Press Release

Project beginning this fall in Grand Rapids area schools aims to support achievement gap closing

Publication date: May 11, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS (May 11, 2015) — The Education Trust-Midwest is launching a new program to provide greater support and coaching to teachers and promote collaboration among principals and teachers to raise student achievement in high-poverty schools in Grand Rapids and suburban districts near the city.

Based in West Michigan, the Education Trust-Midwest’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has received funding from the Steelcase Foundation to develop district and school leadership through the Kent Learning and Innovation Network (the Network). The Steelcase grant will provide capacity building and better support to educators as they transition to higher career- and college-ready standards.“We know how important teachers and school leaders are to make students into better learners,” according to Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest. “The hard work in closing achievement gaps is done by teachers and principals in schools and classrooms. We want to support them in doing this hugely important work.”This spring, the Network is ramping up its team to prepare to start or deepen work next school year in at least four high-poverty elementary schools in Grand Rapids Public Schools and Wyoming Public Schools under the leadership of Chad Tolson, a veteran teacher and administrator. The program will expand to reach eight West Michigan schools and more than 30 teachers over four years.”Our support for this project is representative of the Steelcase Foundation’s commitment to quality public education in our community,” according to Julie Ridenour, president of the Steelcase Foundation. “We believe this work is of paramount importance to the long-term well-being of this area and beyond.”The Steelcase Foundation was established more than 60 years ago by the founders of the Grand Rapids-based office furniture manufacturer.

“I learned what great teaching was by seeing great teachers at work, and no one works harder in education than an elementary teacher,” Tolson says. The program will involve a team of “teacher coaches” who will meet with five or six teachers in each school each week to provide feedback and offer instructional support in a collegial approach.

“We’re not here to fix ‘broken teachers,’ but to support the already great things going on,” Tolson says. “Our aim is to give teachers a chance to be reflective about their work in a non-evaluative way, with a purpose of improving their skills and a focus on student achievement. That’s where we come in, to help the good teachers become great, and help effective teachers become even more highly effective.”

Tolson also will work directly with principals on systems-level approaches to supporting students and teachers in their schools. “Looking at systems gives us a chance to help teachers see where they fit in to the overall goal of helping students achieve,” he said.

Another goal of the program is to develop a performance-based model to identify “master teachers” and a career pathway to get there.

For The Education Trust-Midwest, the lessons learned in the practical, day-to-day work of helping teachers and school leaders become more effective also will inform the organization’s research and advocacy efforts across the state.

“We believe that all students can succeed at a high level,” Arellano says. “And we believe this work will help us get there.”

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Schools and districts interested in collaborating with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning should contact director Chad Tolson at ctolson@edtrustmidwest.org.
The Education Trust-Midwest is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving outcomes for all Michigan students, especially for African American, Latino, American Indian and low-income students. The Education Trust-Midwest believes in the power of intelligent education policy and practices — informed by data, research and the successes of other states — to make Michigan a top ten education state for all students.

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