Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.09.15Highlights of Our Work with NYC’s Partnership Schools

Partnership Schools

My colleague Maggie Johnson has been spearheading our work with a group of New York City Parochial schools. We’ve been learning a lot and sharing a lot with positive outcomes. Maggie describes some of the highlights below.

Our team has been fortunate enough to spend the last year working with the Partnership Schools, an organization that runs six parochial schools in Harlem and South Bronx, under the stewardship of Kathleen Porter-Magee. They aspire to provide students with a sound Catholic education but also close the achievement gap and ensure an academically rigorous and values-centered education. Doing all that isn’t easy. And the schools had often struggled to achieve that, as Partnership’s bold decision to use New York State test data as an internal facing accountability tool revealed when the first rounds of data came out. But over the last year, the Partnership Schools have begun to make great strides:

  • On the 2015 NYS tests, Partnership Schools posted a 15% increase in math from 17% to 32% and a 6% increase in ELA from 22% to 28% (significant growth in a subject where it has historically been hard to move the needle)
  • 19 of 48 classrooms fostered double-digit achievement increases among their students in ELA and 30 in math
  • Three of the most striking bright spots came from St. Athanasius, where 93% of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch. In grade 3, 71% of students reached proficiency, up from 12% last year. In grade 5, 80% of students met or exceeded proficiency, up from just 20% last year. And in grade 6, a top-performing middle school math teacher from last year saw 80% of her students pass, up from a network-high of 59% last year


This progress is due, in part, to a renewed investment in professional learning as an organization, in addition to their urgency in establishing a shared vision of academic rigor. Partnership principals are doubling down on coaching teachers while many of the strongest teachers in the network have been promoted to academic deans, so that they will continue to lead by example in the classroom,and also drive learning and practice for other teachers in their schools. In revisiting their mission before summer training, leadership teams dug deep into the importance of aligning their actions with their beliefs. The summer professional development they kicked off last week was in many ways a testament to their commitment to accomplishing that.

We’ve been happy to play a small role, hosting school leaders and teachers at a variety of workshops over the past two years and helping to support rigorous reading instruction. Most recently three members of our team led a Behavior and Culture workshop for new and returning Partnership teachers to help them build positive, productive, orderly classrooms that could serve as a foundation for learning. The workshop occurred during summer vacation for returning teachers—but dozens—hungry for tools they could use and adapt in their classrooms—still decided to attend. For many of these teachers, it was their first introduction to TLaC and practicing their technique outside the classroom. And yet, their gumption and zest was infectious.

As these pictures show, they jumped into practice without hesitation and relished playing the role of “reluctant-to-comply students” in order to help colleagues practice their tone and body language when correcting students.

Teachers gave feedback to each other with aplomb and incorporated it into their practice rounds with intentionality. The celebration of their colleagues’ success was energizing, and set the tone for a focused and unified start to the year. This is no small thing, by the way. A recent study by TNTP suggests that the key to teacher development is the culture of the organization in which it happens.  When people are mission aligned, hungry to learn, have a shared vocabulary and a growth mindset, good things happen. When culture isn’t strong, all the workshops in the world won’t make much difference. So witnessing the collaboration, conviction and team spirit at the Partnership was an incredibly inspiring experience for us. We are so excited to watch their spirited and talented teachers in action over the next year!

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