By Jessica Slusser, Getting Smart
Creating an innovative school model that eliminates the achievement gap by using state-of-the-art technology while supporting both teaching and learning is not easy, but Gilroy Prep School has done exactly that.
Now in its third year of operation, Gilroy Prep adapted the best school models around the country. School leaders traveled out of state to visit schools like KIPP, Rocketship and Sixth Street Prep, that outperform the norm. We discussed the opening of the school and its success earlier this year with James Dent, the co-founder and principal.
Gilroy Prep’s foundation was built with a combination of technology, teaching strategies and daily intervention, which you can see in action in this video from the school. Among the innovative strategies is the “daily opener” where students review different standards and skills through an engaging, high energy and fast-paced lesson using gestures, chants, songs, repetition – activities that support mastery.
From the beginning, Gilroy Prep’s blended learning curriculum has been intentional, including two touch screen computer labs, as well as teacher presentation equipment in each classroom.
Principal Dent spent time with us discussing lessons learned from the last year using MIND Research Institute’s innovative visually-based math program, ST Math:
- Measurements Matter: Dent said that Gilroy Prep has clear-cut goals for each student to achieve, including an increase of 3% in ST Math progress every 5 days. In the case that kids fall behind by 6% or more, they are put into “JiJi Academy” during the school day to help bring them up to speed. Every student is held accountable for learning. While education software programs are important, they’re more effective when combined with accountability.
- Professional Development Counts: Teachers at Gilroy Prep all participate in professional development including training geared toward ST Math. Students in every class use pictures and draw equations to show the how and why of their math problems, instead of just doing a worksheet. Dent says the professional development led to an improvement in teaching in general.
- Innovative Models Make a Difference: Gilroy Prep outperformed the state of California with 97% of its students scoring proficient or advanced for 3rd grade math, compared to 66% statewide. More than simply implementing ST Math, Dent attributes the success to the following innovations:
- Math, and other subjects, are taught visually, such as through PowerPoint Lessons.
- Every day teachers spend 60 minutes focused on a daily math learning objective.
- Students are given a daily assessment on the learning objective. Those students who “pass” begin their ST Math session and those who do not pass are put into an “intervention” session for small group remediation.
- Every student spends at least 30 minutes a day on ST Math.
- In addition, 30 minutes a day are built into each teacher’s schedule to look at student progress reports, and prepare for the next day based on which students need extra assistance.
- Gilroy Prep believes merit pay is an excellent way of rewarding teachers for their students’ success.
- Blended Learning Programs Come With Challenges: There can be many challenges with blended learning programs, including things as simple as maintaining a reliable Internet connection. Dent recommends identifying a “first responder” to help with technology, as well as having a plan for who can fix any issues. Dent also points out that it’s not enough to just use good quality education programs, teachers and administrators must also stay up-to-date with data produced by the programs. Gilroy Prep has added in goals and accountability for their blended learning programs, to help ensure this happens.
Both Gilroy Prep and Principal Dent provide exceptional examples of how to successfully implement a blended learning strategy, as well as how to use ST Math’s instructional software to its full potential. Not only has ST Math helped students show what they’ve learned as far as math concepts, students have started using the “show what you know” practice in all classes at Gilroy Prep. By holding teachers accountable and holding high expectations for students, any school can implement blended learning.
Jessica Slusser is project coordinator for Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm. Follow her on Twitter at @Jess_Slusser.