Tuesday, April 01, 2014

TOP STORY >> School picked for statewide arts program

Leader staff writer

“We’re a family, and we know it takes a village,” Murrell Taylor Elementary Principal Myeisha Haywood said after inviting her staff to stand in front of the stage as the school was inducted into the THEA Foundation’s Arkansas A+ Network.

An induction ceremony was held Monday evening at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock with about 200 education professionals and dignitaries, including Arkansas House Speaker-designate Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia), state Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess and Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

An A+ school is one where at least 85 percent of the staff has agreed to infuse arts into everyday learning, Haywood told The Leader Monday afternoon.

The network offers schools $75,000 worth of professional development for a three-year implementation period. The Jacksonville school is applying for several grants, including one that may be provided through the THEA Foundation, the principal said.

The teachers and staff of an A+ school receive five days of training each summer and at least two professional development days throughout the school year.

But A+ schools can request more than two days of in-classroom help from the program’s fellows throughout the school year, Haywood said.

The principal expects to see an increase in student achievement in literacy and math, a decrease in disciplinary problems and a decrease in tardies and absences after implementation of the A+ model.

“Students will want to be at school because school is fun,” Haywood said.

Scott Shirey, executive director of A+ fellow KIPP Delta Public Schools, called the arts-infusion model “bold and passionate,” during the induction ceremony.

He told the crowd that KIPP students spent a week on the Mississippi River learning environmental science. But “even if you’re not sending a kid down the Mississippi River in a canoe, you can still be bolder,” Shirey said.

Haywood said becoming an A+ School made sense for Murrell Taylor because something was missing in the data concerning student achievement.

“We realized what’s missing is student engagement,” Haywood said.

She explained that kids are bored at school because they are used to being entertained.

The principal said she visited classrooms and saw that most of her teachers were lecturing.

That works for auditory and visual learners, but it doesn’t serve kinesthetic (hands-on) learners, Haywood explained.

“A+ would be awesome because it looks at the different learning styles of our students,” she said. “It’s going to give more students the opportunity to be successful.”

Haywood noted that she learned all 50 states through a song her teacher taught her. “If you think about it, that’s how we picked up things we remember even as adults,” she said.

The A+ infusion of arts would bring music, art, drama and more into daily lessons.

For example, students could learn history through drawing in class, Haywood said.

Why not entertain students and teach them at the same time? she asked.

To join the A+ network, at least 85 percent of the teachers and staff at each of the 10 schools inducted had to vote that they wanted to commit to implementing the model and would do so with “fidelity,” the principal said.

Last year, under Principal Jackie Smith, Murrell Taylor didn’t join A+ because 82 or 83 percent voted for the program, Haywood noted.

This year, 100 percent voted to join the network that now includes 17 Arkansas schools.

The Jacksonville school also seemed to have the most supporters present at the ceremony when representatives from each of the 10 schools inducted were told to stand up and cheer as the inductees’ names were called.

The principal credits that with her presentation of the learning style. She showed her team an interview with a skeptical teacher at Pike View Elementary School, which was inducted into the network last year.

The teacher talked about how she saw improvement in her classroom after using the A+ model.

Haywood explained that it was better for the teachers to hear about the model from one of their own rather than administrators.

She said skepticism stems from A+ requiring more work from teachers. “You have to be very strategic in your planning,” Haywood said.

A+ isn’t the only way Murrell Taylor is hoping to boost achievement.

The principal said she is applying for several grants to fund an arts-infused after-school program that would complement the A+ model.

Haywood wrote in the grant that she expects 150-200 students to participate in music, theater, dance, visual arts like photography and painting, orchestra and culinary arts programming when the school day ends.

The after-school program would also offer tutoring to help students with their homework.

Haywood said the program would be called Murrell Taylor Elementary School R.O.C.K.s (Reaching Out to Catapult Kids) Through the Arts.

The school is also building the committee needed for them to apply as a School of Innovation.

Becoming a School of Innovation means receiving a waiver that would allow Murrell Taylor more flexibility regarding how many minutes of each subject are required and how long the school day is.

Haywood compared it to how a charter school operates.

But the principal said her goal is for Murrell Taylor to become a School of Innovation in the 2015-16 school year, perhaps at the same time the Jacksonville/North Pulaski area detaches from PCSSD.