Last year, Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy and the Amsterdam High School underwent reviews by the New York State Education Department. At Wednesday’s Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education meeting, Lynch principal Joseph Witazek, Amsterdam High School principal David Ziskin, and GASD director of secondary instruction Susan Stoya presented the results of the review to the board.
The reviews examined the schools in five categories, giving a rating of “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Developing,” or “Ineffective.” The ratings are based on a rubric designed for each of the categories which are; School Leader Practices and Decisions, Curriculum Development, Teacher Practices and Decisions, Student’s Social, Emotional and Developmental Health, and Family and Community Engagement.
Overall, the two schools were rated “Developing” with Lynch receiving an “Effective” for Student’s Social, Emotional and Developmental Health, and the high school receiving an “Effective” for School Leader Practices and Decisions. Stoya noted that it can be difficult for a school to receive an “Effective” rating in a particular area due to the fact that a school must consistently, rigorously, and systematically employ the items identified by the rating rubric and must have collected data demonstrating this.
Principal Witazek described what the review committee saw as the school’s strengths. The buildings were seen as being warm and inviting. The positive behavioral interventions and strategies that the schools have implemented have had a positive impact on the environment and school culture as a whole, which made the buildings nicer places to be.
The curriculum, instruction, and data are moving towards the “Effective” range as the schools work to align their curriculum with the common core standards. The school’s mission and vision statements were developed as a team, were clearly posted throughout the buildings, and drove the decision making processes within the schools. Finally, the schools have increased their efforts to boost parent involvement and receive parent feedback.
Principal Ziskin went over the school’s areas for improvement. First he said, “Our kids are changing; standards are changing, and our instruction needs to change.” The review found that student engagement is somewhat uneven. While student based interactions and problem based learning are commonly utilized, “stand and deliver” instruction from teachers is common. Both Lynch and Amsterdam High School have started aligning their curricula with the common core, but they have further to go.
The review indicated that more differentiated instruction for students with disabilities and English language learners is needed. Ziskin said, “We’ve moved English language learners and students with disabilities into the most rigorous settings possible, the least restrictive environments. The feedback we’re getting is that we need to do a better job of ensuring that the instruction is appropriate for those kids whatever setting that they’re in. We may have students with different learning styles, different learning difficulties in the same classrooms with other kids, and it needs to be accounted for.”
Finally, the schools need to increase their use of data to inform instruction. According to Ziskin, the schools are already rising to the challenge. The schools have incorporated the use and collection of data into their building’s comprehensive plans, and teachers have already begun using data to inform and develop instruction.
Prior to the review, Ziskin and Witazek made it clear to their staff that they wanted them to treat the assessment period as they would any other school day. Ziskin said, “What we said to our faculty was we want authentic feedback that we can use to improve. So this wasn’t a case of Joe and I saying to our faculty, ‘You better be on your best behavior and you better put on this show.’ We know good things happen in our classrooms, we know we have areas to improve in; we want you to teach your classes the way you normally teach your classes. So we feel like the feedback we got is feedback that we can use.”