By Sharon Kebschull Barrett, November 27, 2019
A quality teacher in every classroom, and powerful support for alternatively certified teachers: For Jennifer Blaine, those were two key elements that made Opportunity Culture well worth continuing to expand when she took over this spring as superintendent of Spring Branch ISD, located west of downtown Houston, Texas.
With about 35,000 students, the district includes 25 elementary schools, seven traditional middle school campuses, and four traditional high schools; more than half of those now use Opportunity Culture roles since beginning three years ago under Scott Muri, Blaine’s predecessor as superintendent. (Muri is now superintendent of Ector County ISD.)
When she was the district’s associate superintendent for talent and operations, Blaine saw the success of multi-classroom leader (MCL) support and strong teaching—and the success in retaining great teachers by offering strong leadership roles.
“It’s absolutely worked, 100 percent, and in fact, I’ve been shocked at how it really played out exactly the way we were trained by Public Impact and by Region 13,” Blaine said. “Teachers are now wanting to stay on the campus [as MCLs]. … The role of the MCL has been invaluable.”
For many years, Spring Branch used a traditional coaching model of just one coach per campus, which precluded the intensive support that an MCL can provide to a small teaching team, and which lacked accountability.
“But in this Opportunity Culture, the way it’s structured they absolutely have accountability for those teachers that they coach, and so, I think that that sets up a camaraderie amongst the coach and the teacher,” Blaine said. “And I also think, from a district perspective, our curriculum and program directors have been able to access those folks as sort of a pipeline of information to get back to the teacher, which is something that we’ve been missing for several years. So that’s been very positive.”
Deliberate planning, deliberate teacher involvement during the design phase, deliberate communication at every step—with teachers, parents, and the community—and deliberately not forcing any school to participate all proved key to success, Blaine said.
“We were very thoughtful about how we did this. It’s one of those things that is such a positive, different way to think about staffing and about supporting teachers and growing teachers and providing opportunity,” she said.
Blaine also noted the impact of using behavioral event interviews for getting the right people in each role.
At Spring Woods High School, Principal Jennifer Collier and her design team have carefully considered the school’s needs each year and ramped up implementation quickly, entering this third year of implementation with 14 expanded-impact teachers (EITs) and four MCLs.
EITs at Spring Woods said they enjoyed how taking on significantly larger classes helped them be more thoughtful about their instruction.
“It’s really kept me on my toes and made me have to constantly think about the classroom and who’s doing what and who’s not buying in and how can I get them to buy in—and so, definitely more brain power is put into the planning. And I think I’ve liked this,” said EIT Brett Neal, who teaches American history. “It’s a lot better than a regular classroom.”