This past Monday night our class had a chance to hear from Kevin Gordon, current Principal at High Point Elementary in Clearwater. In addition to his current job at High Point, Mr. Smith is pursuing an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership at the University of South Florida.
High Point Elementary is a diverse school that serves a primarily low-income community. It has approximately 650 students. According to Mr. Gordon, the breakdown of the student body is as follows: 29% white, 48% Hispanic, and 16% African American. Mr. Gordon feels that the diversity of the school is one of its strengths and it helps the students appreciate diversity because they live in it for six years of their school lives. The teachers at High Point are primarly female, but Mr. Gordon thinks the teachers and staff are pretty balanced in terms of ethnic background. The number of students at the school who are receiving a free or reduced lunch has ranged from 74 to 91%. The school has not made AYP the last six years. Mr. Gordon mentioned making AYP as a goal that he has for the school, as well as well as fully implementing the dual language program currently in place at High Point. In terms of students with disabilities, the school has moved from a pullout model to full inclusion, even in the case of ELL students. The only exception to full inclusion has been for students classified as EBD.
Prior to meeting with Mr. Gordon, everyone in the class had an opportunity to submit several questions for Mr. Gordon to address during our discussion in class:
1. What are some of the ways you interact with parents and the community to help ensure the success of your students?
Mr. Gordon noted that the school has taken several steps to help Spanish-speaking parents (who make up a majority of the parents) feel more comfortable. This included purchasing materials in both English in Spanish. He also mentioned that having a bilingual assistant in the main office has been helpful.
2. How has your knowledge of students’ socialization at home informed your choice of professional development provided to teachers to help prepare them work with students from diverse background?
One of the things he has done is do read out louds of books that address diversity with his teachers. The books he has used for these read out louds include If Only She Knew and 601 Maple Street.
Mr. Gordon said he has tried to build a culture of respect at the school by having each class craft their own mission statements with student participation to provide a sense of ownership. He feels this has helped address behavior issues.
3. What advice can you give new teachers or teacher mentors to help them work in urban schools?
Mr. Gordon said that classroom management is key and that building a good relationship with the students is also important. As he said, “they don’t buy into what you have to teach, they buy into you.”
4. What are you doing at your school with respect to technology?
The school is only two years old and thus it has some state of the art technology in each classroom, including an overhead projector, a SmartBoard, a sound enhancement system, and a student response system (“clickers”). The student-to-computer ration is about 2 to 1, according to Mr. Gordon. He has made sure that teachers have the training they need to become proficient in the technology and use it effectively in the classroom. Teachers can attend trainings after school, usually every Thursday. Several High Point students have received awards for multimedia projects they have done.
5. What are your goals for your school?
Of course, making AYP was mentioned by Mr. Gordon, but he also addressed more intangible goals such as giving his students more exposure to the middle class experiences many of us take for granted. For example, he mentioned that many of his students had never visited Tampa even though it’s just a short drive across the bay from Clearwater. He has tried to expose his students to new experiences such as going to see the orchestra.