Two Highlander Institute partner schools recognized with governor’s citations for improving outcomes despite pandemic challenges

North Providence School Department & Highlander Institute logos

“We are incredibly proud of these two school communities and all of the hard work, dedication, and resilience they have demonstrated over the past couple of challenging years. It is a true example of how combining the expertise of our leadership and educators with a talented Highlander Institute facilitator and effective school change model created successful outcomes – especially for our students.”

— Louise K. Seitsinger, Assistant Superintendent, North Providence School District  

At the 2022 Rhode Island State of Education address on Monday, May 9th, Greystone and Centredale Elementary Schools in North Providence were recognized for improving student achievement despite the many challenges educators have faced since school buildings closed in March 2020. 

Centredale Elementary school increased the performance of ELA scores on the 2021 RICAS exam by 4.3 percentage points. Further, the school team reduced the percentage of Special Education students performing in the “not meeting expectations” category from 55.6% to 35.3% in ELA; and from 88.9% to 47.1% in Math, reflecting current school goals and priority areas.  “These results are a testament to our collaborative efforts and perseverance,” stated principal Donna Hanley. “The dedication of our teachers and support from our entire teaching staff is the cornerstone of our success.”   

Greystone Elementary school increased the performance of ELA scores on the 2021 RICAS exam by 5.3 percentage points, outperforming district averages by 16.4 points and state averages by 18.1 points. Further, Greystone students outperformed district averages on the Math RICAS by 10.8 points and state averages by 10.3 points. “We have a unique, talented and dedicated group of educators at Greystone and we are fortunate to be able to partner with our families to provide each and every learner with the tools they need for success,” remarked principal Jennifer Quattrucci.

“I am extremely proud of our North Providence students, staff, and families, particularly at Greystone and Centredale Elementary Schools, for their RICAS achievement and perseverance which occurred in the middle of a historic pandemic. Certainly everyone should be commended for this tremendous academic accomplishment.”  

— Joseph B. Goho, Superintendent, North Providence Public Schools

Supported by strong, collaborative leaders at both the building and district levels, Centredale and Greystone are poised for continued success. Their clear, equity-based vision is supported by data-driven decision making, research-based strategies, strong technology infrastructure, responsive professional development, and measurable goals. Both faculties are knowledgeable, committed, and involved in developing systems and solving challenges. 

North Providence School District leadership credits Highlander Institute as a critical collaborator in increasing instructional consistency and making research-based adjustments that helped each school level up. Highlander Institute facilitator Mike Miele made connections between the district vision, high-quality curricula, and research-based instructional strategies aligned to Highlander Institute’s framework for Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy to forward each school’s momentum. Over the past three years, Mike introduced routines to develop student academic mindset, persistence, and critical thinking while enhancing the involvement of teachers and families in strategic planning underway at both schools. 

“It has been a pleasure working with the talented educators and leaders in North Providence. When COVID hit and we were all faced with uncertainty and new realities, we were able to continue to make progress because of the cohesive leadership and the collaborative atmosphere.” 

— Mike Miele, Partner, Highlander Institute

About Greystone Elementary

Led by principal Jennifer Quattrucci, with partnership efforts begun by former principal Stefanie Lafleur, Greystone Elementary School is a PK-5 school located in North Providence. Greystone has a strong neighborhood identity, as a number of families walk their children to school each morning. At Greystone we believe in building positive relationships within our school community where student and family voice, choice and interests are valued. In our classrooms, students are driving their learning by actively engaging in rigorous lessons while setting goals, reflecting on progress, and working toward mastering skills. Greystone supports 297 students; 54% are considered economically disadvantaged; 42% of students identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). 

About Centredale Elementary

Led by principal Donna Hanley, Centredale Elementary School is a PK – 5 school located in North Providence. Centredale is a place that values exploration, rigor, creativity, and individualism. The hallmark of our school is student success – in academics, socially, and emotionally. Centredale supports 221 students; 45% are considered economically disadvantaged; 42% of students identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).

Learn more about Highlander Institute’s Culturally Responsive School Change Model by visiting our Partner with Us page.

Connecting Data and Equity: Exploring Human-Centered Data Practices

Over the past twenty years, the role of data in the classroom has increased in intensity and complexity. Teachers now have access to a wide variety of data from learning platforms, interim assessments, state tests, and formative measures — to name a few — that aim to support student learning. But accessing this barrage of testing data has not translated into more equitable outcomes for students (Barshay, 2022). 

