Leader Spotlight with Florida Principal Tauri Eligon

Tauri Eligon, a member of the first Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) class, in front of a PROPEL ad on a wall

Tauri Eligon was the first member of the inaugural class of the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) program at Florida Atlantic University to be hired as an assistant principal. Participants in the selective program are effective teachers who are nominated by their principals and who are selected after several rounds of interviews. During the first half of the 16-month program, participants continue teaching four days a week in their own school, take classes part-time and do administrative tasks under the supervision of the principal. During the second half, participants complete a four-week apprenticeship at a high-needs school, learning from the principal about leadership and how to give teachers helpful feedback. Eligon started his job at Challenger Elementary in Tamarac in September 2013, 20 months after he entered the training program

Q. What inspired you to become a teacher?
A. My mother, who was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. She had some of the toughest students you could possibly have. But she treated all of her students as if they were her kids. That left a lasting mark on me.

Q. You were an elementary school teacher for 14 years and had also served as a mentor teacher and mathematics specialist. Did you always want to be a principal?
A. No. But I had a principal who saw some leadership qualities in me. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of the impact I could have in a leadership position.

Q. What was the most beneficial part of the PROPEL program?
A. The professors were not typical professors. They were area superintendents, principals and directors. They were able to provide real-life examples of leadership.

Q. What else was helpful to you?
A.  We learned to have difficult conversations with parents—telling parents that their children are having trouble academically or socially; telling parents that their children may be having thoughts that might be violent. These are conversations that need to happen, that do happen, and they’re not easy. The training absolutely helped. We spent a lot of time talking through different scenarios, different problems and having practice conversations.

Q. Was there anything in particular you felt you needed to learn?
A. I needed to learn quickly to be a better manager of time, a better leader and a better collaborator. It’s a different skill set, and these are skills that need to be learned and honed.


To learn more about PROPEL and Florida’s principal preparation programs, visit the full post here.

Florida Prepares Principals Through Experience in Schools

26 members of the first class graduating from the PROPEL program standing outside of a building at Florida Atlantic University.

The first class of the PROPEL program, which began in January 2013, has started producing school leaders. Nine graduates of the program have now been hired as assistant principals and two are now principals.

Selective programs turn teachers into leaders.  

Jenieff Watson started teaching in 2000 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and she loved her job. “I never thought of doing anything else,” she said.

She was such an effective teacher she was asked to take on leadership roles, first as a mentor and then as a reading coach. In 2012, Watson was asked to apply for a newly redesigned principal preparation program at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa that included a year-long, four-day-per-week internship with a successful principal as her mentor. Competition was stiff—dozens from her school district applied for only four slots—but after several rounds of interviews she was chosen.

In January 2014, less than two years after the program began, Watson was hired as an assistant principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School in Pinellas County. Several months later, she completed the additional State requirements for becoming a principal. “I didn’t see myself as a leader,” she said. “But leadership found me.”

Watson was part of the first cohort of carefully selected teachers to go through the Gulf Coast Partnership Job-Embedded Principal Preparation Program at USF, one of two new fast-track principal preparation programs in the State developed with support from the Federal Race to the Top program. The other is the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Educational Leadership (PROPEL), based at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton. Combined, the two programs have graduated 160 educators eligible to become assistant principals and principals over the past three years.

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Rhode Island: Measuring Contributions Support Professionals Make to Learning

Establishing specific goals helps students and professionals make progress

Teacher and her student sitting at a desk looking over a notebook

Teacher and student go through class notes together. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Amy Manchester has worked as a speech language pathologist for 12 years. Her caseload at Richmond Elementary School in the Chariho Regional School District in Rhode Island includes students with autism, dyslexia, language disorders, and other disabilities.

Her job is to make sure her students can access the curriculum. On any given day, that could mean teaching a non-verbal student to use a speech device to ask questions and make comments during class. Or, it could mean teaching a student who is on the autism spectrum the rules of conversation and methods to interpret social cues and body language to help them participate in classroom discussions.

She knows the work she does affects her students’ learning. Until this year, however, her performance evaluation did not put a lot of emphasis on her effectiveness.

But, during school year 2013­-2014, Rhode Island piloted a process by which support professionals—library media specialists, school nurses, reading specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers and language and speech pathologists—were evaluated based, in part, on whether their students achieved specific learning goals and outcomes.

In the past, for example, Manchester might have had a goal of helping students improve their ability to understand words as they were being spoken to them. But the amount of improvement did not affect her performance evaluation. Now, she has specific numerical targets (called student learning outcomes, or SLOs) for lowering the number of pronunciation errors a student makes and for increasing his ability to identify distinct sounds within a word. SLOs are long-term academic goals established for groups of students, which help them understand their progress and helps support professionals like Manchester understand what work still has to be done. Another of Manchester’s goals was to collaborate more with classroom teachers. “A lot of times it is easy to do our work in isolation and the collaboration piece is key [to student learning]”, she said.

