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Noel writing teachers getting boost from Reagan Elementary - Odessa American: ECISD

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Noel writing teachers getting boost from Reagan Elementary

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Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 5:30 am

Fourth-grade Noel Elementary School writing teacher Patricia Holguin and her students could be found on a recent Monday poring over a standardized test-style story figuring out what to change and what to leave as-is.

Holguin is in her first year teaching writing. Having taught math for seven years previously, Holguin said the state-mandated curriculum for writing was like Chinese to her. She needed help. Her principal, Stacy Johnson, sent her to training sessions and now she has Reagan Academic Magnet instructional coach Kimberly Poor helping her twice a week in her classroom.

Along with Noel Elementary, Poor also offers support to teachers at Zavala Elementary.

Noel and Zavala, in addition to Ector Middle School, are in their fifth year of improvement required under state accountability standards. If Ector, Noel and Zavala do not get off IR status by the conclusion of the 2017-2018 school year, the Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will be required to order either the appointment of a board of managers to govern the district, or the close the campuses.

Ector County Independent School District has five other campuses on improvement required status, but they are at different year levels. Writing is one of the weak points.

The community, district and school board are focusing much of their attention on these three campuses right now.

As a way of lifting the elementary campuses out of their fifth year of IR, Reagan Academic Magnet fourth-grade teachers are sharing their writing lesson plans, which Poor helps the teachers to put in place.

“This has definitely helped me. I understand now. I’ve got it because of that extra help,” Holguin said.

Holguin added that she has welcomed help from Poor and is always open to learning new things and is good about asking questions.

“That’s why I asked her to demonstrate. … I tell my kids if … I’m not a good teacher if I’m not learning,” Holguin said.

She added that Poor has helped her with ideas on how to teach adjectives and zeroing in on test questions that will be like those on the STAAR, or State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, test.

Holguin’s students will take their first STAAR writing test in March. That consists of composition, revising and editing, which they were working on Monday. In May, students will take reading and math, depending on their grade level, she said.

Holguin said she has always taught fourth grade and this is her second year at Noel. She taught at Pease Elementary for five years. Pease is in its second year of improvement required status.

Being at Noel has been very stressful, not because the school isn’t doing what it needs to.

“These past two years, I know that we’ve gotten very close to getting out of it. I feel very optimistic this year. We’ve had a lot of help, a lot of help — a lot of help with resources. I was able to get a five-subject notebook for every student, because that’s what they’re using at Reagan and I thought that would be way better than what we were using,” Holguin said.

She said she was going to set up interactive journals based on revising, editing, spelling and a section called “poppers” that has analogies, similes and a word list to help increase the students’ vocabulary.

Amy Harvey, ECISD’s director of literacy, said the idea of Reagan sharing its lesson plans for writing came about when was talking to teachers there about how they approach that segment of the curriculum.

“They consistently have good scores and there has to be something that they do that is strong. During the discussion, they offered to share their plans and resources with the teachers from the other campuses. They are not just sharing with Noel and Zavala, but now they are sharing with other campuses that are interested in what they are doing,” Harvey said in an email.

Poor said the plans are used as a guide to keep teachers on track. Along with backing, Poor said she also wants to instill confidence in the teachers at the IR schools.

“They are fantastic women. I don’t know what the community feels about teachers on IR campuses, but they are dedicated and they are serious and they want what’s best for kids,” Poor said.

“They needed confidence building more than anything. They needed to be told, ‘You’re not chopped liver. You’re good teachers,’” Poor said.

Johnson, the Noel principal, said she has noticed that her teachers are more confident, less stressed and very willing to collaborate to ensure Noel students succeed.

In an email, Johnson wrote that she felt the extra support could lift Noel out of IR.

“We are definitely headed in the right direction and will get out of IR, but this is that extra push so that we exceed our target, not just meet it,” Johnson said.

Ann McClarty, assistant superintendent of elementary operations, said the teachers helping at Noel, Zavala and other campuses are doing an amazing job helping their colleagues.

McClarty said the teachers from Reagan have provided lots of resources and support for teachers at the struggling campuses, helping them fine tune and organize their thoughts around the content their teaching.

She added that she thinks it could open up the possibility of collaboration like this districtwide. McClarty said she doesn’t know what that will look like yet, but this is something the teachers have taken on and they’re running with it.