At Highlander Institute, we believe that data will be more useful when it is “human-centered”, or generated and interpreted at the ground level. For example, we collect data about how students feel about the classrooms, lessons, opportunities, and interactions that they experience day-to-day. We use that data to help teachers understand how diverse groups of students are experiencing schooling, discuss unintentional biases, and develop asset-based action plans to improve both the student experience and student achievement.  

Recently, we partnered with MassCUE, building on the success of their annual Datapalooza event, to discuss how our approach connects principles of equity with data routines. Across five meetings with a cohort of thoughtful Massachusetts educators, we generated powerful takeaways for making data more human-centered in schools.

Shift from FOR students to WITH students

When it comes to reviewing data, we sometimes curate pages and pages (or slides and slides) of notes, data points, and artifacts, an experience not unlike viewing a child as an organism under a microscope. This sheer amount of information can feel overwhelming, often leading to more questions than answers. It sounds simultaneously revolutionary and mundane to realize that the best next step may be taking a moment, looking up from the data mountain, and talking to students directly about how they are interpreting their progress.

For instance, one of our teachers was initially dismayed by what she interpreted as low scores on our Student Experience Survey. When she took the opportunity to ask her students what they meant by their responses, she was pleasantly surprised:

Low Rated
Student Survey Item
Initial Teacher InterpretationWhat Students Said When AskedNew Teacher Interpretation
I can learn the hardest topics in my class.I need to revisit “academic mindset” with some students.“I know that I still have a lot to learn so I answered in the middle!”Students understand that, although a unit might be done, their learning isn’t.
My teachers help me when I need it.Students don’t feel like I provide the support they need.“We have to try things ourselves first, and then only ask if we get stuck.”Students have internalized our classroom norms & are trying to model productive struggle.
TABLE: Student Experience Survey items, interpretations, and student follow-up explanations when asked directly.

This realization underscored how necessary it is to develop a holistic approach to data collection. We are often better able to interpret data when students — and families — are part of the analysis process and we can contextualize data points. 

Empathize with the humans behind the numbers

When we hear the phrase “data-driven decisions”, it’s easy to default to numbers. But what does 10% mean in the context of a district of thousands of students? What does an n size of 15 imply without understanding the composition of a classroom? We practice centering experiences and people, not percentages. 

Each teacher participant brought robust slide decks of data that showed average proficiency levels and growth on various assessments. But when they connected individual data with individual students, a clearer picture of strength and resiliency emerged.

On the surface, one student was not showing growth. When these numbers were layered on his school experience, his teacher saw things more holistically. This elementary school child had never had a stable schooling experience, moving to 11 different schools in his short educational career. Instead of focusing on progress reports and state tests, his teacher prioritized storytelling and collective action. She recognized that no one had initially reached out to her to detail the student’s experience, a cycle that she could stop perpetuating. She worked to bring his parent, past and current teachers, and the student himself to the table, and documented his full schooling career, interests, strengths, and needs, as well as her recommendations for next steps.

This approach centered the why behind the numbers and inspired the teacher to take more informed action instead of spinning her wheels in frustration. When the student moved schools again, the teacher’s portfolio followed him, equipping his new school district with meaningful information and disrupting a pattern.

An Essential, Collective Responsibility

Examples like these remind us that we all hold some power and responsibility for ensuring that data-driven decisions are both relational and student-centered. This is essential work, and can ground us during a time when so many things feel out of our control. Discussing data with students and getting to know them better allows teachers to combine quantitative assessment data with student experiences and perspectives — a combination that has powerful implications for student outcomes. 

We are grateful to our participants, and to MassCUE, for investing in this learning opportunity. Having such a wide range of experiences and stakeholder roles resulted in sessions full of different perspectives, probing questions, and new insights to benefit our students. The open dialogue and learning mindsets within our cohort led to more meaningful data conversations and next steps. We look forward to building on this work with more partners.

Is your school team ready to think about student-centered data protocols? Email Michaela from our team to learn more about Highlander Institute’s Liberatory Data workshops and professional learning communities.

Why We Need Students On School Improvement Teams

One of our CRSP-Pathways schools is exploring new ways to actively involve students in their School Improvement Team (SIT). In this instance, the SIT consists of students, teachers, building leaders, a district administrator, and parents.