Manchester and other support professionals also need to set specific targets for increasing access to student learning (called student outcome objectives, or SOOs) to measure their impact in a different way. Reducing truancy, for instance, is an SOO.

The formal title of the process is the Rhode Island Model Support Professionals Evaluation and Support System. It is an extension of the State’s redesigned teacher evaluation and support system, which puts greater emphasis on student learning and goal setting. Both systems were developed with support of the State’s Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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New York Puts Spotlight on Teachers Engaging Parents

Teacher leads a workshop for parents during "Parent University" on May 1

With 47 workshops offered at the May 1 “Parent University,” teachers engaged parents in their children’s education. Credit: Steve Bartholomew

South Huntington schools invite parents back to school to learn about new college and career standards

When parents at the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center in South Huntington, New York, began asking questions about the unfamiliar assignments their children were bringing home last fall, teachers thought they deserved answers. So, the teachers with the support of teacher leaders put together an evening demonstration of how the State’s new college and career ready standards had changed both how they were teaching and what students were expected to do.

On January 8, the night of the demonstration, the notorious polar vortex of the winter of 2014 slammed into Long Island, and the temperature plunged into the single digits. Undeterred, the teachers went ahead with the event and hundreds of parents braved the cold and sat through sample lessons in mathematics and English language arts to learn how to ask their children questions like those they hear in school.

“Instead of just asking their kids how their day went, they might say ‘I’m noticing that your homework is different. I wonder what you can teach me about that,’” said Stephanie Brown, a sixth grade English language arts teacher and “parent academy” organizer. “We taught them how to do a close read of text. So, when they’re home and a child has to read something, they can ask, ‘What’s the gist of the first three paragraphs?’”  

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Pennsylvania Trains Principals and Teachers in New Observation Method

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills

Marybeth Zlock poses with her second grade students at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

Marybeth Zlock and her second graders at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

James Ellis, the principal of White Deer Elementary School in New Columbia, Pennsylvania, likes the conversations he and other administrators in his district are having with teachers about what great instruction looks like.

These discussions occur after school leaders observe teachers in action and are designed to provide helpful feedback and guidance on what teachers can do to improve in their jobs, such as by better managing their classrooms or helping students make more progress. The observations are part of Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation system, which went into statewide use as a pilot for the first time this year. Under the old system, Ellis said he didn’t have the same deep discussions about what he saw or should have seen.

“In the past it wasn’t unheard of to put the observation [report] in the teachers’ mailboxes for them to sign, and we were done for the year,” Ellis said.

Now, he talks with the teacher before and after the observation and does a less formal, walk-thru or visit again before finalizing an evaluation. That second classroom visit can both reinforce what he saw during the formal observation and provide new insights. “Previously that wasn’t as important to me as the main observation,” said Ellis. “Now, I really try to check back,” he said.

Teachers with fewer than three years of experience are formally observed twice a year; more senior teachers only once. The classroom observations and how a teacher carries out other professional responsibilities count for half the evaluation. The other half is based on student growth data and other measures of learning.

“A Different Atmosphere”

One of the teachers Ellis observed this year was Erin Sheedy, a kindergarten and special education teacher at a neighboring school in the Milton Area School District, north of Harrisburg. Sheedy said she particularly liked the pre-and post-observation discussions she had with Ellis. Administrators like Ellis in the district conduct observations in schools besides their own.

“It’s a different atmosphere to have that kind of one-on-one attention for any teacher,” she said. “The principal used to be the man behind the door, the wizard behind the curtain. Now they’re much more visible, and it’s a conversation.”

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Iredell-Statesville Schools Are Raising Achievement for Students with the Highest Needs

North Carolina’s Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) are raising academic achievement amongst their high-needs students, English learners and students with disabilities. In 2010, I-SS received the $4.99 million Development grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation(i3) competition that is making this possible.


In one of Iredell-Statesville’s elementary schools, (left to right) 5th-grade students Ashley, Sitaly, Jose, Jasiah, and Bobbie work together during their science intervention time to discover the meaning of “force.” (Photo courtesy of Jada Jonas and the Iredell-Statesville Schools)

Their plan, called COMPASS — the Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — focuses on aligning support structures for teachers, strengthening collaborations between educators in professional learning communities, analyzing student performance data, improving curricula and developing differentiated instruction to address individual needs and raise academic achievement. According to project director Sherrard Lewis, COMPASS has been “a unifying force — a glue — that brings the data usage, heightened curricular goals, and instructional improvements together.”

