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Voices: What comes after turnaround?

Sheridan Schools Superintendent Michael Clough enjoyed last month’s celebration when the district elementary school moved off the state’s “turnaround” list. He talks about what comes next.

On the day of our community celebration, it was beautiful and sunny. You could feel the excitement.

Neighboring and previous superintendents came to show support. Parents were there and our business friends, too. Our Board of Education was there. We had balloons and cheerleaders. The students cheered the progress: “Here we grow!”

Who doesn’t like a good news story?

We had reached our first goal. We had worked together as a team and lifted Sheridan Elementary School up from its place among the worst-performing schools in the state. The teachers and students understood – their hard work was being recognized.

We had plenty of challenges, but the teamwork in Sheridan has been off the charts.

So when the results came in this summer, we celebrated. We pulled out all the stops. Our partners from the Colorado Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education and were there and so was a key supporter from the Colorado Education Association. The CEA’s support was a critical component of our positive results.

What comes after the celebration

And now what?

How are we going to keep the progress rolling? And what is Sheridan School District going to do without the federal grant – the one fueled that the turnaround work to the tune of $2.3 million over three years?

It’s a tough question. And it’s the right question.

Because of what we’ve learned, I have confidence. Check that: “We” have confidence.

We have gone from chaos to order.

We have shifted from ad hoc instruction to building-wide learning plans that are tightly tied to the state standards.

Our teachers know their objectives. They work together. The level of rigor is right. We have added intensity to our learning culture. We restored calm and focus to our classrooms. Our approach to discipline is clear and consistent.

Our teachers work together and discuss the needs of each student – not just academically, but the entire needs of each student. What are the barriers getting in the way of success? Our teachers want to know and they work together to find answers. Aren’t teachers just supposed to focus on instruction? Sure, if every student came ready and eager to learn. That’s not the way it happens in all communities, including Sheridan.

We are fortunate to have six effective principals. At every turn, in fact, we have tried to hire the best individual we can recruit. We created expectations, established protocols and held staff and students accountable.

We changed our school hours and added class time. We kept students engaged through music, art, physical education and even recess.

More than anything, we were honest with ourselves about the quality of what we were producing. It wasn’t a pretty picture, but we didn’t flinch.

So now, the training wheels are coming off. We’ll have to learn to balance on our new bicycle and move forward at the same time. We have the right staff and we have all been through the right training, together.

Being organized and working together doesn’t cost a dime. Neither does communicating with each other.

The turnaround grant showed us the way. Now it’s up to us to keep our standards high and keep our focus clear. Now it’s up to us to show what we’ve learned, keep our sights high, and keep on working together, as a community.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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