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

2. Hollibrook Elementary School

Hollibrook School devised learning environments that supported LEP students in their efforts to learn language arts and to develop English literacy. The three unique aspects of Hollibrook's approach included keeping students together for a long period of time with the same teacher, instructional strategies that developed independent, motivated learners, and reaching out to the wider community in a way that forged a learning community larger than the school itself. Initiated by a former principal and continued by the subsequent principal, Hollibrook's reforms came about as a result of the school's involvement with the methods and practices called the "Accelerated Schools Project." Faculty and administrators engaged in a reflective inquiry process which enabled them to identify the school's needs and to develop instructional and organizational innovations that responded to those needs. The implementation of reforms at Hollibrook was supported by the Spring Branch Independent School District and the statewide shift toward site-based decision making.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

Hollibrook teachers combined a number of innovative strategies to create a powerful learning environment. Language arts instruction relied heavily on the use of Readers' and Writers' Workshops. These approaches feature multi-step processes which allow students to work independently and at their appropriate level of literacy development. Another strategy which was used in parallel with the Readers' and Writers' Workshops was cooperative learning. Hollibrook teachers had dramatic success using cooperative techniques in their classrooms. Students learned to work together in pairs or small groups to accomplish challenging tasks assigned by the teacher. This experience allowed them to become adept independent, motivated learners; even those as young as eight years of age showed a remarkable ability to concentrate for extended periods of time on reading and writing with limited adult direction. The cooperative approach served to unleash the potential for self-directed learning in Hollibrook students.

Hollibrook at a Glance

Location--Houston, TX
Grade Levels--PreK-5
Number of Students--1000
% LEP Students--67%
LEP Student Language Diversity--100% Spanish
LEP Student Program--Spanish Transitional Bilingual
% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch--87%

The ability of Hollibrook students to work independently allowed teachers to work with students individually and in small groups, tailoring activities to the needs of each student. The opportunity to work one-on-one with students was particularly beneficial to LEP students in that teachers had a strong sense of students' language development progress and, therefore, could more effectively support students' transition to English. The strategy of working intensively with individual students to accelerate their learning processes embodied the schoolwide philosophy of enrichment. (See below for a discussion of Hollibrook's involvement with Accelerated Schools.)

Program for LEP Students

Hollibrook's program for LEP students aimed to develop students' literacy in Spanish and then support their to transition to all-English instruction. The number of years in which students received instruction in Spanish varied, but generally students were moved into English by third grade. In many cases, teachers were able to individualize the timing and pace of transition based on their assessment of students' readiness. During and after students' transition to English reading and writing, they were encouraged to maintain their Spanish skills by selecting independent reading books in Spanish and completing occasional writing assignments in Spanish. Development of Spanish fluency was also promoted for native English speakers, creating an environment in which both languages were valued.

School Structure

Hollibrook developed a unique learning environment by placing a group of students with the same teacher over a number of years. The goal of these continuum classes was to introduce greater stability into students' lives. Parents, teachers, and students got to know one another very well and were thus able to build a strong and effective working relationship. Continuum classes at Hollibrook proved to be an especially effective way of grouping students in the transitional bilingual program. These classes offered unique advantages to students learning English as a second language because losses or gaps in learning between grades were effectively eliminated. In addition, the flexible nature of continuum classes allowed teachers to tailor long-term instructional goals for individual students as they moved at their own pace toward transition and literacy--and transition itself could take place gradually over a period of years instead of all at once at an arbitrary point on the educational ladder.

Classes that employed team teaching were able to group and regroup LEP and non-LEP students for different purposes. This strategic grouping was advantageous to LEP students at Hollibrook, because it gave them exposure to English-speaking role models.

The flexible use of time was also a key factor at Hollibrook. Teachers could control the use of time in their own classrooms by scheduling music, physical education, and health in a way that accommodated their key instructional plans for the day, instead of the other way around. This approach not only gave teachers the freedom to structure their lessons in ways that made the most sense for the students, but also offered them the opportunity to schedule joint planning time with other teachers.

Parent involvement was another integral part of the LEP student program. Hollibrook used a number of strategies to reach out to parents: a parent center on campus, bilingual social workers, and keeping students with the same teacher over a period of years. The center was a place for parents to meet, work on projects for teachers, socialize, and learn English through the Parent University; it was equipped with toys for toddlers to play while their parents participated in these and other school activities. In addition, bilingual office staff and social workers were available on campus to work with parents on social, health, and other issues affecting their children. Finally, as a service to the community, school administrators were working with the city and with private businesses to develop a playground area next to the school.

The guiding educational and organizational principle at Hollibrook was a concept known as Accelerated Schools. Accelerated Schools, a philosophy developed by Professor Henry Levin of Stanford University, is based on the premise that all students need enriched, accelerated learning, rather than remediation. Hollibrook staff embraced the enrichment goal promoted by Professor Levin and his colleagues. In addition, Accelerated School promotes an "inquiry method" in which faculty members form committees or cadres to examine important questions developed by faculty, administrators, parents, and students. Using the inquiry method learned from Accelerated Schools, the Hollibrook faculty decided to implement ungraded continuum classes, developed the bilingual program, and chose to emphasize language development. Creation of a full-day kindergarten, hiring social workers in place of school counselors, and heavy investment in technology also originated through the inquiry process and were accomplished with Spring Branch Independent School District's support for site-based decision making.


Hollibrook School had formulated a supportive educational program for its LEP students. The critical building blocks of this program were bilingual continuum classes and the use of powerful instructional and curricular strategies. Another factor that contributed to the success of the program was the school's effort to connect with students' families and with the community at large. Finally, the program was strengthened in vital ways by the concept of Accelerated Schools and district support for site-based decision making and bilingual education.

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