One teacher’s insight and leadership led to a turnaround at Brockton High School in Massachusetts. It’s the largest high school in the state with 4,100 students. Ten years ago, only 25% of the students passed state-mandated exit exams, and a third dropped out.
The turnaround at Brockton is attributed to a renewed emphasis on reading and writing in all disciplines, including gym. The emphasis is on teaching students to think, speak and write clearly and logically. Susan Szachowicz recruited fellow teachers to meet voluntarily on Saturdays to brainstorm how to incorporate reading and writing lessons into every class.
The refocus was methodical and done without alienating the teachers union. The monthly two-hour teachers meeting was recast as a training session to help teachers gain additional tools. The school’s fortunes began to turn around quickly, with sharp improvements in test scores. In the long term, only one holdout teacher was dismissed after due process. The others had jumped on board as encouraging results began to surface.
Recently, Brockton has outperformed 90% of the schools in Massachusetts despite the bias that small schools perform better. The key to success can be boiled down to a few key teacher tenets:
1) A shared focus on reading, reasoning, speaking and writing with training to support that focus.
2) A commitment to do the hard work over the long haul and continuous encouragement and training to maintain engagement.
3) Raising students’ horizons with college goals and generous praise and acknowledgement of students’ milestones.