Turning around a failing school is very difficult. But Keiller Leadership Academy, once one of San Diego’s lowest scoring middle schools, has been transformed since it became a charter school in 2005. On the state’s Academic Performance Index, Keiller scores a 5 out of 10 compared to all middle schools, a perfect 10 compared to schools with similar demographics. Voice of San Diego reports:
Hiring, once limited by school district seniority, has been thrown open to any interested teacher. Uniforms blot out gang colors on the campus. Cutting spending on custodians helped beautify the once-barren campus. And a new schedule features fewer, longer classes and a school-wide focus on vocabulary, scrutinized by university professors who help teachers tailor their lessons and improve.
“It’s so easy to blame the parents, or the community” for low achievement, Executive Director Patricia Ladd said. “All those things we can’t control. We have to take things as they are and stop the blame game.”
Teachers are hired only if they are committed to Keiller’s mission. University of San Diego professors review videotapes of teachers’ lessons to analyze what’s effective. Teachers use data to improve.
Teachers compare their classes’ scores, measured and publicized periodically over the year, to gauge which methods work. . . . every teacher sets personal performance goals that Ladd uses to evaluate their work.
. . . teachers devote more time to planning and data, and review university-run studies that track their students’ progress over time.
Ladd adopted block scheduling, hired more counselors and paid for more lunchtime supervisors to keep order. The school also pays teachers a bit more than they’d get at district-run schools. Unwanted services were cut to cover the costs.
Keiller replaced district custodians with a less expensive contractor, and spent the estimated $18,000 savings on landscaping to transform the barren, weedy campus, now splashed with flowers and patches of grass, Ladd said.
Keiller also scaled back spending on professional security, once an essential for the rowdy campus, as the new school culture changed behavior.
Some thought Ladd wouldn’t understand Keiller’s nearly all minority, mostly low-income students since she’s a “white lady from Point Loma” who specialized in teaching gifted students in middle-class areas. She understood Keiller needed to change.