Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students (G.E.A.R.S.)
Avondale Elementary School District
School Transformation Pilot Project (Years 1-2)
Avondale Elementary School District is located about twenty miles west of Phoenix, Arizona. The school district serves approximately 5,700 Pre-K to eighth grade students across nine schools. Seventy-two percent (72%) of students receive free or reduced lunch and many students speak another language at home, primarily Spanish. The community is hardworking and very supportive of its schools. During the 2014-15 school year, many students struggled with the new state standardized test, achieving a school district pass rate of twenty-three percent (23%) in mathematics and twenty-five percent (25%) in English Language Arts as measured by the AzMERIT test.
In the spring of 2016, school leaders from the Fairfax County Public Schools presented to Governor Ducey a proposal for a school transformation pilot program called Project Momentum, a comprehensive school-improvement model to support students, teachers, and staff members with the goal to increase student achievement. The model focuses on improvements to instructional quality, exceptional teaching practice and other factors that influence student learning, such as the correlation between socioeconomic status and student outcomes. The framework of Project Momentum instructional improvement strategy includes the following components:
- Develop positive student-teacher relationships.
- Achieve results.
- Use formative evaluation to improve.
- Deliver focus lessons and targeted intervention.
- Build collaborative efficacy and instructional expertise.
Beginning on July 1, 2016, Governor Ducey entered into a public-private partnership with the Challenge Foundation and Avondale Elementary School District to implement Project Momentum district-wide beginning in school year 2016-17, Avondale Elementary School District was selected because the school district showed evidence of being on track for initial implementation of a preexisting school improvement planning model. In addition, Avondale showed an engaged student population, caring community and a district/school leadership committed to the concept of continuous improvement. Governor Ducey's investment of $575,000 supported the following:
- Teacher Leadership Grants (73) for select members at each school to extend their service for one month during the summer and the into next school year. grant
- Principal/Assistant Principal Stipends Equivalent to 1 Month (15) to facilitate and actively participate in the teacher professional development.
- Substitute Coverage 4x per year for convenings.
- Early Start Training Stipends for Teachers Not Selected for Teacher Leadership Grant (226)
The philanthropic support from the Challenge Foundation supplied the consulting services of the Project Momentum team led by Dan Parris, Lead Consultant and Mark Greenfelder, Executive Director, Office of School Support, Fairfax County Public Schools which included the following:
- District principals were supported throughout this effort by experienced principal partners from the Project Momentum implementation team who visited campuses regularly and provided ongoing phone consultation with school leaders.
- Teachers in the district received ongoing professional development and expert training aligned with project components.
- District leaders were supported by an experienced Project Momentum implementation team with the mission to help provide oversight, nurture the developing collaborative process and assist with needed structure to drive project goals.
- District instructional team were supported with technical assistance to help catalogue curriculum maps and pacing guides, organize and preserve lesson materials, deploy frequent formative assessments, analyze data, track student progress and evaluate program outcomes.
The combined investment by Governor Ducey and the philanthropic partner resulted in a cost of $150 per pupil.
Dr. Betsy Hargrove
Dr. Betsy Hargrove, Superintendent of Avondale, along with school leaders and instructional staff, and the Project Momentum implementation team collaboratively developed a strategic plan for improvement. The Avondale teachers and staff members formed a guiding coalition to plan and drive improvement efforts at their individual schools. During the course of the project, this coalition of teachers and staff rebranded their work as G.E.A.R.S (Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students). The strategic plan included the following goals:
- Goal 1: Every school in the Avondale Elementary School District will increase their overall pass percentages on the AzMERIT assessment in reading and mathematics.
- Goal 2: A majority of school within the Avondale Elementary School District will achieve results above the performance regression line when comparing pass percentages in reading and mathematics with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch for all reporting K-8 schools in Arizona.
Over the two-year course of G.E.A.R.S., Avondale Elementary School District saw student achievement rise and other tangible benefits emerge. District enrollment began to stabilize as parents recognized and became part of the effort to improve school quality; transitions in school leadership and teacher vacancies positions declined; staff developed a greater sense of ownership and understanding of their shared strategic vision and chose to stay in the district; and most importantly, expectations for student achievement increased, as did results.
Goal 1: Every school in the Avondale Elementary School District will increase their overall pass percentages on the AzMERIT assessment in reading and mathematics.
- From the baseline year of 2014-15, performance of students on the AzMERIT Assessment for English Language Arts improved twelve percentage points (12%) by the 2016-2017 school year. This growth rate was more than double the state growth rate over the same period of five percentage points (5%).
- The performance of students on the AzMERIT Assessment for Mathematics improved seventeen percentage points (17%) by the 2016-2017 school year. This growth rate was more than triple the state growth rate over the same period of five percentage points (5%).
Goal 2: A majority of schools within the Avondale Elementary School District will achieve results above the performance regression line when comparing pass percentages in reading and mathematics with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch for all reporting K-8 schools in Arizona.
- At the conclusion of 2016-2017, student pass rate performance for Avondale had essentially equaled that of the state with a Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) population in the district that was eleven percentage points (11%) higher than the Arizona average.
Results for Avondale Elementary School District students improved considerably when compared to other Arizona districts. Schools in Avondale Elementary had a higher free and reduced lunch rate than the majority of schools in the state. When comparing their combined performance in mathematics and reading for the 2016-17 school year, Avondale Elementary School District outperformed fifty-three percent (53%) of districts – an increase of thirty-two percentage points (32%) from the baseline year of 2014-15.
As an aspect of program evaluation, the pass rates for students that had remained in Avondale Elementary School District throughout the course of the improvement effort from 2014-15 to 2016-17, were compared to the overall pass rates for Arizona students at the conclusion of 2016-17. The pass rates for this cohort of students outperformed state averages by five percentage points (5%) in mathematics and two percentage points (2%) in English Language Arts.
Wildflower Elementary School
Student performance gains increased dramatically at Wildflower Elementary School from 2014 -15 to 2016-17. An increase of twenty-seven percent (27%) in English Language Arts and thirty-nine percent (38%) in mathematics was achieved over the two-year period. Along with the training and help received through G.E.A.R.S., the teacher leaders at Wildflower Elementary School led their own transformational change with improvements visible in every facet of school operations. This improvement resulted in the school earning an overall rating of “A” from the Arizona Department of Education, a first for Avondale Elementary School District.
The efforts of educators in Avondale Elementary School District make a lasting difference in the lives of students. Their work G.E.A.R.S. - Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students, increased not only student learning but also that of teachers. The shared mission of these courageous teacher leaders is to help students exceed what they think is their potential and achieve life goals without limits. All of the participants in G.E.A.R.S. and Project Momentum are extremely proud of this work that has benefited students, teachers and the entire school community.