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Leopold supports teachers to ‘lift up all kids’

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Student-made books line the top of Leopold library’s bookshelves. Photo by Silke Schmidt, Madison Commons

All of students’ educational and emotional needs in the classroom can’t be met in regular class activities. Instructional resource teachers at Leopold Elementary play a critical role in boosting classroom instruction.

There are three instructional resource teachers at Leopold whose primary job is to address the wide range of academic abilities in the classroom, and these roles have been a priority as they are critical in increasing teacher capacity, according to Principal Karine Sloan. Kendra Cerniglia and Jaclyn Smith have fulfilled these roles full-time in the 2014-2015 school year and will be joined by Maria-Christina Jackson part-time in the fall.

A student's art project sits on display in Leopold's front lobby. Photo by Silke Schmidt, Madison Commons.
A student’s art project sits on display in Leopold’s front lobby. Photo by Silke Schmidt, Madison Commons.

Leopold Elementary is a challenging teaching environment with a range of students from varying backgrounds and abilities. For example, 73 percent of students are from low-income families and about 40 percent are English Language Learners.

While some teachers may shy away from these challenges, Cerniglia says they are what drew her to Leopold as a third grade teacher to make a difference in the lives of students from low-income families.

“How do we use the wonderful human resources to support students in best and consistent manner?” Smith asked. “What systems can we set up to help teachers and students be successful?”

Their job is answering these questions by creating systems that attempt “lift up all kids” and effectively utilize Leopold’s teaching staff and resources, Smith says.

The instructional resource teaching team has developed and implemented a student-centered coaching model in the classroom that can involve co-teaching. The model identifies learning targets for each students—from those who perform at grade level to those who excel and those who struggle to meet grade-level proficiency.

In addition to providing daily instructional support, Cerniglia and Smith design data-driven professional development activities for the Leopold teachers that are held on designated “no school” days during the academic year.

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A mural hangs in the stairwell of Leopold Elementary School, located at 2602 Post Rd. Seventy-three percent of Leopold students are from low-income families and about 40 percent are English Language Learners. Photo by Abigail Becker, Madison Commons

Reviewing the data helps Leopold’s leadership team identify specific areas in the school where more work is needed to achieve the school’s overall improvement goals.

“We use classroom observations as data to look at how students are moving along,” Cerniglia says. “The classroom teacher and I then work together to determine how we can achieve student independence toward these learning targets.”

They also support classroom teachers and help to develop collaborative lessons plans for each grade level and organize team meetings for each grade level.

Cerniglia says she feels Leopold’s system, which also follows recommendations from the state task force she attended in 2014, is effective.

The task force discussed many strategies—both simple and complex—on how to close the achievement gap that will inform how Wisconsin’s public school districts move forward. But Cerniglia says she learned from thethat a single effective strategy for narrowing the academic achievement gap does not exist.

“So many things go together to create effective instruction,” Cerniglia says. “However, I personally think that honoring a deep belief in the ability of our students to be successful often overrides all the other things that you can do,” Cerniglia says.

Silke Schmidt contributed to this report.

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