Speaking Up: A Year’s Worth of Opportunity Culture® Voices

by | May 26, 2016

Real Clear Composite 1 SM“How many teachers are out there struggling daily because of lack of support?  How many burn out because they’ve tried all they know?  How many leave our profession early because they can’t do it on their own any longer? How many kids suffer because they have access to only one teacher? How many students are falling more and more behind because they have zero control over their educational trajectory?  We need a change; more important, our students deserve change.

“Opportunity is knocking on our traditional educational doors. The question is: Will we answer? Teachers, administrators, policymakers: It’s time. Open the door.”

That was Charlotte Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) Kristin Cubbage, who kicked off the Opportunity Culture® series on Real Clear Education a year ago and wrapped it up this month, extolling what made her advanced role so valuable, and calling for more Opportunity Culture® roles. Indeed, the Opportunity Culture® initiative has continued to spread.

Cubbage was part of the first cohort of Opportunity Culture® Fellows—pioneering teachers in Opportunity Culture® schools who stepped up to share their views nationally, and who wrote this series, with accompanying videos, explaining what Opportunity Culture® models look like in their schools and what they think about these highly accountable positions:

On accountability for 400 students—Bobby Miles, Charlotte

On using data—Maggie Vadala, Syracuse

On supporting a new teacher—Karen von Klahr, Cabarrus County, N.C.

On the power of Multi-Classroom Leadership—Erin Burns, Charlotte

On great blended learningScott Nolt, Cabarrus County, N.C.

On leading veteran teachersSharon Archer, Syracuse

On why even good schools need to grow—Amy Sparks, Charlotte

On leadership and Subject Specialization—Danielle Bellar, Charlotte

On teachers’ need for higher pay—Romain Bertrand, Charlotte

On spreading the word—Karen Wolfson, Nashville

 Many thanks to Real Clear Education and its executive editor, Andrew Rotherham, and editor, Emmeline Zhao, for running the series. Public Impact®’s co-directors and founders of the national Opportunity Culture® initiative, Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, introduced it with a post about the basics of an Opportunity Culture®.

Get a taste of all the columns below; click on author names to read each column in full, or see the full series here.

2015 Opportunity Culture® Fellows: Their Voices

On taking accountability for the results of 400 students: “It all comes down to this: As a science multi-classroom leader at Ranson IB Middle School in Charlotte, N.C., I’m accountable for the results of 421 student-scholars. And I love it. Far from being scary, it motivates me. This year, we grew from 47 percent proficient on the science end-of grade assessment to 66 percent. … I pretty much have the best of both worlds: I still affect more scholars with this position as well as the teachers I lead. And because I’ve accepted that accountability, my teachers—first-year and experienced—know I’m invested in their growth as an educator and the growth of their scholars.”—Bobby Miles, Charlotte

On using data to keep students moving ahead: “Having to discuss their students’ data can make teachers feel exposed: Show them where they really stand in specific areas, and they want to crawl under the table. … I stressed keeping this simple: Let’s just look at the data and move forward with it. Don’t manipulate it, don’t change it. The temptation is letting it become a blame game, or coming up with excuses: ‘He’s special ed.’ ‘His mother doesn’t live with him.’ Structured dialogue helped us just see from the data what a student needs, and provide it. This forced teachers to go deeper.”—Maggie Vadala, Syracuse

On providing daily, on-the-job support as the MCL to a new teacher: “I chose to spend a great deal of time with our new teacher, Emily Angles. … And I saw the results fast: Within a few months, Emily no longer needed me as much. I still provided some coaching, but we now mainly worked together to plan, create small groups, and collaborate to meet the needs of all students. In an interview about her Opportunity Culture® role, Emily said, ‘I came into the year as a first-year teacher and left as a third-year teacher.’ ”—Karen von Klahr, Cabarrus County, N.C.

