By Suneet Bedi
Simply referred to as the “it” factor, it is the element which uniquely contributes to the inspiring culture of achievement in one of West Michigan’s higher performing elementary schools – North Godwin Elementary. The “it” factor is what Principal Mary Lang refers to as the essential characteristics a truly transformational teacher must possess, and it is what she specifically looks for in her staff and new hires to ensure the students of North Godwin have access to high-quality teaching. Through Lang’s praise of her staff it is evident that she is continually inspired by their unending dedication and persistent efforts to do whatever necessary to help their students and families overcome the obstacles that can often hamper achievement. It is this capacity to build deep relationships with students, families, and the community that contribute to the effectiveness of the teachers at the school.
During its peak transformation, the North Godwin administration set very high expectations for the educators in the building, realizing that the teacher is one of the most influential in-school factors to student success. The administration has continued to ensure that the staff is not only hardworking, but also unwaveringly dedicated to the success of all students. It is clear that the teachers operate with the passionate belief that all students can achieve despite their socioeconomic status or race. The minority and low-income students of North Godwin are given equitable access to qualified teachers, allowing them to make the necessary growth and gains to be successful learners. These students are far outperforming the state and their district; for example, in reading, 92 percent of fourth graders are proficient at North Godwin Elementary compared to 70 percent at the state level and 72 at the district level.
However, it is not enough for Lang to be doing comparatively better than other schools. She does not root her work in comparisons; rather, she focuses on the need to achieve greatness and improve the educational landscape for the students of North Godwin at and beyond the elementary level. It is this tenacity for high standards that makes her such an effective school leader in the North Godwin community. In addition to a rigorous criteria for hiring and maintaining high quality staff at the school, the school and district leadership work hard to ensure that the staff is supported. The teachers work very hard to make significant gains with their students by collaborating with one another, sharing best practices, and reflecting on their own teaching constantly.
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PHOTOS: ERIK HOLLADAY
This concentrated investment in choosing and supporting high-quality teachers and using data to reach all students, makes it clear why this school has been a reward school for two consecutive years. Despite a deteriorating local economy, the teachers and administrators work diligently to ensure that the 92 percent of low-income students they serve are given access to an equitable education comprised of rigorous standards and high-performing teachers. By supporting teachers and developing novice teachers into excellent instructors, the students are given access to transformative educators. The environment is one in which the teachers have come to expect nothing but the best from their highly capable children.
When students are invested in properly and given access to highly effective educators, it is no mystery why they can succeed at such high levels. North Godwin represents a shining example of what equitable access to effective teaching and leadership, combined with rigor in curriculum and teacher support, can do for children in low-income communities.