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TEA: “Now This Is What Collaboration Looks Like!”

On Howenstine stage, local leaders come together to transform TUSD gem

Local leaders asked Tucsonans on December 6, 2011, to join a national campaign working locally to help transform a struggling school.

All in attendance at Howenstine High Magnet School acknowledged that sustained success can only be achieved through wide-spread collaboration.  Mayor John Rothschild was pleased to be kicking off his second day in office at the gathering, which brought key parts of the city together, to help the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) gem shine even brighter. “What a powerful image of partnership and promise this event represents. It sends the important message to our students that the adults care and are fighting for them.”

The leaders took – and then urged the public to take – an online survey aimed at gauging perception of Howenstine.  The quick four-question survey is part of KEYS (KEYs to Excellence for Your Schools), a comprehensive school-based assessment and improvement system that gathers data for improving teaching and learning conditions. Community data will be coupled with survey results from parents, teachers, education support professionals and administrators for a picture of where Howenstine stands on some 42 indicators research shows exist at high-performing schools.

The nationally renowned-KEYS comes to Howenstine as part of the National Education Association’s (NEA) Priority Schools Campaign (PSC), an effort that leverages the resources of the 3.2 million-member NEA to complement transformation efforts at struggling schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIG).

“Similar school reform support traditionally can be a big-ticket expense for already revenue-strapped districts.  We knew we could be of real assistance to Howenstine,” says Frances Banales, president of the Tucson Education Association (TEA). “So we proceeded to leverage the resources and expertise of the nation’s largest professional organization for school improvement efforts here in Tucson. In the process, we’re providing real value to TUSD and making an important contribution to our community because PSC is member dues dollars at work. It comes at no cost to Howenstine or TUSD. It’s a win-win for all.”

The 42 indicators KEYS tracks fall into four broad areas of school culture and operations: creating a culture of reflection and collaborative inquiry; making important decisions together; making continuous improvement second nature; and building partnerships and community support. “Research shows these characteristics are present in high-performing schools and are needed in struggling ones,” said TUSD Superitendent Dr. John Pedicone. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for Howenstine and TUSD. We’re excited about the possibilities of PSC in Tucson and appreciate the value it brings, especially in these tough economic times.”

KEYs is only part of PSC’s intensive support at Howenstine. The Campaign will work with and through the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and TEA to deliver on-site, on-line and on-paper technical assistance in the areas of teacher and staff quality and effectiveness, labor-management collaboration, school culture and family and community engagement.

Howenstine was selected to be a part of PSC because of its dedicated staff, dynamic new leadership and service-learning focus. The practice is praised by NEA and the education communities because it has been found to boost achievement, build leadership and strengthen ties to the community. Association leaders are also hoping another benefit seen at some of the other 37 schools in 16 states that comprise the Campaign take root in Tucson.

“We’re proud to say that not only is PSC helping to transform low-performing schools, we’re also promoting a new model for education reform.   PSC is based on collaboration.  Here is an education agenda that puts students at the center,” said AEA President Andrew F. Morrill. “All across the country, we’re seeing success because of partnerships among students, parents, educators, districts, government, community organizations, businesses and foundations.  For long-term, sustainable school transformation, shared responsibility and collaboration are essential.”

The importance of partnerships and the value it brings to all was a thread that ran throughout the event, one underscored by Howenstine partner, Habitat for Humanity Tucson. “Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity of Tucson has partnered with local high schools to give students the opportunity to learn and develop skills related to the construction industry,” said executive director Michael McDonald. “We’re all the better for it. Students get the opportunity to apply what they learn to a hands-on apprenticeship. Educators get partners in the cause of public education. The District gets access to the only home construction technology program in the southwest for secondary school students.  And, Tucson gets productive and engaged citizens, ready to assume their roles as the next generation of home builders and affordable-housing advocates.”

Acknowledging it has struggled in the past, but with PSC support and recent appreciable gains on state assessments, Howenstine Principal Maritza Nunez pointed out the future looked promising. She urged Tucson parents to take a second look at the school. “Open enrollment continues until December 13th and if you think your child could benefit from smaller class sizes, qualified, caring, committed teachers and education support professionals, and a curriculum that connects students to the real world – our doors are open.”

She continued: “Hawks don’t just fly, they soar! With the support of all stakeholders – students, parents, educators, elected officials, and the community – the sky really is the limit for Howenstine.”

Indeed the sentiment was shared by all, with Banales proclaiming: “Now this is what collaboration looks like.”

View photos from event.

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