December is a busy time for any principal – especially our Community School principals! In addition to testing, end-of-quarter grades, holiday events, and students brimming with extra holiday energy, Community School principals help organize and approve coat drives, volunteer efforts, food drives, and more. This is no different for Danny Stirland, the principal of Granite Park Jr. High (GPJH) in South Salt Lake. However, during this very busy time, Principal Stirland set aside time to visit three different schools within Granite and Salt Lake school districts to learn more about some amazing literacy programs and “data walls” that were making big impacts on student outcomes.
Monthly, the Leadership Team at GPJH meets with the Community School Coordinator, teachers, and other partners to look at meaningful data and identify learning or resource “gaps” that need to be filled to further support student success. During a November meeting, an English teacher talked with the group about the needs of her students, particularly the ELL (English Language Learner) population she works with which are primarily refugee students. The overall literacy score of GPJH students is incredibly low and based on the Language Arts CRT data and Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) results, students at GPJH demonstrated a significant need for resources to help increase their literacy proficiency.
“Many of these students have very low literacy and comprehension skill simply because they are now in a new country, trying to learn a new language,” she notes, “and any additional help, even just an adult reading consistently one-on-on with a student, one or two times a week, makes a huge difference!” The teacher noted that students in her classrooms range anywhere from barely knowing the ABC’s and sounding out words, to Honors courses where students are reading at a college level. It is as big challenge for one teacher to try and give all of her students the support and time they need to be successful.
Given these results and conversations with teachers, Principal Stirland and Carmela, the Community School Coordinator, identified several resources that could potentially help the diverse students at GPJH succeed in literacy.
Thus, Carmela and Princpal Stirland’s school tours began!
They first visited Granger Elementary School where there is a robust program called AmeriCorps: Read Today. This program aligns adult volunteers with students who have been identified as needing additional help with their reading skills. Volunteers read with students one-on-one, two times a week. There are over 70 students at Granger Elementary who participate in this program!
Next, Principal Stirland visited Northwest Jr. High in Salt Lake City School District to learn about another program called the University of Utah Reading Clinic. This program provides high-quality professional development and training to teachers, para-professionals, and specialists around literacy. The program also provides in-service undergraduate college students, who are trained as reading tutors, paired with students who have below proficient levels in literacy.
Finally, Principal Stirland and Carmela visited Guadalupe School where the principal, Ernie Nix, and Community School Coordinator, Brandon Elwood, showed and discussed the “data walls” lining the hallways that create student excitement and buy-in around their own learning and educational goals. Principal Stirland loved seeing the data walls and felt that GPJH students would engage more in their own learning outcomes if they could see the data being presented in hallways and classrooms throughout the schools.
“It’s exciting to see principals sharing best practices with each other to help students!” says Carmela Cataneda, “I know Princpal Stirland was excited to see all of the amazing things these other schools are doing and is even more excited to take some of those ideas and programs to students at GPJH who need it most!”
As GPJH faces many challenges, with over 90 countries represented and over 36 languages spoken, the administration, faculty, and staff work tirelessly to ensure that all students are receiving the resources they need, which includes exploring and learning from other schools with similar challenges and implementing those practices that will produce the best outcomes.
“It’s amazing how willing schools are to share the great work they’re doing,” continues Principal Stirland, “and I look forward to continued collaboration!”