Town Square Delaware features monthly reflections from Laurisa Schutt, executive director of Teach for America – Delaware and two TFA teachers who are teaching in Delaware schools this year.
Nine years ago I was invited to join the board of EastSide Charter School. At the time, the school was run by a well-respected leader in a small building in the middle of a Wilmington Housing Authority project. Started in 1997, Eastside was known for strong achievement with about 100 students grades K- 5. The board met in a crowded classroom with barred windows, water dripping overhead.
To increase my understanding as a board member, I started to mentor. My five-year-old daughter and I would spend Fridayafternoons reading and writing with Ms. King’s 5 year olds. Homeless, hungry, some even parentless, Ms. King made sure all of her kids were reading by June. I helped a little, but mostly I observed and learned. Ms. King remains at Eastside today. I think of her humanity-above-all approach every day as I work now with teachers early in their careers.
Over nearly a decade, our work as a school team—board, leadership, faculty, students, parents and families—has not been a linear climb. Despite setbacks, it contains realizations and progress that helped us move forward in our understanding of what puts a school on the right track – as well as the humility required to keep trying to do right by children no matter what.
We tried so many things. We moved school buildings to expand; we lost our leader; our scores dropped; enrollment didn’t fill the building that was given for $1 but came with $8,000,000 of deferred maintenance. We hired a school leader – didn’t work out; we hired another – didn’t work out. We had the best intentions – what were we not doing? How much did we not know? We started to observe excellent schools.
Unlike the ones we saw, our school leaders had certainly not focused on every teacher in every classroom. They had not created the environment where teachers wanted to develop and contribute to change towards one vision. We started to understand that no amount of focus on curriculum, schedule, or after school programs mattered without a commitment to leadership; again and again teacher leadership and administrative leadership set apart great schools.
My final school board meeting felt good– hearing the school leader we hired two-and-a-half years ago report on double digit student growth, consistent improvement and a strong culture. Incredible teachers, engaged parent representatives, a stable budget, and a fledgling early childhood program in 2014 – this is momentum. While the work of excellence is far from done, the momentum is real; everyone can feel it and everyone is now part of it.