State officials visit innovative Mobile County schools
Several Mobile County principals who are pioneering innovative instructional programs opened their classrooms to visitors from the Alabama State Department of Education recently.
Rain High, Causey Middle, Haskew Elementary and St. Elmo Elementary hosted 10 ALSDE leaders from the Office of Student Learning and Office of Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development. The tour allowed the ALSDE team to observe how Mobile County’s innovative programs advance student learning.
The first stop on the tour was Rain High School’s Aviation and Aerospace Facility. Students were busy drafting airplane interiors, developing PowerPoint presentations and riveting metal airplane components. Principal Marlon Firle said that the creation of the Aviation and Aerospace Signature Academy, as well as development of other innovative programs, has caused the enrollment at Rain to double in the last eight years. Rain will unveil an animation academy in the near future, and all students will enroll in JROTC next year, Firle said.
A cultural shift has taken place as teachers focus on encouraging students and “accepting students where they are and getting them to where they need to be,” Firle said. “Developing professional relationships with students is key,” Firle explained. “We are creating a culture of excellence and a web of achievement.”
The next stop on the tour was Causey Middle School in west Mobile, which, with more than 1,500 students, is larger than many high schools. Causey principal John Poiroux and his staff have introduced a Pre-Advanced Placement program at Causey. This program was created after Causey completed an MCPSS District Innovation Plan, which allows schools to develop innovative programs with site-based management.
The goal of the Pre-AP program is to prepare Causey students for the AP classes they will have the opportunity to enroll in at Baker High School, Poiroux said. The program aligns well with Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards because it is writing intensive in all core courses. Poiroux will use data from AP courses at Baker to gauge his program’s success.
The third visit was to Haskew Elementary in Irvington. Technology, as well as the Leader in Me program, has revolutionized “The Pearl,” according to Principal Susan White. Technology is such an integral part of the curriculum at Haskew that students used an online form they created on Google Drive, as well as a smartphone, to take visitors’ lunch orders. Instead of writing each visitor’s lunch order on a notepad, a student volunteer entered choices into the Google form, and the information was automatically relayed online to another group of students who plated the food.
A major technology shift at Haskew came this year, as the media specialist and several teachers implemented the Digital Literacy Project. MCPSS Instructional Technology Supervisor Michele White and Library Media Supervisor Debbie Turner joined forces with many Mobile County schools to shift the role of media specialists. Michele White and Debbie Turner explained that the goal of the program is to “build Digital Literacy Media Specialist’s capacity to lead the digital transformation as a coach, mentor, and critical friend to teachers as they work side by side to create a student-centered learning environment that leverages the appropriate and regular use of technology.”
At Haskew, part of this innovative project allows students to “flip the classroom,” so that teams of students work together to teach their peers. As the ALSDE visitors enjoyed a delicious lunch in Haskew’s media center, a team of four students used Renaissance Learning’s Board Builder to teach their classmates the differences between idioms, adages and proverbs.
While the Digital Literacy Program has increased student engagement and technology usage, Principal White said participation in the Leader in Me program, based on Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” has created a positive, innovative culture at the school. Students and parents are even using the “7 Habits” at home to enhance their family lives, White said.
Another Leader in Me school, St. Elmo Elementary, was the final stop on the tour. St. Elmo. Ms. Blackwell’s second grade class greeted visitors with a song sharing the “7 Habits”:
• 1 – Be Proactive
• 2 – Begin with the End in Mind
• 3 – Put First Things First
• 4 – Think Win-Win
• 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
• 6 – Synergize
• 7 – Sharpen the Saw
As the ALSDE visitors toured classrooms at St. Elmo, they found students engaged in a variety of activities to learn the College and Career Ready standards. Students debated the sale of tropical fish; determined whether hair or cotton better soaked up oil; calculated perimeter measurements; doubled and halved recipes to study fractions; played a dice game in pairs to learn place value; and played a letter sound matching game on a Smartboard. The variety of projects that students used to learn the standards was impressive to visitors and district leaders. The common denominator was that students were working together, leading their own learning and having fun while doing so.
Another innovative program developed by the Mobile County Public School System was discussed as the ALSDE visitors traveled on a bus back to the district office. District Literacy Coaches Debbie McLean and Amy Mills shared information about the 39 coaches employed by the Mobile County Public School System with the goal of making good teachers great, and great teachers extraordinary. Mobile County is the only school system in the state of Alabama to employ district-level literacy coaches who provide support to all schools. Mobile County’s coaches serve schools at the request of principals, who complete work orders defining exactly what support is requested. Coaches then visit the schools and assist administrators and teachers in strengthening instruction.
This new way of using state-allocated funds to employ coaches caught the attention of the ALSDE representatives, who will consider encouraging other districts to start similar programs.
As the ALSDE visitors departed the bus at the district office, the consensus was that while progress may take on many forms in Mobile County schools, from constructing airplanes to preparing for AP courses, from building relationships to flipping classrooms, innovation starts with Mobile County Public Schools.
This article was written by Joy McGough, Executive Secretary to Chief Academic Officer Karen Mohr