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Oklahoma City school's a model for success

Teachers that helped turn around academics at U.S. Grant High School credit professional learning communities, training planned for 18 other underperforming schools in the Oklahoma City district.
by Tim Willert Modified: February 11, 2014 at 11:00 am •  Published: February 10, 2014

SUSAN Pike had no idea what she was getting herself into three years ago when she came out of retirement to teach math at U.S. Grant High School.

Pike was suspicious of training being implemented at Grant, where 64 teachers lost their jobs — including 11 of 14 math teachers — when the school hit academic rock bottom.

Today, the 60-year-old is part of a quirky group of math teachers at Grant whose students are thriving as a result of professional learning communities planned for nearly 20 other schools in the Oklahoma City district.

The math group and other groups meet daily to compare data from regular assessments and share ideas for success. They share a passion for teaching and interacting with students that Pike had not witnessed in more than three decades of teaching.

“Twenty-five years ago, you would hear teachers say ‘I can teach it, and if they don't get it, too bad,'” Pike said. “You just don't hear that here. There's an energy here.”

Grant, which scored a C grade on its state report card two years ago, missed an A by one point on its 2012-2013 grade card. Nearly 90 percent of the school's 851 students tested proficient in algebra, algebra 1 and geometry.

Tamie Sanders, the former Grant principal now in charge of secondary schools for the district, credits professional learning communities for the rapid improvement.

“They are about ‘what do the kids need to learn, not what do I like to teach,'” Sanders said. “I assess whether or not they understand or have mastered what it is I'm trying to teach, because I am only teaching them those things that they will be held accountable for.”

The turnaround at Grant has been so impressive that the Oklahoma City school district is going to spend $1 million in federal funds to implement similar training at 18 poorly performing secondary schools beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The money will go to Solution Tree, an Indiana-based company that provides teacher training, allowing the teachers themselves to collaborate on best practices as they undergo training.

Board members unanimously approved the plan last week in hopes it will have a similar effect on the district's struggling middle schools, high schools and mid-high schools.

“I think there will be some results that are almost immediate from a standpoint of collaboration among teachers and the team-building that provides,” said interim Superintendent Dave Lopez, adding that he expects to see marked academic improvement in the first year.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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