Fourth-grade teachers Johana Gonzalez, Trinicia Watson, Ashlie Thomas, Maria Fierro and Napoleon Armendariz, a bilingual teacher, have all stepped up, although Armendariz downplayed his role.

Thomas said she and her colleagues have been helping out at Noel and Zavala since the beginning of the school year.

“We email our writing and spelling lesson plans over to Mrs. Harvey and she distributes them out to the campuses that need them. We’ve also taught on a Saturday with those teachers that wanted to see how our plans worked,” Thomas said.

The teachers also have contact information for each other in case they have questions and Poor acts as a liaison.

Watson said fourth grade can be overwhelming to teach because of the quantity and difficulty of the tests. Poor said 75 percent of the test is editing and revising.

“A lot of the writing that our 9 and 10-year-olds are tested on is writing that your average adult probably wouldn’t be able to pass,” Watson said.

Poor said people think it’s easy to teach writing, but it’s got a lot of moving parts. She noted that writing is needed throughout school and life.

Reagan Principal Wayne Squiers said judging from benchmarks this year compared to those given at the same time last year, the test scores have risen, some as much as 20 percent.

“It’s working,” Squiers said. “What we’re doing is working.”

Poor said the teachers’ confidence levels have also increased.

“Ninety-nine percent of it is just your attitude and they’ve got a good attitude,” Poor said.

Armendariz, who teaches bilingual students, said it’s a little different for his children. Squiers said students can test in Spanish for three years and then they move to English.

“Sometimes you will have children who may test in English and sometimes in Spanish. ... It can get sometimes a little more challenging because you’re dealing with two languages and you just kind of have to go with whatever the individual child is strongest in,” he said.

He added that this can be a challenge because sometimes a child’s vocabulary is strong in English and Spanish and sometimes it’s weak in both, so it’s a coin flip on which language to test them in.

“… They get confused sometimes between languages and they do a lot of back and forth between both languages. One of the things that we try to do here is help them develop both languages and teach them to differentiate between both,” Armendariz said.

Squires said one of the things Armendariz does well is vocabulary building.

“When you’re dealing with two languages and trying to cross over your adjectives and adverbs … that type of stuff is what he does extremely well. The vocabulary building definitely would be one of the challenges that we face when you deal with bilingual,” Squires said.

Harvey said the collaboration has been a positive change for the district and it’s an important part of everyone’s success.

She added that collaboration is something the district is always working to achieve.

“It is important for teacher and student growth that we all collaborate. Teaching cannot be a ‘lone’ job. We must work together as a team to ensure the success of our students,” Harvey said.

Poor and the teachers at Reagan agree.

Poor said she hasn’t met any resistance with her trying to help teachers.

“I’m more of a partner with them. I have started doing a little more modeling and co-teaching,” Poor said. “… They are phenomenal. They’re really an inspiration to me, because I have to admit I think it would bother me if someone was coming in my classroom. I would feel inferior. I don’t sense any of that. They want help. They want to do what they need to do.”

Reagan teachers are volunteering their time to help out fellow campuses and Thomas said it is worth the effort.

“Teaching is a team effort, so I think that has to be across the district. It can’t just be a team per campus. I think we have to try to start opening up and breaking down some boundaries that have been previously built to form a stronger district, because no matter what our scores look like — we can be as proud as we want to — but our district matters also. It’s not just about us,” Thomas said.

Asked if there was a certain amount of campus pride that might hold educators back from helping each other, Squires said he thinks that viewpoint has “pretty much left our district.”

“It’s not a competitive school-against-school competition with scores. It is a districtwide unity situation where everyone wants to help everyone else. You’ve got a group of leaders in teachers that want to share ideas. They want to learn from the other teachers, as well. While our teachers are supplying certain things to the IR campuses, there are campuses that contribute to us as well,” Squires said.

“It’s part of being a continual learner. You put your ideas out and you take other people’s ideas and then you combine those together. (The) writing process that we use here is a combination of several teachers that have now retired, our new teachers that have come on and different types of training that we’ve attended. … It’s just taking what works with the kids and piecing it all together to get what will help them be successful,” he added.

Watson noted that some of the mothers at Reagan who help out in the PTA and VIPS programs are going over to the other campuses to give of their time.

“ … We all want what’s best for our community,” Watson said.

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