Fencing class for special needs boys, organized by PE teacher.   Their pride is visible.

Arts, Accountability, and Engagement:

How One Urban School Creates

Continuous Improvement

 

Barry Sugarman

    

ABSTRACT

This is a case study of a successful public urban elementary school with a disadvantaged student population, high in ELLs, special ed, and free lunch kids (in Brooklyn, NY). Not only does this school meet its external accountability obligations under NCLB but it does so while providing its students with a program rich in creative arts and activities. In other words, it successfully defies the pressure that often turns schools into test-prep factories.

This article describes this school, observed over three years, from the perspective of organizational leadership and change management. Using data from teacher surveys and site visits I document the strong culture among these teachers that upholds high expectations for their students, collaboration in improvement efforts, and mutual respect with the principal.

Reconstructing the process of change leadership that produced this situation, I hypothesize that a “social contract” between principal and staff (for high engagement in exchange for high support) underpins the staff culture of collaboration for continuous improvement. Creative arts and activities form an important part of the educational vision and day-to- day experience at PS 255. They foster student engagement (among several ways, by lowering language barriers) and they enrich the content of learning; they also help educators to hold to the vision that ultimately drives this remarkable school.

 

​This school has strong, pervasive elements of music, visual arts, drama, and other creative activities (e.g. fencing, Lego robot-making) throughout the school. All classrooms take their turn in making a presentation at weekly all-school assemblies.  This school is not officially a "magnet" school though its culture is full

 

KEY QUESTIONS RAISED BY THIS CASE

What are the effects of these creative arts and activities on student development ? 

What is its effect on staff (individually & collectively)?    (e.g. morale, vision)

How important are creative arts and activities in building a culture of learning & improvement?  

ALTHOUGH SCHOOLS ARE DIFFERENT FROM SOME OTHER ORGANIZATIONS, THEY ALSO HIGHLIGHT SOME SHARED FEATURES.  THE DIFFERENCES CAN ALSO BE INSTRUCTIVE.

 

Student art work decorates the lunch room.  (Below & right.)

The principal greets students at main entrance at the start of day. 

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ORGmuze
 
by
Barry Sugarman
 

SITE MAP