COMPASS was implemented in participating schools in three stages, the last of which began during the 2013-2014 school year. The first stage involved staff training and support. The second worked to improve and increase data use to inform teaching practices and curriculum creation.

“When teachers analyze and understand data, it helps them understand a child’s true potential,” Lewis said. The district created quarterly “Data Days,” which allow teachers to focus on student performance data and other measures to identify student needs and then select evidence-based interventions to help students reach specific, measurable goals.

Professional development workshops, managed by the I-SS i3 team, immediately follow the Data Days and are geared to help teachers meet their students’ needs.

One principal involved in the COMPASS program said, “One thing I really appreciated is that the support we’ve gotten this year has really been differentiated based upon the needs of our school … [the COMPASS team’s] support has been very unique and tailored to our schools and what our teachers need.”

Since these initial changes and training sessions, graduation rates have increased for several of the targeted groups. In 2010, for example, high-needs students were graduating at a rate of 65 percent. In 2012, that number had risen to 90.

I-SS will continue to build on this foundation with additional support from a $19.9 million dollar U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top-District grant for a new project called IMPACT — Innovative Methods for Personalizing Academics, Complemented by Technology. Their learner-centered model seeks to reinforce the strides that have already been made through COMPASS.

Cross-posted from the June 10, 2014, article by ED’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.


Hawaii Zones of School Innovation Committed to Improvement

Four students pose for a photo, holding vegetables they have picked as part of an agriculture project with Makaha Farms.

Hawaii created two Zones of School Innovation to support regions with many of the state’s lowest performing schools. Schools in these zones benefit from greater flexibility and from state investments in curriculum, professional development, technology, teacher recruitment, and wraparound services such as medical care and nutrition education. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Education

Investing in teachers, time, services and technology to close achievement gaps

Bem is a ninth-grade student who lives with his parents, cousins and grandparents, migrants from the Marshall Islands, in a sparsely populated area of the island of Hawaii, 25 miles away from Kau High School. There are many obstacles Bem faces on a daily basis to receive an education. Just getting to school regularly is a challenge, as it is for many other students in this largely rural part of the State.

But, lately, Bem has been attending school more regularly and has become more engaged in his school work. He even says he wants to get involved in student government. “He’s been coming to school every day, he’s more serious about his studies and he knows that learning is going to take hard work,” said Kau High and Pahala Elementary Principal Sharon Beck.

A comprehensive set of policies and services put in place over the past few years across the sprawling Kau–Keaau–Pahoa Complex Area of schools is starting to make a difference. Unlike every other State, Hawaii has a single, statewide school system. Complex areas function like school districts in other States. In its successful application for a Federal Race to the Top grant, Hawaii said it would make two complexes—Kau–Keaau–Pahoa on the island of Hawaii and Nanakuli–Waianae on the island of Oahu—Zones of School Innovation (ZSIs) because they each had several schools that were among the lowest performing in the State.

That meant additional flexibilities and investments for ZSI schools including:  more instructional time during the school year as well as in the summer; financial incentives to attract effective teachers and leaders to remote schools; a common curriculum; intensive support for early-career as well as experienced teachers; an infusion of technology to expand students’ understanding of the world; giving principals more control over hiring decisions; and arranging for medical care, mental health counseling, nutrition education and other services.

These enormous changes have led to evidence of progress. Eight of the 18 schools in the zones identified as low-performing four years ago have now met performance targets and, in more than half, student growth is outpacing State averages in both reading and mathematics. Statewide, Hawaii public schools have narrowed the achievement gap by 12 percent, and on-time graduation has increased by seven percent.

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California Training Partnership Helps New Teachers Bring Innovative Practices to Home Communities

With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lupita Prado Machuca has returned to her home community to teach language arts at her former middle school. Once an English language learner, she now teaches students in the community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and careers.

Lupita Prado Machuca teaching her 8th Grade Language Arts class in Kern County, California

Machuca is the product of efforts in the central region of California to change the face of teacher preparation by equipping future teachers from local schools with high-quality training. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities to take on their own classrooms.

The five year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with K-12 school districts in Kern and Tulare counties. Known as Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.

The training program emphasizes solutions to individual and community challenges with professional development tools for educators such as differentiated instruction, positive behavioral intervention, and the culturally responsive teaching (CRT) model. By facilitating teaching aspirations in central California communities, Edvention Partners is empowering teachers to integrate personal experience with research-based teaching practices to promote student achievement.

Local school leaders are very excited to have a talented former student return to teach. “She really has some innovative practices and ways to connect to the students,” said Language Arts Department Chair Stacie Rubinol, who taught Machuca in junior high school. “She really inspires them to learn beyond what is just in the textbook.”

Superintendent Ricardo Robles recognizes how important the Edvention Partners program has been to Machuca and his district. By keeping talented teachers in the community, students can witness an example of the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce. “We’ve been very lucky to get her… Cal State has been a huge asset to our school district,” Robles said.

