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The
district’s first cohort of autonomous schools begins in August, giving school
leadership the autonomy to address the specific needs of their students,
families and staff. Arlington Woods School 99 will place its focus on
increased supports for Social and Emotional
Learning

(SEL).

 

The
journey to autonomy began three years ago, when Arlington Woods participated in
a precursor to the Innovation Network program to test out the flexibilities
offered to school leaders.Arlington Woods

 

“That
gave us a little flexibility with hiring staff that we thought would be the
best fit for our school,” said Principal Tihesha Guthrie. “It gave us
flexibility as far as using our own assessments, it gave us flexibility for our
own professional development, scheduling our day differently and using our
individualized curriculum and pacing guides.”

 

In
the 2015–2016 school year, principals were introduced to an opportunity to join
our district’s pilot cohort for autonomous schools. Leadership teams in autonomous schools have
greater flexibility regarding instructional
methods, time in the instructional day, content and funding for professional
development and fiscal decisions through student-based budget allocation. Staff
members in these schools remain district employees, and teachers operate within
the collective bargaining agreement.

 

It
was a true team effort to decide on pursuing autonomy. Guthrie examined
existing Innovation Network Agreements and researched the flexibilities of
autonomous schools in-depth. She shared her findings with the Arlington Woods
staff, who decided collectively that autonomy was the best fit for their school
community.

 

“The
structure that we decided we needed,” said Guthrie, “we knew that it was going
to look different from Project: RESTORE because our students and our families
have changed over the last two years. We knew that some of the things we did
with Project: RESTORE, we would either have to add to or take away.” Project:
RESTORE is an IPS
teacher-created school model that focuses on frequent testing and consistent
discipline to increase student achievement.

 

The
leadership team drafted a proposal to present to IPS administrators explaining
how these additional flexibilities would improve the experience for Arlington
Woods students, families and staff. This includes additional support resources
for teachers along with a new focus on Social and Emotional Learning. SEL
focuses on relationship building, responsible decision-making, social
awareness, self-management and self-awareness to create a meaningful and
engaging learning environment.

 

“We
realized removing students from class for behavioral concerns was not effective
anymore,” Guthrie said. “We’re equipping our teachers and students with skills
to deal with social and emotional challenges.”

 

This
year, Arlington Woods will have a dedicated Social and Emotional Learning
teacher, which every student will have access to for specialized classes to
develop SEL skills. A behavior specialist will facilitate group sessions for
students throughout the week and provide training sessions for teachers as well
to reinforce SEL skills in the classroom.

 

“As
a leader through this process, I’ve learned a lot about culture and what that
looks like at different schools,” said Guthrie. “Now I have the opportunity to
build a new culture at Arlington Woods. What I take from this whole experience
is that you really have to support teachers. You have to give them the skill
set to be rock stars in what they’re doing. It’s about making them successful
teachers for their entire career.”

 

Another
support for teachers is the addition of Professional Learning Communities
(PLCs), where groups of educators meet regularly to collaborate, share their
experiences and grow together to improve academic achievement. Teachers will
have 50 minutes together four days a week, with 100 minutes set aside for PLCs
on the fifth day.

 

“You’re
meeting with your colleagues every week for 100 minutes,” exclaimed Guthrie.
“That’s awesome!”

 

At
the end of July, the Arlington Woods team plans to host a back-to-school fair.
Students and families will be invited to participate in fun activities while
getting to know new members of the staff and learning more about the transition
to autonomy.

 

“I
think what families will see is us taking more time to support kids both
behaviorally and academically,” said Guthrie. “They will see increased
instructional consistency throughout our building. Families will feel more like
partners in this work to educate their children.”

 

After
months and months of planning, Guthrie said she’s most excited about seeing the
work in action.

 

“You
do all this work behind the scenes and you’re planning, but to see it all roll
out is the most exciting part,” Guthrie said. “I’m also excited about getting
in our classrooms more frequently to participate in the learning process of our
children. Being in those rooms so the kids and teachers see that I’m a part of
the work, not just coming in for evaluations. I’ve learned a lot in this
journey, including the fact that you need to be more than just an evaluator.
You have to get in there and have fun with the kids and balance all of those
things. You have to worry about people by day and paperwork by night!”

 

The
planning process for autonomy has connected the Arlington Woods team with
wonderful new community partners, but there’s always an opportunity for
additional support. If your business or organization is interested in joining
the fantastic staff of Arlington Woods to support student success, they would
love to have you on board! You can contact the school at 317.226.4299.

 

We look forward to
kicking off an amazing year with the new culture and focus of Arlington Woods
when school starts in August!