Critical Incident Conflict in the First-Grade Team
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Critical Incident Conflict in the First-Grade Team
At James Madison Elementary School, there is conflict among the five teachers in the first-grade team, and the principal, Miriam Jackson, is not sure how to handle the situation. Miriam is uneasy because the conflict is affecting instruction in the first grade, and it is causing concern among teachers in other grade levels.
The problems started two years ago when the district required all schools to align their instructional strategies, assessments, and curriculum to the state standards. While attempting to do this on a team level, Miriam saw that there was a split on the first-grade team about basic reading philosophy. Two team members were in the phonicscamp, and three were firmly in the whole-language camp. Although everyone understood that any reading program must be a blend of both philosophies, they disagreed about what should be taught first, and therefore what approach should be the main focus of the curriculum. This dissension led to many arguments, some of which were very hostile, about the instructional strategies that would be used in the first grade.
Last year, Miriam basically told them that they needed to work this out among themselves, but she observed little progress in their ability to work together in the last 2 years. Team meetings were very stressful for the team leader, who was in the whole-language camp. Teachers in the phonics camp told Miriam that they were being shunned and threatened with their jobs by the team leader and the other teachers. At faculty meetings, the conflict on the first-grade team led to school-wide arguments on the subject of reading, and Miriam was very concerned that the overall school climate has declined because of this conflict. She wondered how she can turn this challenge into an opportunity.
- How should Miriam handle this conflict so that the issues related to the hostility among teachers and issues related to the curriculum are resolved?
- Can she do it in a way that might benefit the whole school?
Critical Incident District Test Scores Decline Once Again
Superintendent Christa Mason received the state’s test scores and was not pleased. Not only did the district as a whole perform worse than last year, a higher percentage of high school students than last year will not graduate this year until they pass the 11th-grade assessment. In fact, 58% of 12th graders who needed to pass the assessment did not. These students will have one more chance in the summer to score higher than the cut-off score, or they will receive only a diploma of attendance. To make matters worse, a larger percentage of third graders than last year will be retained because of their low scores.
Last year, one high school, two middle schools, and five elementary schools were deemed academically deficient by the state’s department of education, and each of these schools received intensive technical assistance from the state to assist them in developing plans to increase the test scores. None of these schools improved this year. In addition, all schools that last year performed below the state average in reading and/or math had to develop written plans for improvement that were approved by the school board. Over 75% of them failed to improve their scores.
Superintendent Mason and the district’s leadership have worked with the state’s superintendent association and the state school board association to change the governor and legislature’s primary focus on the state assessment test for graduation and third-grade retention. These efforts have not succeeded, however, in changing the state accountability law. In the meantime, the district leadership must work with the school principals to develop a response to the continuing problem of low test scores. The superintendent would like to continue with the plans that have been in place since last year because she believes these plans will work if they are given sufficient time. But she knows the school board will demand a different response. They have already warned her that if the scores are low this year, they will want the replacement of principals and teachers whose students scored poorly. She also knows that her contract, recently renewed for another year, will be in jeopardy next year.
Superintendent Mason knows that this news will place the district, the schools, and especially the students in a very difficult position. The local newspaper has already asked the superintendent for an interview today to discuss the results prior to their article in tomorrow’s edition, which will run a front-page headline about the district’s poor test scores.
- How do you believe the superintendent should respond to the newspaper interview?
- What is your opinion of this type of state accountability system?
- Should the district and individual schools adopt specific Comprehensive School Reform models to help the schools improve? If so, which ones would you suggest? If not, what recommendations do you have for helping the schools improve?