Publishers and education companies can come to the aid of struggling schools in a number of ways that would support both students and teachers, a nationally recognized principal told a room full of business executives gathered here on Wednesday.
Lisa Ciaranca Kaplan is the principal of Andrew Jackson Elementary in Philadelphia and the national winner of the 2015 Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education. She described the challenges her school faces at the Association of American Publishers’ Pre-K-12 Learning Group conference.
She talked about what The New York Times called the “draconian budget cuts” faced by her pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in 2013. Eighty percent of her students are economically disadvantaged. Twenty-nine cultures are represented and 14 languages spoken in a school with about 500 students.
“There were many days that I felt like the fiddler on the Titanic,” she said. Andrew Jackson “welcomes and includes everyone…but every day we struggle…A lot of our students are in trauma.”
Despite the challenges, many of her students are showing academic gains and enrollment is at capacity. Kaplan, who was honored for “doing more with less,” said she met the challenges with excitement and positivity by having a vision, faith in her dreams, working hard for those dreams, and enlisting “all of the stakeholders.”
To prepare for her keynote speech at the Content in Context 2016 conference, Kaplan asked educators in her school how publishers could make a difference. She shared these recommendations:
Choose focus group members carefully: These groups, which give companies feedback about their products and services—or proposed products and services—should be populated not just with teachers who say they want to participate, she said.
“Specifically, you need educators who can reflect deeply on the content they teach, and have a proven success record,” she said.
Teachers recommended by principals, for instance, could help ensure that publishers get “information about what the real deal is with your books and materials.”
Support writing projects in schools: By sponsoring a school newspaper, encouraging students to write a play or planning a poetry month that culminates in publishing students’ poetry, publishers could advance students’ interest in writing.
Sponsor an after-school book club: A publisher could provide books and lessons for a book club to be held after the last class of the day, which could become a pilot for similar clubs to be launched in other schools around the country.
Sponsor a “speaker series:” Arrange for publishers, editors, authors of books, materials, and digital programs to speak in classes.
“This would have a direct impact in the classroom, and open up career choices for students” who don’t know what’s involved in these fields, Kaplan said.
Become a community partner: Kaplan said her educator team continues to search for more partners from the corporate community.
“It’s really, really important that members of the business community support schools,” she said, inviting the audience to “come to Jackson and see how you can support a world-class education.”
Partnerships can help us “expand the opportunities for our children, our families, and most importantly the communities they serve,” she said. “Without this support, the future of public schools in our nation look very dim.”