A Principal’s Perspective

Kevin Gordon, Principal at High Point Elem.

Kevin Gordon, Principal at High Point Elem.

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.


This is an A and B conversation so please C your way out: Bias in Language at the IEP Table

Parents are sometimes both present and shutout of the IEP conversation. Being shutout is often the result of teachers and other personnel feeling like they are “experts” on your child. This expertise is reflected in the language they choose to use, and how they take charge of the IEP meeting that is about your child. This language is often so technical that many parents would not be able to understand. For example, Mehan (1987) found that psychologists took an authoritative stance at the IEP table by using technical language as they “presented” information rather than conversing about that information. Parents were shutout of these conversations because they did not speak the “language” of the psychologist. Thus, they were present for a conversation that did not include them.

 I encourage parents to ask for a definition of any word that they do not understand. Many educational professionals will admit that educational success stories for children with disabilities are few and far between. So however well-intentioned these professionals claim to be, they can’t truly be the all knowing expert that they think they are, parents are experts and equal partners in the educational future of  their children.

Mehan, H. (1987). The role of the language of role in institutional decision making. Discourse Processes, 12, 187-211.

Preparing for Battle at the IEP Table

You may have to fight for the educational services that your child with a disability needs. Be prepared for battle!

 Step 1: Attend all IEP meetings.

The school district or the IEP team will give your child whatever they find appropriate. The services the school district offers is sometimes inappropriate for your child, so attend the meetings.

You are a member of the IEP team and your voice is valuable. Who knows your child better than you? The school district will do whatever they think you will tolerate.

Decisions may have been made about the IEP services that your child is going to receive before you ever stepped foot into the IEP room.  Speak up!

Step 2: Have everything in writing. If you do not agree with something speak up and request that it be noted in the IEP.

Sending letters to the district to ask questions could be invaluable if you ever need to challenge them in another forum (fax it, or email it). Also, negotiating with them could be beneficial.

Step 3: Move through the ranks. The IEP team has unwritten rules about the services they can offer, but there are people in power that can give your child what they need. Ask to speak to the principal first then the compliance department or a supervisor.

Step 4: Always be professional; the school district loves when parents lead with emotion because they can use an unprofessional letter to show the unreasonableness of the parent.  (Wrightslaw)

Step 5: Get some support. Joining organizations like the Council of Parents Advocates and Attorneys or COPAA is priceless. They have experienced people that may be able to help you  get your child what is appropriate. (Maybe this should be step 1). Join COPAA.

Step 6: There will be members of the IEP team who are quietly on your side. Ask casual questions outside of the meeting to try to determine where they truly stand. This will help you in the long run.

Step 7: Make a list of what is appropriate in the IEP, and what else your child needs to get an appropriate education. At all costs do not mention I want what is “best” for my child. The school district is only required to provide what is appropriate.

Step 8: Go to battle and make it happen.



Students Who Drop Out Of School-Dr. Patty McHatton Presentation Notes

Dr. Patty McHatton's presentation on students who drop out of school

Dr. Patty McHatton's presentation on students who drop out of school






Dr. McHatton Presentation 4/6/09          



·        Dr. Patty McHatton is a professor at the University of South Florida who witnessed injustices in her own high school experience and again during her college teacher education program. She dropped out of high school herself and did not begin college for over two decades. She now dedicates herself to working directly with students and creating a space for hearing their voices to better prepare future educators to work towards social justice and create successful school experiences for all students. She said, “This work speaks to my soul.”


·        Students can teach us, there is much to learn from the students.


·        Children are the best measure of how teachers are doing.


·        Dr. McHatton’s current work displays work done by students who have dropped out of high school; she supports them in telling their stories, describing their experiences, and relaying their perceptions to future and current educators.


·        Students have a vision and teachers need to focus on making sure the students know exactly what they need to do to fulfill their vision.


·        More attention needs to be directed to the relationship between teachers and students. This theme keeps recurring in the stories of high school dropouts that Dr. McHatton works with.


·        We need to find a way to give students a voice.


·        Students who have dropped out have not been nurtured in school, schools are not structured to meet the needs of some students.


           Dr. McHatton makes a difference for students who have dropped out of school         








Why Students Drop Out-Article Notes by Bradshaw/Gillies

Dr. McHatton Presentation 4/6/09

Notes on Assigned Article:  Why Students Drop Out


     This article summarizes the findings from a study that examined the views of diverse students, aged 16-25, who dropped out of high school.  Being that 50% of black and Hispanic students in the U.S. fail to graduate, this study asked students why they left school: 

            1)  47% of students reported boredom with school

            2)  43% of students reported missing too many days and could not catch up

            3)  42% reported spending time with people who were disinterested in school

            4)  38% said they had too much freedom and not enough rules

            5)  35% of students reported they were failing in school


Participants also gave personal reasons for dropping out including needing to get a job, becoming a parent, and having to take care of their family.  Participants felt unprepared for high school; 45% reported the failure of earlier schooling to get them ready for later grades.

     Participants in this study felt regret for their decision to drop out of school and gave suggestions for actions that schools could take to prevent others from doing the same:

            1)  provide more engaging, experiential learning that clearly shows the connection

                 between school and the real-world

            2)  provide better instruction and support for students who are struggling; better

                 teachers, small class sizes, individualized instruction, tutoring, extra time

            3)  improve school climate with more supervision of students, more effective

                 discipline, and protection from violence

4)  provide opportunities for students to develop trusting relationships with adults

     in school

            5) improve communication between schools and families 

     Other needs to effectively combat the problem of students dropping out are to develop early warning systems to track absenteeism, to identify students at risk so more support can be provided, raise the legal dropout age to 18, provide incentives to increase graduation rates, and teach schools best practices to implement in their dropout prevention programs.  


The Making of a Gang Member

“No one description applies to every person in a youth gang. But most share a recurrent problem. Most have difficulty in school, and at least half of them, when tested, have learning disabilities. At least half. Many studies find much higher numbers than this. Apparantly, we have something to deal with here.”

To read more. . .peaceinstreets001

Vicki Caruana

Vicki Caruana

In Their Own Voices. . .

Students’ perceptions of the role schools and teachers play in why they join gangs should be considered. In a study by Lee (1999 ), the following excerpt appears:

“Interestingly, students felt that schools did little to prevent their gang involvement and, at times, only exacerbated the sense of disrespect that contributed to their attraction to gangs in the first place.

One of the five student researchers, Roberto, explained that gang members were categorically considered failures or “bad” students by teachers and counselors at Emerson. When students internalized these low images, Roberto believed, their esteem dropped even lower and, consequently, pushed them further into gang involvement.

This phenomenon was solidified when students themselves began to feel a sense of hopelessness. One Vietnamese American male noted that by his freshman year, he believed that his gang fighting, criminal record, and low grades had already made it impossible for him to go to college. Students believed that adults, who typically perceived gang members as trouble makers unwilling and incapable of learning, failed to make significant attempts to include these students in class activities. Although interviewees claimed that Emerson, in comparison to other high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, experienced minimal gang activity, they still believed that the school did little to address gang issues, including working with gang members to stay in school, helping students to deal with peer pressure, and preventing other students from joining gangs.”


Downloaded from http://uex.sagepub.com at UNIV OF SOUTH FLORIDA on March 30, 2009

Vicki Caruana

Vicki Caruana