School Spotlight: Wedgewood Park International School

June 25, 2015

Wedgewood Park International School is already planning for the 2015-16 school year, though the team is only days out from wrapping up a year filled with a lot of hard-work and success.

This year, leaders at the Milwaukee Public Schools middle school set teachers on a path to collaborate more often and more intentionally while they worked to better align curriculum school-wide. And leaders instituted weekly professional development sessions focused on analyzing student data and using it to design classroom instruction. And the Wedgewood team implemented the new state teacher and principal evaluation system. And the school added 40 students, a 5% increase from the previous year.

Here’s the thing: It’s all working.

Principal Suzanne Kirby puts it modestly: “The year went really well.”

Making moves to improve
With coaching and support from Schools That Can Milwaukee along with Milwaukee Public Schools, Kirby and her leadership team worked to maximize the existing meeting time designated by MPS to provide an opportunity for daily common planning and collaboration for teachers working on similar content. The move proved popular, says Assistant Principal Kerry Goggins.

“Some groups of teachers kind of took it to the next level and even began doing more collaboration on their own time,” she says. “I think it really built the collaborative culture here at Wedgewood.”

Even as Goggins says this, a group of teachers is in the building collaborating to design new curriculum for next school year. Summer vacation is less than a week old, but these teachers already have their eyes on setting up strong for fall.

School Support Teacher Victor Amaya says the change took time to catch on, but the results have been obvious.

“The teachers are definitely starting to plan their instruction more carefully, and with specific skills in mind.”

Not only have these initiatives worked in daily practice, but early evidence indicates the school is making measurable improvements in academic outcomes, Goggins says.

Thoughtful progress
Goggins says that because of her school’s size — Wedgewood had 882 students enrolled this year — some resources and strategies that are effective at smaller schools are not applicable “out of the box.” Goggins says the school leadership team works with STCM coaches to tweak what they learn through STCM’s monthly Collaboratives to make the maximum impact at Wedgewood. This forms the backbone of the weekly professional development sessions they design and lead for Wedgewood’s classroom teachers.

This kind of thoughtful planning also helps ensure teachers aren’t overwhelmed by all the changes. Goggins says she and other leaders carefully consider how best to support educators and minimize any near-term negative impacts.

“They’re really appreciative of that,” Goggins says.

Kirby cites the implementation of Wisconsin’s new teacher and principal evaluation system as one example.

“The district did a phenomenal job of really putting that as a focus and supporting everyone on that,” Kirby says.

Part of that support was the addition of Amaya, the school support teacher, to the school’s staff. MPS added school support teachers to all MPS schools at the start of the 2014-15 school year. Kirby worked with the leadership team to collaborate with teachers in implementing the new system, while using the opportunity to develop teachers as leaders.

As a result, Kirby says Wedgewood teachers have a positive view of the new system.

Better, but also bigger
The school isn’t just working to get better; it’s also getting bigger. Wedgewood opened in fall 2006 as a result of a district reorganization that combined two pre-existing programs into the new 6-8 middle school to create Wisconsin’s first International Baccalaureate Middle School. When Wedgwood launched the school served just 400 students. Since then, it has grown rapidly and is projected to serve 915 next year, the final year of expansion, Kirby says.

Next school year, the staff at Wedgewood will be working to build on the teacher collaboration achieved this year, Goggins says. Taking the newly aligned curriculum created this year, teachers next year will work to add detail to their unit and lesson plans by fleshing out the teaching practices they plan to use, and planning out the ways they’ll gauge student understanding throughout the lesson, a practice called “formative assessment.”

Reading will also be a key priority, Goggins says.

“Our math test scores have shown some growth over the course of the school year, so now we want to focus on reading.”

Another focus will be student culture, Kirby says. Academics have been front and center this year, and with more students and new teachers joining the Wedgewood community, maintaining a strong culture will be key, she says.

And STCM will be there to partner with the Wedgewood team and MPS to help support it all.

 

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