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Cortez program emphasizes instruction and leadership

Students and parents check out the hanging projects at the Kemper Elementary Art Show in May. The school is entering Year 3 of a turnaround program with the University of Virginia.

Over the past two years, three Cortez elementary schools have been participating in a University of Virginia turnaround program to get them back on track.

In May, the three schools — Kemper, Manaugh and Mesa — were accepted to participate in a third year for the program, which will focus on sustainability, so that teachers, principals and administrators can continue the work after UVA personnel are gone.

“Year 3 is about sustaining the work and how you institutionalize those practices,” Eric Thomas, chief support officer for the turnaround program, said Thursday.

Schools in about 20 states have participated, he said. It is built on four “levers,” areas of focus that schools and districts can improve, Thomas said. Teachers and administrators in Cortez have drilled the four levers for the past two years.

The first lever is leadership, which drives the other three levers. UVA personnel worked with administrators, principals and teachers to develop that component, Thomas said.

Leadership is the driver for the other aspects of the program, Thomas said, and includes principals, administrators and school board members.

The second lever – support and accountability – examines relationships between schools and central offices. Superintendent Lori Haukeness acts as the “shepherd,” and is the central office representative who oversees the schools in the program, he said.

“She has done a fantastic job with that,” Thomas said.

The third lever – talent management – focuses on recruiting and retaining teachers. That’s been a challenge in Cortez, as some prospective teachers see other cities in the region as more attractive, Thomas said, and can’t compete well because of budget constraints.

In Cortez, UVA personnel have spent the most time with the fourth level – instructional infrastructure – which deals with curriculum, standards and teaching delivery.

Before UVA personnel came in, there were some aspects of that infrastructure that simply didn’t exist in Cortez, Thomas said. The program stresses Cortez schools weren’t even looking at continual student assessment, he said. Now that schools have implemented that assessment, teachers are working on how to analyze the information and how to use the data, he said.

“We feel really good about all of those efforts (in Cortez),” Thomas said. “Overall, I think our success is a positive trend.”

Haukeness said the UVA program has been helpful in increasing student achievement, particularly in reading and math. Teacher leaders and administrators worked with UVA personnel to devise 90-day plans for certain focus areas in the schools, and those plans have been very helpful, Haukeness said.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in achievement for our students,” she said.

The program has helped restructure district administration at the central office, Haukeness said.

“It’s been very positive and has helped us support our teachers,” she said.

Sep 27, 2016
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