Change Meant Opportunity at Judson Middle School

Change happened fast for Judson Middle School. In just four years the community surrounding this Longview, Texas, school shifted dramatically. That meant the teachers and staff had to shift too, but to what? And how?

America is the great melting pot, but for most of us, demographic shifts in our towns happen gradually over the course of decades. African American, Latino, Asian and other demographic groups have been moving into what were once predominantly white neighborhoods for decades, creating environments of ethnic diversity. It’s easier to assimilate different cultures when the transition happens over a decade. The challenge is more real when a significant demographic shift happens in just a few years. That’s the story of Judson Middle School where in just four short years the community transitioned from 90% white to more than 50% African American.

The challenge became evident when the school and its veteran teachers, who were also predominantly white, found themselves ill-equipped to lead, connect and inspire students whose lives and life experiences were very different from their own. No one wanted teachers to leave out of frustration and certainly everyone wanted the school to succeed academically. Everyone needed to win and that’s what Evans Newton was hired to do.

The process got under way with a three-point plan that was heavy on establishing professional learning communities so teachers could learn from each other along with their Evans Newton field team. The first goal was to strengthen shared/distributed leadership practices.

Teachers at Judson began to learn what practices now worked in their diverse classrooms and which behaviors they needed to modify in themselves. They began realizing small wins and when they did, they would share those experiences with their fellow teachers. The second goal put forth by Evans Newton was to develop collaborative structures that support continuous improvement. This ensured that the most successful practices were repeated school wide. The third goal Evans Newton set involved data. This meant gathering data every step of the way, and talking about the numbers along with the anecdotal experiences. Student performance numbers are not only the result of student learning but also teacher performance. And in an open, caring and empathetic environment fostered by Evans Newton field team members, who are former educators themselves, discussing and working through how to get better was a blame-free, professional growth experience.

“Before Evans Newton, I’d observe a classroom, fill out my reflection sheet and leave it on the teacher’s desk. The teacher could agree or disagree with my remarks. Now when I do a Learning Walk and observe a classroom, I coach the teachers to help them and us improve. That’s a big difference.” - Principal Brian Kasper

The results of these school-wide efforts were far-reaching and dramatic. Not only did students achieve, but they also did it in the midst of great change, including a move to a new building. In just seven months the school had in place effectively operating instructional practices. They had far stronger collaborative structures that were driving classroom results. And they had increased their shared and distributive leadership practices. Perhaps most indicative of the success of this professional development project was that only three in thirty teachers chose to leave. A remarkably low teacher turnover was proof that in times of massive change, professional development intervention works wonders.