Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they’re all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district’s unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.
Prior to 2009, the best rating the district had received from the Texas Education Agency was “recognized,” and Kloiber, who joined the district in July 2009, feared the district was in a rut and that its achievement was going to flatline. Inspired by Jim Knight, a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, Kloiber began investigating the possibility of implementing instructional curriculum coaches in Celina’s high school, which has over 500 students. The coaches would observe classrooms and point out best practices for teachers, while also mentoring new teachers and tutoring at-risk students. After finding out the district was eligible for a Texas Title 1 Priority Schools grant, formerly known as the School Improvement Grant, Kloiber and a team of administrators from the high school and the district drafted a plan for curriculum coaches in the spring of 2010. Former Celina Superintendent Rob O’Conner was initially hesitant. “I had to convince him,” says Kloiber. “He knew it was a hoop jump, and you’re really working when you take money from the state. But we knew what was coming down the pipeline in terms of state budget cuts, so it was a no-brainer.”
Celina ISD was by no means at the bottom of the barrel in student achievement level, and Kloiber and administrators knew receiving the money was a stretch.
“We knew it was really a shot in the dark,” says Donny O’Dell, interim superintendent of Celina ISD and former assistant superintendent. “We knew several schools would apply because of the money involved, but we felt like we had a great plan and that if the plans were really looked at, we had a very good chance of receiving the grant money.”
In July 2010, they got the call. “I thought it was someone pulling my leg,” says Kloiber, who was shocked to see the Texas Education Agency appear on her caller ID. The agency had, in fact, awarded Celina ISD $5 million.
From Teachers to Coaches
By August 2010—one month later—the high school had selected four master teachers with over 20 years of experience to serve as curriculum coaches. They would teach one class each and spend the remainder of the school day monitoring classrooms.
“Giving them this leadership role really awakened them,” says Kloiber. “Teachers, particularly those who have been with the district for some time, can get into that cruise control mode.” Every day, each teacher in the high school has at least one or two curriculum coaches monitoring the classroom. According to Kloiber, the high school had to ease into this transition to garner a working relationship between the teachers and the coaches. The goal, she says, was not to point out what teachers were doing wrong, but to demonstrate best practices, to show where they could improve, and to serve as an extra set of eyes in the classroom. During the first six weeks, the coaches serve strictly as helpers.
Kloiber says that if the teachers don’t trust the coaches, “they’re going to have a bad taste in their mouth about it. This is a small community, and many of these teachers have known each other since the beginning. It was an adjustment, but they’re welcoming the support.” After six weeks, the coaches begin pointing out strengths and weaknesses in each lesson plan and how teachers can engage students who may be falling through the cracks. The other component includes serving as mentors to new teachers, which includes one-on-one coaching and professional development through School Improvement Network’s PD360, CSCOPE Curriculum System and Support, and Eduphoria, which better connects administrators with teachers. Nearly half of new teachers leave the classroom after the first five years, says Kloiber. Investing in a quality workforce is vital.
The coaches also pair up with at-risk students, whom they tutor for an hour each week. “There is a great amount
of small group work going on all over the building,” says O’Dell. “The instruction level has improved, and the struggling students have a feeling that someone cares about them.”
New Vertical Alignment
One of the greatest changes that has come out of this program, says Kloiber, is the vertical alignment that has emerged between the middle and elementary schools.
According to Kloiber, this is the result of work by determined middle school leaders. “They took this on themselves,” she says. “They contacted the lower schools, dug into data, and wanted to see what is going on in the classrooms and what kids need to be prepared with by the time they enter the high school. They are committed to this community and have so much ownership over this.”
In the 2010-2011 school year, the district used $1.3 million from the grant and currently has $1.7 million to use over the next two years. Although funds are running out, Kloiber is confident that the district will continue the coaches well into the future and branch out into the middle and elementary schools.
“We’re happy where we are and where we’re headed,” Kloiber says. “What happens is the tests become harder and rigor goes up; that’s when your data starts to flatline. When I look out at graduation, I want to see CEOs and college recruiters wanting our graduates.”