In 2012, Chris Schulz, Superintendent of Mineral County School District, knew he had serious and complex issues.
The following is a forthright description of how he tackled and ultimately solved problems that many districts face.
A District in Distress
When I came to MCSD two years ago, I found a district that was ranked 17th out of 17 academically in a state that was ranked 50th out of 50 in the United States. Teacher apathy was pervasive. Average teacher salaries were lowest in the state and the district was so isolated that, even when superior teachers accepted positions, they did not stay long. Just saying the words “staff development” was likely to arouse an angry diatribe about the program that had been in place for the previous four years.
As I observed classrooms, I found few teachers demonstrating the most fundamental of effective instructional practices. I had to find a solution that would energize teachers and embed the essential elements of best practices instruction.
SPARKU Provides the Answer
I cajoled, encouraged, and bribed 11 educators to give something new a shot. After a week with Mary, I had a small group of enthusiastic teachers singing the praises of SPARKU.
I arranged for Mary to return for four all-day review workshops and five week-long visits to provide one-on-one coaching for our SPARK 1.0 participants. Due to the positive response, I had numerous other teachers asking when the next workshop would be. We arranged for a second week-long workshop in November.
Our teachers felt like professionals, using a common professional language to discuss best practices in an honest and productive manner unlike anything they have ever before experienced.
The SPARK U Commitment
Teachers received follow-up day-long trainings to process, reflect and deepen their understanding of the elements of effective instruction. They engaged in one-on-one coaching experiences that help them individualize personal growth and target their own instructional development. SPARKU provided a clear, reliable, data-based program for best practices instruction that any committed teacher can acquire.
SPARKU infused dedicated teachers with a new enthusiasm for their craft.
After our Board heard from our teachers about how positively and enthusiastically they were embracing SPARK, the Board took formal action to abandon the previous framework and replace it with SPARK.
Subsequently, we scheduled 4 total SPARK 1.0 week-long workshops and our first SPARK 2.0 workshop for teachers who sought to build on the quality practices they were now using in their classrooms.
Our district has been using the Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) to measure student learning growth and proficiency for some time. Learning growth prior to the implementation of SPARK had been lethargic, to say the least.
After one semester of SPARK training (of approximately two thirds of the district staff) student learning growth measures exceeded the MAP norms in 15 out of 16 measures.
In 6 measures, attained growth was more than double the targeted norm. In 3 measures, attained growth was more than triple the targeted norm. In one measure, attained growth was six times the targeted norm.
Similarly, annual growth targets were exceeded in 14 of 16 measures, with overall learning growth significantly higher than targeted norms.
Teachers have made it clear they are happier and better-prepared through SPARK. They want more training, continued coaching, and the continued success in student learning that has followed our commitment to SPARK.
A Personal Reflection
It is a cliché to say that teachers generally find staff development programs boring and un-engaging. SPARK is exactly the opposite.
It has re-energized veterans who had lost their excitement for teaching, given focus to those who found their hard work unrewarding, and developed a common language for best practices instruction that many teachers have never known.
SPARK simplifies the complex, energizes the mundane, and focuses on the hard work of committed teachers.
I have never seen such rapid and engaged development in a staff. While we have really just begun our journey towards excellence, we have found the means to unify the positive and focus on real success.
Superintendent Mineral County Schools, 2012-2015