Principal Dewey Hensley discusses the literacy initiatives that have dramatically improved the scores—as well as the culture—in what was previously a low-performing school in a high-poverty area of Louisville,Ky.
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Located in the Portland neighborhood in downtown Louisville, Ky., Atkinson Elementary has a very high incidence of poverty—more than 98 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch. The school is racially balanced, and most of the students live in the same community where they go to school.
Atkinson has traditionally been one of the lowest performing schools in Kentucky, consistently ranking among the bottom five in statewide reading scores.
In the video, Dr. Dewey Hensley is in his second year as principal and describes the school as one in transition. Dewey's first goal as principal was bringing the faculty and staff together to develop a collective vision and mission for the school, taking a hard look at the data on student performance and developing a plan to turn the school into a high performing, positive place. The school began to show significant progress even after the first year—its reading scores increased by almost 20 points from 2006 to 2007.
Atkinson's new literacy curriculum is in place as well as other new literacy initiatives, some traditional and some unique.
Atkinson teachers and administrators use student data to inform decisions made about curriculum and instruction and teachers in each grade level meet together weekly with the school literacy coach to review student work and analyze data as well as to engage in “just in time” professional development.
An Instructional Leadership Team is a representative group of teachers and other key staff who study and make recommendations in regard to curriculum, assessment, and instruction.
Professional development is meaningful and embedded: Two classroom classrooms serve as models for other teachers to observe best practice literacy instruction and provide an additional four hours of intensive literacy intervention daily to students who struggle with reading and writing. Dr. Hensley leads a writing workshop for the teachers during which they tour the neighborhood with writer's notebooks, gathering information to write three pieces to use as models with their students.
This video was originally part of a multimedia professional development resource, Literacy Leadership: Stories of Schoolwide Success, produced by KET in 2008 in collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Education.
Why do you think the principal emphasizes a collective vision?
What does a leader have to do to produce a strong literacy culture in a building, particularly in a low-performing school?
What are some of the qualities you would want in members of a leadership team? Based on these qualities, can you identify members for a leadership team at your school?
What characteristics of highly effective teaching and learning do you observe?
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