Yorktown Elementary School (YES) is specialized in math and science and provides education services to approximately 600 multiculturally diverse children attending kindergarten and elementary school grades from one to five (YES, 2018). The school is situated in York County, VA, and is part of the York County School Division (YCSD), an award-winning school system consisted of 19 schools (“About us,” n.d.a).
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As part of the YCSD, YES implements rigorous education programs and aims to foster teaching and learning excellence and aspires to provide education in an inclusive and safe culture where all members of the school population from various social-cultural backgrounds may feel that their needs and interests are attended to. To stimulate progress in student performance, staff development, and school culture, the school strives for continual improvement. The present report is devoted to a detailed overview and analysis of YES’s improvement activities and the discussion of its mission, vision, and strategic goals. Additionally, it focuses on the matters of stakeholder accountability and provides specific evidence for the school’s recent improvement achievements.
Vision, Mission, and Strategy
Mission statements formulated by YES and YCSD share some similar points. YES’s mission is as follows:
At Yorktown Elementary Math, Science, and Technology Magnet School, we all strive with energy and enthusiasm to become lifelong learners. The staff accepts the ongoing challenge of educating the whole child by using developmentally appropriate practices. To accomplish our goals, we expect excellence, progress, open minds and hearts from staff, students, and parents (“About us,” n.d.b).
From this statement, it is clear that the school is oriented to achieve both teaching and learning excellence. Although YES did not create a separate vision statement, it is apparent that one of the school’s main long-term goals, the formulation of which is considered to be a central activity in the visioning process (Sanoff, n.d.), is the stimulation of interest in continual learning and self-improvement in students and members of the school’s staff. At the same time, the YCSD mission is “to engage all students in acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to make productive contributions in the world” (“Mission, goals & beliefs,” n.d., para. 1).
It is considered that continual learning is a key driver of innovation and progress (“The importance of continual learning,” 2018). Only by engaging in the process of lifelong self-improvement and skill development, one can contribute something valuable to the world. It means that YES and YCSD are aspiring to foster the same educational outcome, and as their mission statements and beliefs indicate, they indent to help students realize their potentials and become valuable members of the society by implementing advanced teaching and instruction practices and establishing secure and motivating learning environments.
YES’s strategic goals are well reflected in its mission statement as well. Besides students’ academic progress, they include stimulation of professional growth in teachers, promotion of school diversity and safety, and development of partnerships with families and community members (YES, 2018).
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Parental supervision and support, environmental factors (including poverty), quality of teaching and assessment methods, school culture and climate, and overall level of teachers’ competence are among the main factors affecting student performance and their engagement in learning (Kapur, 2018). The fact that the school has addressed them all in its mission statement and focuses on their further improvement as part of the strategic development, demonstrates YES’s understanding of barriers to students’ development and success across the lifespan. This understanding largely supports the selection of the right methods and strategies needed to eliminate those obstacles.
Measures of Accountability
Along with students’ academic growth, specific measures of accountability that may be identified based on YES’s strategic plan and goals include student behaviors (with such indicators as suspension rates and negative/positive office referrals) and connection with students (measured by the rate of connections outside of the classroom) (YES, 2019). Significant attention is also given to the degree of connection with families (measured by the levels of parents’ participation in school events and students’ absenteeism rates) and teacher performance (YES, 2019). To achieve learning excellence and social success of students as per the identified accountability measures, first of all, YES enforces rigorous organizational policies, as well as ethical and professional standards aimed to ensure inclusive and safe school environment (YES, 2018).
As part of these efforts, the school diversifies its instructional practices, as well as learning and assessment activities, and implements reward and recognition techniques designed to motivate desired behaviors in students (YES, 2019; YES, 2018).
Strategic Planning and School Visioning Process
Parents, community leaders, interprofessional team members are involved in YES’s strategic planning and envisioning process. According to Sanoff (n.d.), development of a shared vision is a core practice in organizations’ strategic planning and requires participants from the community and a plethora of school units to share their views of what an ideal school environment should be like in approximately 10 years. Following this model, YES held brainstorming sessions (during community mentorship/principal advisory events, and so forth) where stakeholders from diverse backgrounds were able to discuss their ideas and opinions with the school administration (YES, 2019).
