(This post is by Chris Minnich, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers, and originally appeared in Huffington Post.)
I visit many schools across the country. I get to talk with teachers and hear about their incredible students. I meet with students and hear about their big dreams for the future. I also get to talk with school and district administrators. Those conversations usually focus on what’s working well and what’s not working so well. I get it. I work in the policy world. When I’m there, people usually want to talk numbers – and rightfully so. They are proud of the progress they are making and want to show how they have done it, or what they need to do better.
Recently, I visited with district administrators in Beverly City, New Jersey, and I was surprised by the conversation. We sat in a conference room, and they walked me through a PowerPoint presentation. So far, pretty typical. But then, I realized something was different. This presentation wasn’t about numbers, or programs, or initiatives. They weren’t talking to me about improving facilities, or giving me an onslaught of statistics. This whole presentation was about kids.
The reason why I was there: This school has made progress. Incredible progress. And now it’s clear why.
Just a few years ago, the schools were considered “focus schools” which means they were not only low-performing but also had some of the largest achievement gaps in the state. Beverly City serves nearly 300 students in Pre-K through 8th grade and about 70 percent come from low-income households.
But today, Beverly City no longer has any focus schools. In fact, the state just highlighted it as one of seven Lighthouse Districts for showing a path toward academic growth and student success for other schools with diverse student populations.
The schools in this district have achieved and sustained this growth because of their leadership’s investment in students and in teachers – and through the ongoing support from the state.
Behind the scenes, District Superintendent Elizabeth Giacobbe worked closely with a trainer from a state regional center to look at the assessment data and set clear goals for how to improve over time. Teachers worked together and with their leaders to identify weaknesses and modify instruction, getting better day by day.
School leaders used the state evaluation system to celebrate excellent teachers and support struggling teachers so they could improve how they were meeting the needs of all kids.
These are just some of the ways Beverly City has raised expectations and worked together to meet the needs of its students. But these are all things you would only see behind the scenes.
When you walk into the school, or into a meeting, it’s all about kids. Superintendent Giacobbe knows the name of every student, and it’s clear her passion is shared by the teachers, principals and administrators throughout the district. While they pore over data and work hard to get better every day, the real reason they have made such progress is that they connect that work directly to every student.
What’s happening in Beverly City is a real-world example of what can happen when we put students at the center of our work, use data to drive the decisions we make, the supports we offer, and how we work to achieve equity for every child. Schools like those in Beverly City make me excited about the future for kids in New Jersey and across our country.