The Future of Lakewood Elementary: Bulldog Bright

The Future of Lakewood Elementary: Bulldog Bright

Two years ago, the school year began with a lot of question marks at Lakewood Elementary.  Years of under-funding and a difficult school climate had resulted in high staff turnover and low rates of academic success for students.  Many of the neighborhood’s more affluent residents, especially the white ones, had abandoned the school, and gentrification had begun to impact eviction rates and destabilize the surrounding neighborhoods.  Lakewood’s new Principal was a brand-new administrator with no formal elementary school experience. Challenges, and very little else, were guaranteed. 

Within a month, the state announced its intention to privatize the school through its Innovative School District (ISD) initiative – and suddenly, Lakewood’s future was even more uncertain. Ultimately, a parent-and-union-led effort to fend of that privatization was successful (and more can be read about it here). By the end of the 2017-2018 academic year, through a partnership with the Durham Association of Educators/National Education Association, the school’s staff and administration committed to a Community Schools model, and continued the deep transformation of their school’s culture. 

Less than two years later, there are already remarkable wins to report.  The school’s leadership used additional funds provided by the state to provide high-quality math and phonics curricula, hire experienced full-time teacher coaches, and bring on a bilingual social worker.  Additionally, following the staff’s vote to join the Bull City Community Schools Partnership the previous year, the school’s leadership hired a full-time Community School Coordinator and dug into deeply challenging, constructive conversations about the working and learning conditions at the school.  

As a result of these interventions, and the remarkable work of steady veterans and new educators alike in every role in the building, last year ended with news that students’ overall academic performance had grown more at Lakewood than any other school in DPS.  This year has already begun with signs that Lakewood is on a mission to model sustainable, stakeholder-driven, school transformation. Using the tools of community organizing and continuous improvement science, the school has already improved upon ‘business as usual’ in just its first week of operation. 

Last Saturday (the Saturday before staff had to report to work), 14 Lakewood staff, plus several of their partners and children, spent hours knocking on the doors of over 60 soon-to-be Lakewood Kindergarten families.  The bilingual teams had over 40 conversations welcoming parents and students to their school community, and gave each family a yard sign that said “Home of a Future Bulldog: Welcome to Kindergarten” in both English and Spanish.   Before the students even arrive for their very first first day, they know just how excited the Bulldog family is to have them. The school will most certainly track the impact of these visits, but there is little doubt that those students and parents will feel more welcome, and more excited and equipped to engage with the school community. 

Then, last Tuesday, the staff began its year with a two-hour strategy session that consisted of:

  •       A presentation of data that had been obtained through a deep “listening project” with feedback from 98% of the staff, 90% of the students (including Kindergarten, first and second graders), and 65% of Lakewood’s parents last year. The data paints a detailed picture of students’, staff’s and parents’ hopes, needs, and vision for their school – as well as what they believe are Lakewood’s greatest strengths upon which to build.
  •       Sharing the theory and principles behind the school’s intentional shift to center collective and strategic problem-solving aimed at improving school climate and student learning conditions. Creating space for staff to reflect on what “inclusive leadership” is and isn’t, and what support they would need to develop themselves into leaders and agents of school transformation.
  •       Collectively prioritizing four “Goal Teams” that will take up major priorities identified in the listening project data
  •       The staff RUNNING to the back of the room to volunteer for goal team assignments before the facilitators had even finished their instructions. 

For those unfamiliar with school culture or how “schools work,” these things are nearly unheard of. Schools rarely engage their students and parents with this much intention and care, and almost never outside of the school building.  School administrators generally gather their trusted advisors, make a plan, and share it with their often-disengaged staff. Something special is happening at Lakewood.

There are still lots of question marks at Lakewood Elementary, like at all public schools.  Now, however, the Bulldog family is approaching the answers more strategically, more honestly, and more united. Stay tuned for continued reports, but the future not only looks clearer at Lakewood Elementary School – it looks Bulldog bright.