Book of the Month

Back to February 2014 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month

Getting to Excellence: What Every Educator Should Know about Consequences of Beliefs, Values, Attitudes, and Paradigms for the Reconstruction of an Academically Unacceptable Middle School, by James A. Johnson, Jr., Ph.D., et al, AuthorHouse, 2013, $19.95

Getting to Excellence presents the perceptions of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members regarding education in general and conditions at one specific school — Willie Ray Smith, Sr. Science & Medical Technology Magnet Middle School — both before and during a turnaround year.

Willie Ray Smith, Sr. Middle School was a failing urban school in the Beaumont, Texas Independent School district. A new principal was brought in to improve the morale and abilities of teachers and to increase the academic success and behavior of the mainly minority and underprivileged students. The school moved from Academically Unacceptable to Academically Acceptable according to the Texas school ranking system in a process that is described as “much like repairing an airplane in flight.”

The book indicates that some worry that schools catering to “workforce development” may proceed with “rigor and momentum of instruction that caters to standardized testing [that] may irritate [students] to the extent of dropping out of school. . . .” There is also concern that teachers who teach to the test led to stress for teachers and students and a decreased focus on subjects that are not tested.

Getting to Excellence suggests that the benefits of locally controlled school boards include their proximity to constituents and supports the concept that decision making about teaching must involve those who “practice the craft in the schools.”

Strong leadership was an overarching reason for improved morale among teachers and increased academic success of Willlie Ray Smith, Sr. Middle School students. The principal supported teachers and provided training; he roamed the halls addressing the students by name and was not afraid to discipline them when needed.

It must be noted that the influence of the Center for Strategic Alliances in Education for School and District Improvement contributed to the success at this school. Processes and strategies were also supported by a variety of grants that may not be available to every school in need of improvement. But indentifying what works can go a long way toward having this school indicate changes needed at other failing schools.

Improved parental involvement, individualized instruction, a positive environment, and mentoring of teachers by their more effective colleagues were additional reasons for this school’s successful turnaround.