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For rural schools, center staffers often serve as vital sounding boards for the small number of teachers who work in specialized fields such as special education or teach English language learners.
Peter Lingen, principal of Long Prairie Grey Eagle Elementary, said the specialists have helped him and his staff improve instruction for the school’s growing Hispanic population.
“They have helped us create a template to be successful, and now it’s up to us to make sure we complete it,” he said.
Coaching, not punishment
At a meeting of center staffers and Garlough teachers at the West St. Paul school, the mood was upbeat as Andy Schalm, a math specialist assigned to the Rochester center, began a discussion about how to get students more engaged. Several teachers cited a method called “turn and talk,” where students partner up, face each other and chat about what they’re learning.
By the end of the meeting, the teachers were leading the discussion, and Schalm and Kristin Scherman, a center literacy specialist, listened. They aim to coach, they explained later, not to do the improvement work themselves.
“Our approach is not punitive,” Schalm said. “It’s my job to stand alongside this professional leadership team rather than coming at them with iPad in hand and a checklist.”
Since the school began working with the Rochester-based team in 2012, Powell said, it’s done a better job of assessing students’ reading levels and helping struggling readers.
‘We are seeing results’
While Priority and Focus schools have had exclusive access to staffers at the three centers, that’s about to change.
Last year, state legislators granted $2 million in funding to double the size of the Regional Centers of Excellence network. Three new centers will be anchored to education service cooperatives in Mountain Iron, Fergus Falls and Marshall.
The new centers will serve all schools, assisting administrators with dropout prevention, family engagement and the implementation of statewide curriculum standards. They also may play a role helping schools abide by the state’s new antibullying law.
The original three centers, however, will continue to work with the state’s lowest-performing school districts that accept federal poverty aid.
Based on recent testing data, Garlough is making progress toward shedding its Focus label after next school year. Over the past two years, its math proficiency has increased from 48 percent to 68 percent, state test results show.
Teachers have already asked if there’s a way they can continue working with Schalm and Scherman.
“Teachers’ attitudes about this process changed when they started seeing results,” said Powell. “And we are seeing results.”
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469