Bill Maxwell

Gibbs High School's chance to transform

Sometimes bad news brings unintended good news.

This is the case for F-rated Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. Last month, the state Department of Education put Gibbs on "intervene" status, giving Tallahassee the highest degree of control over the operations of a school that fails to show, among other serious problems, adequate improvement on the FCAT over five years.

One result of the state's action is that Gibbs is planning to add one hour to the end of the school day. As expected, many stakeholders and parents are upset about the "intervene" designation and the additional hour. Others, however, correctly see these designations as opportunities to transform the institutional culture of the failing school.

I give a lot of credit to Gibbs principal Kevin Gordon for the way he is handling this situation. Instead of complaining and pointing fingers, he already has sent a draft of an "extended day plan" to superintendent Julie Janssen.

Mainly, the plan proposes to extend "the instructional day by 55 minutes, in order to provide additional academic supports and interventions for the students. … This will be done by creating an intervention/focus class that will occur on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesdays would remain the same, so that teachers can participate in professional development."

Before writing the plan, Gordon, a Gibbs alumnus, sought the support of students and parents by asking them to complete a survey. The choices on the survey included preparation for Advanced Placement classes and the SAT and ACT, peer tutoring, extra elective classes, study hall, dual enrollment and credit recovery. The plan wisely takes into account the thorny issues of scheduling and transportation.

Gordon also is seeking the advice of classroom teachers, the grunts who must do most of the heavy lifting in implementing the extended school day. Again, the principal is being smart. According to the draft plan, he will proceed with specific strategies only after working with teachers "to come up with ideas" and after consulting with teachers for what he refers to as their "buy-in."

Then, there is the district's obligation to negotiate teacher compensation, said Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. But additional money for extra work is not the sole concern of teachers who will be affected by the extended day. Other issues include common planning time, peer assistance and review, lesson study, the new evaluation system and mentoring.

"The teachers I have spoken to are extremely dedicated and committed to doing their best to turn Gibbs around," Black said. "For the first time in a long time, it is inspiring to note that so many partners in education are rolling up their sleeves to assist in getting the job done. The teachers I have met and spoken to in my many school visits countywide share a common concern — more time with their students who are struggling. It is rare to encounter a teacher whose first concern is additional income."

Black said the problems at Gibbs underscore the need for a systemic approach to finding broad and lasting solutions.

"We need to get this right," she said. "If Gibbs fails, we all fail. It would be our intention for the negotiated plan for Gibbs to serve as the model for other schools who are also struggling under the state's constantly changing accountability system. If our public schools are to be the cornerstones of our community, we must reach out to the community and enlist assistance. Education does not take place in a vacuum. We can no longer view education for our students as a part-time job. If this means the schools must be open longer days, in the evening, on weekends, then we must find a way to make this happen. We must find a way to bring our parents in. We cannot do this job alone — the lift is too heavy and too important."

No one knows if the extended day will do anything to help Gibbs' students. But we do know one thing: The grade of F and the "intervene" status have focused attention on the school's problems like never before.

This alone is a positive development.

Gibbs High School's chance to transform 09/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 2:29am]

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