students who spoke the same home language. Non-Spanish-speaking students--grouped according to English language ability--were provided instruction using Sheltered English. Spanish-speaking students received language arts instruction in Spanish until they were ready to make the transition to English. The progression of the Sheltered and Bilingual language arts programs, both of which led to an unsheltered, all-English environment, involved five levels of classes, including classes for newcomer students and designated transition classes.

School Structure

Linda Vista's LEP student programs were totally integrated into the whole-school program through developmental, ungraded "wings" and a daily schedule with varying student grouping strategies. Linda Vista established the developmental, ungraded wings (early childhood, primary, middle, and upper) to accommodate the constant flow of newcomer students and the widely varying educational backgrounds of students. The wings functioned like four schools-within-the-school, each composed of students within a relatively close age range (typically spanning two to three grade levels), but with mixed levels of English language fluency and educational backgrounds. Linda Vista's early childhood program included an articulated, developmental preschool that offered Sheltered English and Spanish-language classes.

Within the wings, Linda Vista took a unique approach to student grouping. Students were homogeneously grouped by home language or English language level for language arts, ESL, and social studies instruction, but heterogeneously grouped during the rest of the day for math, science, art, music, and physical education. The different grouping strategies allowed students to receive appropriate instruction for their stage of English language development and to interact with their peer group, practice their English with native speakers, and hear English spoken in natural settings. Linda Vista reduced class size in the lower grades during language arts, social studies, and mathematics instruction by using part-time staff in the morning.

Linda Vista featured many additional elements of restructuring such as teacher collaboration, committee-based governance, creative uses of time, flexible staffing arrangements, staff development, an alternative assessment system, and an articulated preschool that impacted student learning. Of these features, teacher collaboration was among the most striking: teachers actively acknowledged that they were engaged in a collective effort. One pervasive example of this collaboration was the teachers' practice of peer observation. Teachers used their "prep" time to go into other teachers' classes to observe the implementation of a new instructional strategy. In this spirit, all classrooms were open for observation at all times. The process of working as a team, as well as the sharing of students, empowered teachers at Linda Vista to feel a heightened sense of ownership of the whole-school environment.

Necessitated by the complex approach to student grouping, Linda Vista staff used time creatively in their everyday schedule. They were also thoughtful about their yearly and weekly schedules. Linda Vista operated on a single-track, year-round schedule. The year-round schedule diminished the need for review at the beginning of the year and eliminated long summer breaks that impede the progress of English language learners. In the course of its initial restructuring, staff realized the enormous amount of time it took to meet and plan as a group and consequently decided to build weekly meetings into their master schedule for the year. In addition, the flexible daily schedule made it possible for Linda Vista teachers to have two prep periods each week.

Another schoolwide feature that supported Linda Vista's innovative curriculum and instruction was its comprehensive assessment system. Authentic, portfolio-based assessment recorded students' growth as they progressed toward specified learning outcomes. The benefit of this system is that it is a flexible assessment strategy designed to meet the needs of students at many different levels of English language fluency. Student work was scanned into the computer and records were maintained on disk in "electronic portfolios".

Linda Vista's staff shared a vision and had a "commonality of mind." One way this expressed itself was through their entrepreneurial spirit: as the principal said, "The staff are initiators in terms of seeking grants and driven toward being on the cutting edge." Linda Vista had a number of grants and partnerships, all of which enhanced the core vision developed at the school; they were not add-on or peripheral. Linda Vista's partnership with Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow and the National Alliance for School Restructuring, as well as their Restructuring Demonstration Grant (SB 1274), all enhanced Linda Vista's educational program. These grants frequently supported staff development, as staff had made this a high priority; computer-based instruction, alternative assessment methods, committee processes, team teaching, cooperative learning, language acquisition, and bilingual teaching had all been topics of teacher inservices.

Summary

Linda Vista restructured itself in ways that significantly impacted its program for all students. In particular, LEP students benefited from a schoolwide effort to use effective instructional, curricular, and assessment strategies; to optimize human and fiscal resources; and to respect and validate diverse cultures. They also benefited from placement in one of two distinct language development programs designed to meet the needs of Linda Vista's multilingual student population. A strong staff development program as well as productive external partnerships also supported LEP students as they progressed through their school career at Linda Vista.
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