Plan B and C and D: How Two Principals are Hoping to Avoid the Summer Slide
“I always believe in processes and plan B and C and D,” explains Nancy Martinez, a New Leaders alum and principal of Starmount Academy of Excellence (PreK-5) in Charlotte, NorthCarolina. Martinez and her school leadership team explored research on learning loss—now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic—and felt a call to action. “That set us on high alert. I said we have to do more… so that the average 30 percent loss doesn’t become 40 or 50 percent for our kids.”
Like Dr. Martinez, John Gravier, a New Leaders alum and principal of ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Academy (PreK-8) in New Orleans, is also trying to bridge students’ virtual learning experiences from now through the summer and then into the fall, which will likely include remote learning. His team plans to pilot different virtual platforms and approaches to differentiate instruction across grade levels this summer. “What we realized,” Gravier explains, “is that what we do with a second grader is going to have to look different than what we do with an eighth grader.”
Like educators and leaders across the country, Dr. Martinez and Gravier are finding solutions to unforeseen challenges: how to minimize disruptions to learning over the summer and prepare students for a new (and still unknown) school year. Their goal is to prevent what is commonly called the “summer slide,” the learning loss that occurs in the absence of formal instruction, now magnified and exacerbated by school closures.
Listen as Dr. Martinez and Gravier describe their plans for advancing summer learning, the communication challenges they seek to overcome, and how they are adapting their leadership to move forward in new ways.
Gravier and his staff plan to optimize the personal connections they’ve developed with families. Instead of asking teachers to connect with all 30 students on their rosters, Gravier linked siblings together. He tasked each staff member with reaching out regularly to between seven and nine families. All communication is logged, along with any support provided or actions taken.
“We have more intimate relationships with our families now,” Gravier reflects. “We know the best way to get a hold of them. We know what resources they need. We have an easy way to contact them if things are different next school year.”
Dr. Martinez is working closely with long-standing community partners who hope to offer virtual programming this summer. In the past, almost every family enrolled in a range of district and community-based programs. Now Dr. Martinez is creating new virtual communication strategies to promote that same level of enrollment, especially to support students with English language acquisition needs and families who may face connectivity challenges as financial situations become more dire.
“We have to remove obstacles from our families at this time,” she adds, “to make sure student learning continues... Families are a little exhausted… probably looking forward to a little break… We have to be cognizant of that but at the same time make summer learning happen. It has to happen.”
Dr. Martinez is also planning for professional development opportunities for her staff. With a new curriculum implementation planned for a handful of grade levels come fall, teachers will need to do their own summer learning. That professional development, like student summer learning, will be virtual and individualized.
Dr. Martinez and Gravier are adapting to challenges no one imagined three months ago, creating summer learning plans that are unique to their school context. Her advice to leaders across the country is to give yourself some grace and assume grace in others. Gravier’s advice is to start small: focus on communication and build from there, keeping the best interests of students and families as your top priority.
For more reading on learning loss, see NWEA Research Brief entitled COVID-19 Slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement