Anya Grottel-Brown, Teach Plus National Communications Director, Contributing Writer

As Melissa Scherle considers her current group of 2nd graders, she reflects on what she and her team accomplished last year. In 2014-15, the 2nd grade team at Washington Irving School 14 averaged two years of growth on the literacy test DIBELS, the second highest growth in all of IPS and double the district’s average point gain.         

The year was also Scherle’s first year as a 2nd grade teacher and T3 Teacher Leader. With over a decade of experience, she wanted to have a leadership role while remaining in the classroom; T3 gave her that opportunity. As a T3 Teacher Leader, she was given the responsibility for the entire 2nd grade.

“We were facing huge obstacles,” says Scherle. “The kids were on a wide range of ability levels. A lot of the students were repeating 2nd grade and only about 30 percent were on grade level.” 

Scherle and her team were also facing incredibly challenging circumstances. Washington Irving serves all of the local area homeless shelters. There is high mobility among students, with some coming from states as far as Louisiana. It was not uncommon for the team to find some of their students gone for days and months at a time, then reappear suddenly in the classroom. Some of the students hadn’t been in school for months and those who came in during the year, were not on grade level.

Despite these odds, the team was determined that their students succeed and excited about helping them do so. “We knew that we needed new, out-of-the-box strategies,” says Scherle. “My two team members were incredibly collaborative and willing to try anything to increase the rigor in the 2nd grade.”

In January 2015, the team conducted midyear testing. When they examined the data in January, they realized that they had to restructure their reading block. 

“The kids didn’t have the basic skills to be able to read fluently and tell us what they read. We had to teach them how to remember the content,” Scherle explains. 

The team spoke with special education teachers and interventionists and developed new reading strategies. They broke down the skills they needed to teach weekbyweek and built in daily grouping activities where each teacher focused on a specific set of reading skills.

“It took a lot of extra hours. We used every minute in the day; we even structured bathroom breaks for the kids,” Scherle says. “As a team, we dug in deep, broke down the data, and then did something drastic. It paid off.”  

Continuing on their achievements, the team’s determination to succeed is greater than ever. 

“We know that we’ll have to work even harder but we also know how to help each other. We know what skills the kids should have coming into 2nd grade and we are working with the T3 teachers in kindergarten and 1st grade. There is a lot of collaboration involved. I’m thrilled to be leading this work and I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for T3.”

Scherle stresses that students at Washington Irving and similar schools need more high-quality teachers and increased community involvement and support, “People have to come into the schools and see first-hand what kids and teachers there experience every day,” says Scherle.