To learn more about Machuca’s experience, watch this video.


Cross-posted from the May 22, 2014, edition of The Teacher’s Edition, a weekly e-newsletter of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Colorado Expands Opportunities for Under-Represented Advanced Placement Students

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton and students hold the over-sized check the school received from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Norton and the students are surrounded by various officials from the district, the State, and the Colorado Education Initiative.

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton (fourth from left) and students accept a check from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Photo credit: Colorado Education Initiative

Across Colorado, high school students who previously would not have had the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes are not only enrolling, but also are earning passing scores in those classes.  “The best thing about A.P. classes is you get the prep for college and you get to learn so much more than you ever would have imagined in high school,” said Megan, a student at Arvada High School in Jefferson County. “It expands your mind to places you never thought it could go.”

Responding to disparities in A.P. enrollment across the State, the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) is engaging with 23 high schools to increase the number and diversity of students taking and passing A.P. mathematics, science, and English classes to ensure that more students like Megan are better prepared for postsecondary education.  CEI’s program, called the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI), is driven by the philosophy that all students are capable of succeeding in rigorous courses.

CLSI’s strategy is already delivering dividends.  After only the first year, participating schools had already seen improvement: in 2012-2013, many CLSI schools showed a 70-percent increase in the number of students who earned a passing score on the mathematics, science, and English A.P. exams.  “These outstanding results equate to 522 new high school students who have had the opportunity to participate and succeed in rigorous A.P. coursework” stated Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the CEI. This includes the students at Arvada High, whose 95-percent growth in passing A.P. scores was more than 10 times the state and national average in 2013.

CLSI benefits from a partnership with the National Mathematics and Science Initiative (NMSI), which uses part of its $15 million Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund the program.

Click here to read the full article on the OII home page.

More Students Challenging Themselves by Taking AP Classes

States across the country join Colorado in preparing more students to be ready for college or other advanced training after high school by promoting the Advanced Placement (AP) program.  Over the past decade nationally, the number of high school graduates who took AP classes nearly doubled, according to the College Board.   The below graphic shows how Race to the Top States have responded to the charge to prepare students by increasing access and success in AP classes.  Students in Colorado took 16.4% more exams in 2013 than they did in 2011, and are posting 15.7% more qualifying scores on exams in the same time period.  To learn more about strategies other States are using to increase college and career preparation, read about how Kentucky students are taking more AP classes and posting more qualifying scores on the exams here. The College Board offers 34 different AP classes.

The text across the top reads: The Advanced Placement program is one way to ensure that more students gain access to challenging courses that prepare them to think, solve problems, write and master what the global job market demands. The box on the top is titled: Participation Rates in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students took 1.8 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 13.2% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 71,388 exams taken in mathematics and science (an increase of 12.9%); an additional 135,954 exams taken in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.9%); and an additional 10,409 exams taken in arts and world languages (an increase of 8.7%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Participation rates in Louisiana rose 60.3% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Participation rates increased in other Race to the Top States: 14.6% increase in Hawaii, 23.6% increase in Arizona, 16.4% increase in Colorado 21.0% increase in Illinois, 19.7% increase in Kentucky, 17.1% increase in Tennessee, 17.3% increase in Georgia, 5.7% increase in Florida, 15.9% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 14.8% in Pennsylvania, 7.4% increase in New York, 10.9% increase in Maryland, 24.6% increase in the District of Columbia, 19.1% increase in Delaware, 16.5% increase in New Jersey, 18.7% increase in Massachusetts, and 24.0% increase in Rhode Island. The box on the bottom is titled: Qualifying Scores in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students scored 3 or higher (qualifying for college credit) on 1.1 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 16.1% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 63,113 qualifying scores in mathematics and science (an increase of 18.2%); an additional 75,790 qualifying scores in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.4%); and an additional 13,230 qualifying scores in arts and world languages (an increase of 15.4%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Qualifying scores in Louisiana rose 35.1% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Qualifying scores increased in other Race to the Top States: 4.7% increase in Hawaii, 24.2% increase in Arizona, 15.7% increase in Colorado, 20.5% increase in Illinois, 25.0% increase in Kentucky, 19.2% increase in Tennessee, 19.3% increase in Georgia, 13.5% increase in Florida, 18.6% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 18.3% in Pennsylvania, 9.9% increase in New York, 13.4% increase in Maryland, 15.9% increase in the District of Columbia, 17.2% increase in Delaware, 17.0% increase in New Jersey, 18.8% increase in Massachusetts, and 18.8% increase in Rhode Island. At the bottom of the image there is a note: This graphic has been updated from a previous version. Updated on May 23, 2014. The source is also given: http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/ap/data.