Plan B and C and D: How Two Principals are Hoping to Avoid the Summer Slide

Two New Leaders alumni and school principals discuss how they plan to advance summer learning, overcome communication challenges, and adapt their leadership to move forward in new ways.
Young student smiling swinging at school
5/19/20
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“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

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Nancy Martinez

Nancy Martinez

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dr. Nancy Martinez has served as a guidance counselor, assistant principal, and principal for over 23 years. She began her career in Milwaukee Public Schools. In 2015, she became principal of Starmount Academy of Excellence in Charlotte, North Carolina. She holds a  Doctorate of Education from North Central University.

Nancy Martinez

John Gravier

Intrigued by the education landscape in New Orleans, John Gravier moved to the city in 2011. He was named principal of Dolores T. Aaron Academy in 2012. Under his leadership, Dolores T. Aaron Academy has been recognized for sustained student growth.

Nancy Martinez

Nancy Martinez

Nancy Martinez

Transcript

From New Leaders, this is our Leadership Changes Everything series, where we're continuing to elevate leader voices from across the country as they share how they are leading through COVID-19. Today we hear from John Gravier out of New Orleans. He is the school director at Dolores T. Aaron Academy. It's a PreK through eighth school. We have with us Nancy Martinez from Cohort 9-Milwaukee. She now resides in Charlotte, where she's a principal at Starmount Academy of Excellence, a PreK through fifth grade school.  

Gravier:

Right now we're right in the middle of planning for our virtual summer learning experience. All of our students are going to go home in the summer with some sort of additional printed student materials. We're also sending home reading books with our students, almost kind of like a mini book fair for them. Just to put extra books in their hands over the summer. And, then we're going to select three grade levels. In our case, one from our PreK through second grade band; one grade from our third through fifth grade band; and then one grade out of the sixth to eighth grade band. We're going to pilot a couple different virtual learning experiences for each of those grade levels over the summer. So in the fall, or throughout next school year, we’ll have a pretty good plan in place based on what we do with the second grader is going to have to look different than what we do with an eighth grader. We want to be able to try out and see what works best for our students, our families and also for our teachers.

Martinez:

Our thought process was that we wanted to make sure that there was continuity of learning. We have read some research that says that students can absorb about 70 percent of what they have learned in reading throughout the year. So they're at risk already of losing 30 percent of their learning because of the situation that we're in. And not to mention the summer slide. So when we added those numbers – and these are students that have all the advantages. So when we have our kiddos that have some language acquisition challenges and other connectivity challenges and things like that. We said that that sent us on high alert. So I said we have to do more than what the district is required to ensure that that 30 percent doesn't become 40 or 50 percent for our kids.

Starmount has always had a plan to avoid the summer slide. We create opportunities with different partners so that every family, even if they don't know they want it, can have access to educational opportunities over the summer. We partner with the YMCA for Y readers, with Forest Hill Church with a program called Urban Promise which is also one of our after-school programs, and with the Boys and Girls Club. And then there are the summer opportunities for third and fourth graders with the district. So with all of those, we were able to reach almost 90 percent of our families. Now with this situation where we don't know if there's going to be live learning or if it is going to be online learning. We are in constant communication with our partners to see what that is going to look like. The district is going to offer distance learning opportunities for our kids. They have been extended, not just to our students, but for everybody. Because again we have read the research and we have to get ahead of the curve on this.

Gravier:

I feel like in the past, we would rely a lot more on social media to deliver information, emails, robocalls that go out to families to just get information out. I think due to what's happened the last couple months and moving over the summer that we're going into a lot more, I would say, personal connection route because we've established those relationships with those families. And they’re just going to need more information and more contact over the summer. There's more information that we want to be able to help with. We want to make sure they're supported on some of the learning materials we're sending home. So I think it's going to be a lot more of the person-to-person, personal relationship and not so much of the email blasts or stuff that maybe in past years we relied on during the summer months.

Martinez:

I think that the challenge is going to be to engage as many families as we can. Number one, because you know this has put a tremendous amount of burden on our families to be homeschoolers and they probably are going to be looking forward to a little break. But to communicate the need: that at least for some amount of time each day they're going to please allow the child to be in these learning activities and help them out because we don't want them to slide in their learning. So we have to do the same kind of promotional campaign that we do when we’re in the building, but we have to do it virtually. And under circumstances where families are a little exhausted. So we have to be cognizant of that too and make it as easy as possible. But at the same time making it happen. It has to happen.

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