Student reflections on an identified problem

Student government presidents and vice presidents from each grade attended a recent SIT data meeting. They reviewed responses to two key questions on Highlander Institute’s Student Experience Survey (SES):

Item 1: “My teacher is glad that I’m their student”
Item 2: “In this class I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions”

In a breakout group, students reflected on the lower scores noted by students receiving Special Education and Multilingual Learners (MLLs) on these items. What potential causes could be at the root of this gap? Reflecting through the lens of their own lived experiences, the students elevated numerous insights during their discussion:

  • Students with IEPs and MLLs might not have enough confidence to share their thoughts because they fear judgment. If they feel more comfortable they might have more confidence.
  • They need to have a bond with other classmates so it feels like a family.
  • Students appreciate when teachers notice them or something positive they do, and they recognize when students aren’t treated equitably.
  • Sometimes students may give up if they feel like a teacher isn’t worried about them.
  • Students with IEPs may be nervous to share because they believe their ideas aren’t important enough.
  • Students from these groups may feel singled out and invisible.

Student-generated strategies

When the breakout groups reconvened, the student group volunteered to share out first to the entire SIT. This opened a space of collective ownership that set the stage for all members to be vulnerable and reflect more deeply on the data. The students shared their own experiences first. Then, they suggested how both students and teachers could support students with different learning identities:

  1. Lead and participate in activities to build trust in our classroom.
  2. Take the time to learn more about the students in our classroom.
  3. Share deep thoughts in community circles to strengthen relationships.
  4. Create more opportunities for students to get to know each other. Share about ourselves so all students, especially students with IEPs and MLLs, feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in class.
  5. Be open and relatable with each other; form connections based on life experiences we share.

This willingness to take ownership of the data and desire to be part of the solution invited educators to stay accountable and create solutions that involve all stakeholders.

Afterward, student participants liaised with their fellow government representatives, facilitating their own data presentations to provide an opportunity for additional feedback. These perspectives were brought back to the SIT, with two concrete strategies elevated as next steps.

Co-constructed solutions

The first strategy, dialogue journals, centers around developing stronger teacher-student relationships. By integrating this routine in advisories and across subject areas, teachers will provide space for regular, thoughtful interactions with individual students.

The second, empathy interviews, focuses on developing stronger relationships between students. The routine offers students the opportunity to better understand the experiences of their peers and identify points of connection.

Both routines focus on building greater levels of trust within classrooms.

Over the next few months, the SIT will study the impact of these strategies using student and teacher feedback loops. Data will drive any iterations and the SIT will analyze end-of-year SES data to understand impact.

Learn more

The participation of students, parents, and teachers within the SIT process increases dialogue, improves solutions, and increases accountability across a school. A proactive, dynamic School Improvement Team (SIT) is a lifeline in challenging times. Within Highlander Institute school partnerships, such authentic involvement by multi-stakeholder design teams provides a strong foundation for sustainable instructional improvements.

To learn more about our SIT approach, click here.

A new group of RI substitute teachers hope to make a difference

School was Chrystal Wheeler’s salvation.

“School was an escape for me,” she said. “It was a place I felt safe. I didn’t have to pull my father out of a drug house.”

Wheeler, 46, a childhood educator, is one of the first cohorts of substitute teachers to graduate from the Highlander Institute’s fast-track training program. Fifty teachers graduated on Wednesday.

Last month, Gov. Gina Raimondo put out an urgent plea for more substitutes. The need, she said, was enormous. Public schools are looking for 950 substitute teachers, 300 in Providence alone.

Who ya gonna call? Remote learning helpline for teachers…and parents

Rhode Island’s statewide helpline of experts could be a model to follow for remote learning

Distance Learning as an Antidote to Fear

In moments of crisis, I look to my ancestors for guidance and strength. Blessed with the wisdom of millennia-old East African traditions, I trust in the power of collective resilience and hope. I grew up with stories of colonization and a 30-year war, as a result of which, by age 14, both of my parents were on their own, fleeing the country on foot as refugees. In spite of, and perhaps because of, the uncertainty of survival and access to basic needs, they took refuge and comfort in spaces of learning. Their stories helped me recognize early on how learning is a powerful antidote to fear, uncertainty and danger.

Every crisis is different, yet trauma forces us to learn the practice of healing and persevering for the sake of growth. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, communities all over the world are calling upon their own traditions to heal bodies, minds and hearts. As we honor the individuals who are leading communities through this pandemic, our educators, who are navigating uncharted terrain in the form of distance learning, deserve our deep gratitude. With little time to prepare, they are managing the physical, psychological and intellectual needs of their students remotely. And this shift is overwhelming.

Through the confusion and chaos, we must resist the urge to accumulate resources, just as we do toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and to jump right into content and tasks without first addressing the ways in which the pandemic directly affects students and families.