After a Tough Year, How Can We Help Students Catch Up?

March 24, 2021

Principals Come Together to Strategize

It is one of the busiest parts of the school year, but last week, around fifty New Orleans public school principals came together online.

They were joining forces around a shared challenge: helping students make up for some of the learning time they lost due to the challenges of the pandemic. Students and educators have been working incredibly hard, but this year has been immensely difficult, and many students have missed out on class time they needed. These principals wanted solutions.

It was the final convening of NSNO’s Principal Collaborative for this school year, and the theme was “Catching Kids Up.”

NSNO CEO Patrick Dobard first asked principals to enter some bright spots into the chat. Principals were excited to celebrate their schools, and it is no surprise that receiving COVID-19 vaccinations was high on the list. Their celebrations included:

Patrick then welcomed the group and shared a quote from researcher and educator Dr. Lisa Delpit. He shared how Dr. Delpit believed that it was important to see where students were, academically, using tests this spring — but that it needed to be as low-stress as possible. Delpit said:

“The more pressure we put on kids on these tests, the more it backfires. We might be surprised at what kids know when they’re not under pressure.” 

Patrick shared his excitement to brainstorm with principals about how schools can assess where students are and help them learn and move forward.

He then introduced Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr., Superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools (NOLA-PS). Superintendent Lewis thanked principals for their work over the course of the pandemic, in particular. He commended their ability to maintain strong safety protocol in schools when they opened in-person. He also talked about the importance of supporting students academically and socially-emotionally.

“It’s more than just catching kids up,” he said. “Many of you, whether you were in the classroom when Katrina hit, or were a building leader before or after the storm, we know it’s more than catching kids up. It’s about making our students whole.”

He insisted that educators take care of themselves, too. “You have done a lot for your teachers, your students, and your families…you need to make sure that you are whole, too.”

He closed his remarks with a hopeful note. “We’re very blessed in the city of New Orleans, because we have great leaders..together, we’re going to get through this.”

The essence of the Principal Collaborative is, of course, collaboration. So after Superintendent Lewis spoke, the educators learned from one another. They met in small breakout groups on different topics. In those groups, they had the chance to learn from a citywide colleague, ask questions, and share their own ideas. They had the chance to join two of the following groups:

 

Which students need the most support?
Use school data to identify students who need to catch-up.

Jolene Galpin, Executive Director, Mildred Osborne Charter School

 

 

When and how can they come together?
Determine the right time and place for students to participate.

 

Ashley Daniels, Principal, Einstein Charter School at Sherwood Forest

 

 

Why should they care?
Create an investment strategy that engages students, teachers, and families in the learning process.

 

Ge’ron Tatum, Principal, Phyllis Wheatley Community School

 

 

What will you teach?
Decide what high-quality resources you need to address learning gaps.

 

Jamila Newman, TNTP

 

These conversations were valuable. Principals shared ideas and traded templates for goal trackers and data management tools. They asked one another questions, talked about the challenges they faced, and brought up solutions they had tried. Their aim was to come away with concrete practices they could implement in their schools, and in a survey following the event, principals gave a 95% effectiveness rating to their sessions.

The meeting ended on a high note, when the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff Foundation, Britton Banowsky, joined to share that his organization would be awarding special prizes or an event for teachers. He asked principals to nominate their top teachers, and the principals were happy to follow up.

Our educators have a great deal of work ahead of them, but the collaboration we saw in these sessions made it clear they have what it takes to help our students grow. Our district may be decentralized, but our principals are coming together. They were generous and thoughtful with one another. They asked smart questions and affirmed good work. They shared strong ideas. Together, they are showing up for their own students—and one another’s.

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