Bold Performance Schools: Above Average Student Growth in DCPS

October 20, 2023
Instructional Leadership
Data-Informed Instruction
Equity-Centered Practices

EmpowerK12, a DC-based nonprofit organization, has just released their 2023 Bold Performance Schools Report which highlights schools that have achieved above-average student growth, especially with priority student groups.

For the second year in a row, 3 out of the 5 DCPS schools that made the list were supervised by instructional superintendent Tenia Pritchard, a Relay alum. Leaders at two other schools - John Snowdy at Friendship Ideal Middle School and Gregory Speer at Friendship Blow Pierce - have also received Relay coaching through Partnership for Inclusive Schools.

Students at these schools made impressive gains over the past year. For example:

  • Burroughs Elementary saw 11% growth in ELA proficiency and 17% growth in math proficiency (Level 4 and 5 on the PARCC assessment)
  • Payne Elementary saw 7% growth in ELA proficiency and 11% in math
  • Whittier Elementary saw 11% growth in ELA proficiency and 10% in math
  • All 3 schools also saw reductions in the students testing at Level 1 - indicating that they had moved up a level.

Lessons from Leadership

Instructional superintendent Tenia Pritchard has been a participant in several Relay programs, including our DCPS Instructional Leadership Professional Development Program and Leverage Leadership. Through those programs she received training and coaching in data-backed instructional leadership, leader and teaching coaching, effective relationship building, and strategic planning. Though there are many factors that lead to student success, some of the big principles that Tenia has highlighted to us include:

  • Building a sense of community and information-sharing among her schools
  • Narrowing the focus to a small set of priorities at each moment - reducing overwhelm and allowing educators to focus
  • "Feedback is love" - creating a culture where teachers and leaders alike feel that observation and feedback cycles are about continuous growth, not evaluation
  • Using a tool like this Strong Start Playbook or one focused on Academic Rigor to help school leaders identify priorities and carefully plan their and their school team's time to understand classroom trends and support teachers

School's-Eye View

Relay had the opportunity to visit with LeVar Jenkins at Burroughs Elementary last year, and profile his school team's work prioritizing student discourse. In the following articles from the Follow the Leaders series, Principal Jenkins and AP Tasha Warren discuss their leadership philosophy, while veteran teacher Hope Harrod shows how she fosters higher-level thinking, communication skills, and class culture. Both pieces include videos of real life coaching and teaching practice.

In the Bold Schools Report, principal Tiffany Johnson from Whittier Elementary identified some of her biggest lessons learned here this way: 

"I am proud of the school culture created where all students are challenged and supported to reach their full potential. My staff and I believe that every student can learn and succeed, and I am committed to providing them with the resources and support they need to do so. Weekly data meetings and long-range planning are the keys to Whittier's success. You must create time to inspect what you expect. Long-range planning has allowed us to increase teachers' content muscle. Whittier Elementary School continues to move from good to great because of the dynamic educators creating an environment where all students can thrive."

About the Bold Schools Report

EmpowerK12 describes the criteria for the 11 Bold Schools this way:

"Bold Performance Schools are the DC schools that boldly support priority students — students designated as at-risk, students with disabilities, and students of color — to reach academic success. The 12 schools designated as Bold Performance Schools are DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC charter schools, serving 3,200 DC students in prek-3-8th grade (including 1,900 economically disadvantaged students). Their 2023 PARCC proficiency rates are anaverage 15.1 percentage points better than other schools serving a high priority student population and 11.5 percentage points better than the pre-pandemic average for schools with similar demographics."

The Empower K12 team further identified 5 stratefgies that are key to the successful schools' results:

  • Data analysis to drive instruction: educators utilize student work, exit tickets, and progress monitoring trackers to adjust instructional support often.
  • Teacher support: instructional leaders provided coaching and professional development, often in-the-moment based on data.
  • Family engagement: with a focus on improving attendance, educators ensured that families were frequently updated on upcoming happenings at school.
  • Joyful school climate: school leadership teams emphasized the importance of a fun and joyful school environment for students and adults; and
  • Targeted small-group and individual student interventions to address specific skill gaps and achieve success on rigorous, grade-level content.

Relay is thrilled to see the hard work of educators at all levels paying off for students. We congratulate all Bold Schools, and have high hopes for every school in DCPS and around the country, that are working hard every day to improve outcomes for kids.


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