Consequently, school leaders and experts evaluated the brainstorming results and analyzed them along with internal and external environmental trends to identify further improvement needs (“FY18-22 plan development,” n.d.). However, it may be suggested that YES still may need to clarify its long-term vision and create a concise statement that would yet reflect major school and stakeholder needs for enhancement.
School Improvement Plan and Its Implementation
YES is expected to comply with YCSD Strategic Plan that includes such goals as Student Achievement, Student Experience, Staff Support, School Culture, and Operational Stewardship (“FY18-22 progress reporting,” n.d.). The first one implies that students must show steady academic growth and learning excellence and meet state and federal achievement targets. Goal 2 refers to diversifying and improving the quality of students’ educational experiences, whereas the third goal requires the school to “provide all staff a continuous cycle of high-quality, targeted professional development that aligns to the division’s strategic plan and is supported by current and emerging research” (“FY18-22 progress reporting,” n.d).
School Culture is primarily concerned with the stimulation of family engagement and the establishment of partnerships with parents aimed to help the school meet its strategic goals. Lastly, Operational Stewardship means the enhancement of service efficiency at school and comprises an objective of optimizing the sizes of classes as per students’ developmental needs. Whereas YES’s improvement work is still in progress, it has already attained remarkable results as per Goal 1, 3, and 4.
By June 2019, the majority of YES students either met or exceeded the 2019 state and federal targets in both English and math. As the data provided in Figure 1 demonstrates, 73% of all students were required to meet the 2019 federal English learning target, and YES has surpassed this number by 9%. However, evidence shows that state targets in the Black, Disadvantaged, and SWD subpopulation groups are not met (Figure 1). Moreover, the school attained better results in meeting state targets in 2018, when 87% of all students had well-developed reading skills (Figure 1).
As for math proficiency, the 2019 federal target for all students equaled 74%, and 89% of YES students met the set math performance standard (Figure 2). Noteworthily, the majority of student subpopulations satisfied both federal and state (75%) targets, except for Black students (Figure 2). Additionally, the performance of Black, disadvantaged, Asian, and EL students has slightly deteriorated since 2018 (Figure 2), which means that the school may need to alter its instructional practices and procedures to help them progress further.
Staff Support (Instructional and Leadership Capacity)
There has been a substantial improvement in YES professional culture and workplace environment. Recently conducted Working Conditions Survey revealed a 46% improvement in staff relationships in 2019 since 2017 (YES, 2019). The situation with teacher workload has also improved as 66% of teachers now have enough time to collaborate with their colleagues compared to 28% in 2017 (YES, 2019). Moreover, 79% of teachers and students combined reported satisfaction with their work and studying conditions in 2019 in contrast to 52% in 2017 (YES, 2019).
The improvements in the level of job satisfaction and professional/learning experiences in YES are not surprising. Positive workplace climates where employees feel secure and supported and where their exposure to such stressors as conflicts, heavy workloads, and excessive demands is reduced tend to be more motivated and show more positive organizational behaviors (Gemnafle, Waimuri, & Batlolona, 2016). In its turn, a higher level of job satisfaction and commitment almost always translates in a better quality of work (Gemnafle, Waimuri, & Batlolona, 2016). Evidence provided in 2019 YES report indicates that the school’s leadership acknowledges that teachers’ perceptions of their job and workplace contribute to the quality of their performance and is committed to the improvement of the work environment.
It is also clear that YES’s leaders undertake efforts to enhance the instructional capacity of their teachers. With this purpose, they conduct regular staff evaluations (as reported by 73% of teachers in 2019 compared to 59% in 2017) (YES, 2019). According to Yuan, Ma, Wang, and Zhang (2018), effective and consistent teacher evaluations are core to professional quality improvement as they allow identifying competency gaps and then undertaking efforts to improve teachers’ performance in multiple areas. For instance, to respond to identified knowledge gaps and deficiencies, YES conduct regular professional training for teachers (YES, 2018).