On the power of Multi-Classroom Leadership vs. such roles as department chairs or PLC leads: “Now, instead of teaching just my own 80 or 100 students, I reach all 500 biology students. I previously led a four-teacher team at another school as the ‘professional learning community’ lead, while still teaching a full load of classes. I set up weekly meetings in which we discussed lesson plans and assessments. We’d share stories about students and lessons. But I could never meet these students or see the lessons in action. Now, as a multi-classroom leader, or MCL, I partake in every step of my team’s lesson plans, execution, and analysis.”—Erin Burns, Charlotte

On reaching more students through great blended learning: “Technology in education is one of the most exciting, terrifying and threatening developments for teachers today. Now into my second year as a blended-learning history teacher—meaning I have a group of students in my classroom every other day, assigning them to work online, at home, on the ‘off’ days—I’ve found the scary parts less frightening than most fear, with far greater benefits than I expected….this year, my blended class averaged higher growth than my traditional class. And this isn’t restricted to already-great or highly motivated students—I’ve seen high growth from honors, ESL, special education and average students alike.”Scott Nolt, Cabarrus County, N.C.

On being the multi-classroom leader (MCL) for veteran teachers: “In the ever-changing world of education, too many people believe our veteran teachers are unwilling to change—or are even incapable of learning ‘new tricks.’ As an Opportunity Culture® multi-classroom leader in New York’s Syracuse City School District, I have found that could not be further from the truth. I’ve been fortunate to work with several veteran teachers, some with more than my 15 years’ experience, and watched them challenge themselves, growing into better teachers who feel professionally renewed.”—Sharon Archer, Syracuse

On why even good schools need to grow: “Our school … is not a high-need, Title I school. … Our state data ranks us as meeting or exceeding growth expectations. So why did we need to change? Simple: We can always be better. And after several rounds of data analysis, [our school’s] design team realized that while our school was perceived as doing fine—OK, at least—it was losing ground with the students in the top 20 percent.”—Amy Sparks, Charlotte

On combining Multi-Classroom Leadership with Elementary Subject Specialization: “We combined MCL teams with subject specialization. On the surface, specialization in my Opportunity Culture® school looks like what departmentalizing would look like at another school: I take your kids for science, you take mine for math, and we call it a day. But at that level, not much collaboration occurs, as the science teacher focuses on science concepts and the math teacher focuses on the math concepts. As the MCL, I needed to bring the subjects and teachers together so we all focus on the learning of all our kids.”—Danielle Bellar, Charlotte

On speaking honestly and openly about teachers’ need for higher pay (which MCLs get): “Educators do not like to speak about their income. We don’t choose teaching for the money. We love our kids, and we are passionate about giving them a chance. Talking about money makes us all feel a bit dirty … How do we cope with all this? We often take a second or third job to make a decent living wage, but the saddest way is by accepting the idea that teaching will not be a long-term career choice. We will do it for a few years, then move on to other professions—ones with less appeal but the income we need to support our families.”—Romain Bertrand, Charlotte

On spreading the word about Opportunity Culture® to her district’s principals: “What does ‘teacher voice’ actually mean? Until this year, it sounded like a nice phrase, but it didn’t hold much meaning for me. “But I have a job I love, one that shakes up traditional teaching and holds the promise of making a huge difference in students’ and teachers lives—as it did for my students. I wanted to spread the word about my job—and now, with positions like mine under threat at my school, I needed to find my voice. I needed to empower others to explore the idea of an Opportunity Culture®.”—Karen Wolfson, Nashville

And one more, from former Nashville multi-classroom leader Joe Ashby, on the power of Multi-Classroom Leadership for professional development: “I’d had leadership roles before, but nothing like this. … As exciting as this challenge appeared to be, I knew it would also be daunting. As the year began, the school’s other MCLs and I realized the power of being an Opportunity Culture® school: both giving and receiving professional development every day. Throughout the year, I felt my teachers’ high expectations for me—for expertise and assistance, coupled with trust, honesty, commitment, perseverance and humility.”


Public Impact® created the core Opportunity Culture® models and launched the initiative in 2011, with the earliest schools implementing their plans in 2013–14. Participating school districts so far include Syracuse, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Indianapolis, Ind., Cabarrus County, N.C., Fulton County, Ga., and several sites in Texas. Keep up with the latest on districts joining or expanding their initiatives here, and see their Opportunity Culture® job openings here.  See stats and outcomes here.

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