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California

How This Principal Connected Teachers to Common Core

I know many teachers suffer from “reform fatigue.” So when Common Core was introduced, there was the inevitable pushback and the view that it was just another education trend. While some educators are reluctant to fully embrace the standards, as principal at Summit Leadership Academy High Desert in San Bernardino County, California, I must ensure that teachers are using techniques and approaches that empower students to succeed.

Connecting the Dots

I decided to connect the dots to a program teachers already used. For years, some teachers relied on the post-secondary readiness program AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which focuses on strategies to get at-risk students to think critically and analyze and solve problems. When planning to introduce Common Core to teachers, I immediately saw its similarities to AVID. I used the analogy to get teachers comfortable with the new approach. Over the last couple of years, I’ve encouraged my staff to turn to these familiar strategies to get our team fully engaged with Common Core. The basic AVID strategy focuses on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading. My teachers use this strategy in all subjects to promote stronger reading and writing skills, intellectual curiosity, teamwork and methodical problem solving. Like AVID, Common Core standards are inquiry-based, which stresses the idea that students should generate their own questions about a topic and then work towards an answer. For instance, in social studies, a teacher may cover an event in history, but present it so that students are analyzing why something happened rather than expecting students to memorize facts and dates. For mathematics lessons, students might explore multiple ways to solve an equation and examine how numbers relate to each other, instead of solving for X without comprehending the process behind it. The big difference between Common Core and AVID, though, is Common Core is for all students, not just high-risk students.

Closing Gaps With Higher Standards

My school is a diverse public charter school with only 200 students, so my staff forge close relationships with students and parents. Three-quarters of families qualify as low-income, and many students will become the first in their families to attend college. Exposure to rigorous Common Core standards, in addition to learning how to navigate the educational process, can close some of the gaps that exist with their more affluent peers who come from homes where siblings and parents have graduated college. I have seen how Common Core can raise students’ grade point averages and increase confidence. I have watched one Latina student—diagnosed as “intellectually disabled”—raise her GPA each successive year. During her freshman year, she finished with a 1.8 GPA. As a sophomore, our staff started using Common Core strategies more routinely, and she finished with a 2.4 GPA. Now, as a junior, she has a solid 2.8 GPA and is taking an advanced science course—which would not have happened without Common Core. This student tells me that she still has to work really hard and stay organized to tackle her homework, but she consistently puts in the effort to learn and improve her performance. I’m incredibly proud of this young lady, not only because she’s improved academically despite her special education designation, but because she is an example of what can be achieved when expectations are raised for all children.
Shannon Brandner has been principal since 2011 of Summit Leadership Academy High Desert, a charter high school in Hesperia, California. A native of Southern California, she has been in education for over 25 years.
Shannon Brandner has been principal since 2011 of Summit Leadership Academy High Desert, a charter high school in Hesperia, California. A native of Southern California, she has been in education for over 25 years. She started as a teachers aide, taught elementary school in Alhambra and Pasadena, then became administrator of a large charter ...

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