Sprayberry High School
When Athena Vachtsevanos thought about what made Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, so successful, she paused, but not for long. "Learning is in everything we do now. But it wasn't always like that. We had to work up to it. First, we took care of creature comforts, such as providing duty-free lunch, and then we were able to talk about how the testing was not going well."
The story of Sprayberry is similar to that of other schools. Starting out with a focus on building collaboration skills and developing trust, the school adopted site-based management. Becoming equal partners with the administration empowered teachers to take control of their areas of responsibility and assume leadership roles. The results were remarkable. Even though the student population is changing, Sprayberry students maintain extremely high scores on state and national tests.
Learning is a part of everything that occurs at Sprayberry. No meetings are held without setting a learning goal. This is one secret to the way in which Vachtsevanos promotes learning in the school. "Every encounter we have is a sort of growth opportunity to increase student achievement," says Vachtsevanos. Meetings with the administrative team, division chairs, departments, and various committees become opportunities for learning. Sprayberry has extensive teacher learning opportunities including "lunch and learns" (brown bag sessions where teachers gather to learn together), mentoring, training provided by division chairs, after-school courses taught by teachers in the school, and district courses. Teachers engage in common planning sessions, summer institutes, and action research. "We are a research playground," says Vachtsevanos. Teachers are constantly reading, writing grants, and working collaboratively.
Staff members at Sprayberry are involved in a number of in-house professional development experiences. They adopted Larry Lezotte's Learning for All program and mission statement: Learning for all, whatever it takes. Dr. Lezotte personally mentors the school. Both the school and the entire state has now adopted Hanson, Silver, and Strong's critical thinking model and teachers participate in training related to the critical thinking models. Teachers engage in study groups about Eric Jensen's Brain-Based Learning. They participate in a 30-hour course on Howard Gardner's and David Lazear's multiple intelligences. Two 30-hour courses on Robert Slavin's model of cooperative learning are available for staff members.
Integrating technology is the focus of a number of other learning experiences for teachers. Every five years, teachers in Georgia must earn 100 hours of professional development, 50 of which must be in technology. Mini-sessions, after school courses, and in-classroom support are ways in which teachers can earn the 50 hours of training they need in technology every five years.
Another secret to success at Sprayberry is success itself. "Success breeds success," says Vachtsevanos. Celebrating success focuses attention on what teachers and students are accomplishing. Every success no matter how large or small is celebrated with the entire faculty. Keeping people's spirits high and focusing on the end results are a part of the culture of Sprayberry. There is much to celebrate at Sprayberry. The school enjoys consistently high student performance results, a steady stream of grants, and a number of state and national awards.
Perhaps the most significant contribution to student success at Sprayberry is the focus on student achievement. Each student receives personalized attention. Teachers, counselors, and administrators keep in close contact with parents. Every student has a faculty mentor who communicates frequently with the student's home. "Building a bond between school and home is important for student success. We help parents know the importance of education," reports Vachtsevanos. With a student population of 2300, this type of personalized attention requires a tremendous commitment from the entire school staff.
An important part of the Sprayberry success is the addition of new positions. A Learning Support Strategist (LSS) was hired to assist teachers in the investigation of research-based teaching strategies and to conduct training and provide support as teachers update their instructional skills. Staff members recognized the complexity and vast amount of information students are required to process and realized that their current instructional strategies are out-dated. The LSS also works with teachers to develop specific instructional strategies for students who are experiencing learning difficulties.
In addition to the LSS, a project manager was hired to assist the faculty with integrating technology into their classrooms. The project manager supports the staff in the installation, research, maintenance, and everyday use of technology. An assistant principal for curriculum and instruction was added to help analyze student needs and to work closely with departments to develop courses to meet these needs.
Student performance scores on state and national tests demonstrate that the emphasis on learning for all, including the adults, has paid huge dividends in terms of student success, national and state awards, and grants.