When attending various workshops and training sessions, not only do educators become linked to essential professional improvement resources but also gain clearer awareness of school values, policies, standards, and various norms (YES, 2018). In this way, professional training and collaboration among staff members serves double purposes of promoting positive school culture and fostering teacher excellence, which are both in line with YES’s current improvement goals.
Relationship building takes a significant part in YES’s culture development endeavors. The school managed to engage a higher percentage of parents in the implementation of its strategic plan and, in particular, encouragement of student achievement and positive behaviors. According to survey results, 73% of parents and caregivers were actively involved in their children’s academic process in 2019 compared to 38% in 2017 (YES, 2019). Besides that, students are welcome to share their ideas and opinions with teachers and the school’s administration during the principal advisory and staff mentorship sessions (YES, 2019). It is valid to say that communication with students and the reception of their feedback is crucial for designing and implementing more accountable, responsive, and personalized education environments.
Community residents and representatives of local organizations also have a chance to discuss some vital issues with YES’s personnel. They can share important information about available community resources during regular community mentorship sessions, specifically arranged educational events, and by other means of school-based information distribution (YES, 2019; “Community announcements,” n.d.).
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As it was previously stated in the paper, student progress depends on multiple external factors, including family support and community environment. Therefore, by establishing partnerships with parents, local businesses, and organizations it is possible to develop a mutual understanding of both stakeholder preferences/needs and school interests. Moreover, more active communication with various stakeholders allows identifying barriers to their involvement in the school improvement process and then develop strategies and work collaboratively to remove them.
So far YES has been relatively successful in the development, implementation, and evaluation of its improvement plan, as well as collaboration with various stakeholders groups on different matters concerning the attainment of school’s strategic goals. However, YES still needs to improve its performance with regards to student achievement. Since certain student subpopulation groups have been showing a slight digress compared to previous year achievements and failed to meet the state learning targets, it is pivotal to determine the exact reasons why that happened and undertake a comprehensive approach to address the problem in the following years.
When it comes to managing any changes in organizational strategies and practices, the process should always start with the creation of an attractive and realistic vision. A vision should capture a desired situation/state of the organizational environment in the long term and be emotionally compelling (Korbi, 2015). Not only should YES clarify its overall vision statement but also may need to develop a vision targeted at improvements in underperforming student subgroups. The collaborative envisioning/strategic planning methods that the school utilized previously are evidence-based and effective (Sanoff, n.d.). Therefore, for this purpose, YES could use the same brainstorming techniques and arrange stakeholder discussions.
Consequently, it is pivotal to conduct extensive environmental analysis (Korbi, 2015), and stakeholder engagement is also essential at this stage. Parents may provide insight into particular family-related and other external factors that may influence their children’s slow progress. For instance, caregivers with low socio-economic statuses tend to provide less support to students in their academic process due to both time and financial constraints (Considine & Zappala, n.d.).
Moreover, economically disadvantaged children may underperform due to poorer health and malnutrition (Considine & Zappala, n.d.). Conversations regarding family issues require a significant level of trust and dedication to their children’s success on part of parents, and it is a major task of the leader to establish such a meaningful, trustful, and encouraging dialog with parents.
The environmental evaluation must also concentrate on internal school factors, namely, teachers’ abilities to respond to individual characteristics of underperforming student subgroups. Specifically, educators can be assessed based on the competencies for inclusive education, including differentiated and multilevel instruction, collaborative skills, activity-based learning for children with special needs, and so forth (Majoko, 2019).
The results of a comprehensive analysis will support the attainment of a clear understanding of obstacles to better student performance and will allow identifying strategies (for instance, community networking and student referral to particular social support programs) aimed to help families to foster better academic progress in their children and engage teachers in professional development further.
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