In their first year of A+ implementation, Brevard Elementary has already begun to model what a highly-engaged, deeply-committed A+ school looks like. Principal April Gaydosh shared with us her thoughts and experiences as a leader of a new A+ school and how her staff, students and school community have embraced their creative learning environment at Brevard Elementary.
A+ Schools: What led to the decision to become an A+ school and/or the belief that A+ would be a good fit for Brevard Elementary?
BES Principal April Gaydosh: As a school, we have historically made expected growth on end of grade tests, but even with good performance, we knew that the only way to close achievement gaps is to exceed growth and grow more effectively with all learners. We had many discussions in PLC meetings about wanting to push ourselves to build more dynamic lessons that were curriculum driven, but also engaging and memorable. I took a group of teachers to visit some surrounding A+ schools in our region and attended an A+ 3-day summer professional development to see what the program was all about. We were instantly intrigued by the excitement of teachers and staff as well as the professionalism of the A+ Fellows. I used some of the lessons I observed over those days as inspiration for faculty meeting agendas. I taught an earth science lesson using dance and touched on the A+ Essentials, in an attempt to model lessons and have teachers experience how different lessons could look and feel. That staff buy-in was a requirement for entry into the program, but it was also very important to me, because I knew that we would want that momentum and energy from the very beginning to see our desired results. Within that same semester, we voted overwhelmingly to apply as a school and we were admitted into the network. Our county office and district leadership were instrumental in supporting our goals and have continued to see that success over the course of our first year.
A+ Schools: How has A+ professional development impacted the success of Brevard Elementary?
April Gaydosh: The A+ professional development that we have experienced in our first year of implementation has been phenomenal. We have found the topics to be relevant to our needs, dynamic in presentation, and useful to teachers in their classrooms. We value the differentiated approach that A+ provides in their trainings, giving schools the ability to provide input on topics and what is needed and wanted. I have observed teachers in classrooms using strategies, lesson planning techniques and modeling the A+ Essentials that we learned in Raleigh last summer. Our teachers not only created and were involved in high quality training that week, they also bonded as a team, like never before. Many said that they had not smiled and laughed that much in years. It has positively impacted our culture in the building as well as the collaboration amongst our staff. We have modeled our local (site-based) PD using the same techniques as A+ trainings. The arts teachers, instructional technology facilitator, instructional coach and I have all led PD over this first year in curriculum mapping, integrating musical instruments, and best practices for integrating creative technology into classrooms amongst others.
A+ Schools: What changes have you seen in your staff and students during the first year of A+ implementation?
April Gaydosh: As a product of that teacher stimulation, in increasing numbers, we have seen students engaged in highly integrated lessons and collaborative projects. We believe this more integrated approach has positively impacted our local benchmark scores as well as provided deeper understanding of curriculum objectives. One of our goals for the first year was curriculum mapping and building collaborative lessons. This practice helped teachers see the value in planning as a diverse cross-curricular team and helped in mapping out ideas over broader topics. We also adjusted our master schedule to allow for arts teachers pushing into reading and math classrooms, co-teaching and assisting teachers in a variety of lessons. In some cases, arts teachers and classroom teachers have taught side by side. In other cases, arts teachers have met with grade levels to individually plan and train on arts integration. The fruits of this labor can be seen in our curated displays, which was also a goal for us in the first year of A+ implementation. Teachers have found that it helps in the planning stages to construct these titled descriptions of students’ artwork [see images of curated displays]. The standards focus also makes the hallway and online display more meaningful for parents and visitors to our building.
A+ Schools: What would you say to a school who is considering entering the A+ Network?
April Gaydosh: I would tell any school that is interested in the A+ Network and building in arts integration to do their homework first. Principals and leadership should attend trainings and visit other A+ schools. Check out the success stories and data that is provided by A+ so that you are able to field questions that your teachers will have about time, money and test scores. Educate staff on the approach and see if it is a good fit for your building. Expectations should be clearly communicated alongside possibilities for improvement. Our school was in a great place before we came into the A+ network, but now we are even stronger and more collectively committed to growing kids. Creative energy, when directed toward curricular objectives and skills, can be very powerful. Teachers need to have the ability to get back to why they came into teaching in the first place. My teachers came into teaching because they love kids, have skills in teaching, and enjoy growing kids to become successful and happy adults. Our building has become a much happier, caring and beautiful place to work since joining the A+ Network. The proof is in the fruit that hangs throughout our hallways, on our social media and in the faces of students and families we serve.
A+ Schools: Any other stories or information to share from your first year as an A+ school?
April Gaydosh: We had to hire a new teacher mid-year because of an internal county move, so we were concerned about someone coming in mid-year and not fully understanding our goals and commitment to A+ and arts integration. She had been here about a month, and I observed her co-teaching a lesson that she and the music teacher created using fractions and music compositions. The lesson was fantastic, highly engaging and on point with curriculum objectives. When she was walking the kids out, all she could talk about was how much she loved our school. She told me that she had never worked in a building before where people were so creative and willing to collaborate across subjects. She immediately felt like a part of it and was guided by that direction. That spoke volumes to me as a principal, that our teachers made the right decision about A+. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective or new person to remind you about the great things you are doing that may not be happening everywhere.