Outstanding outcomes for students are delivered by 2014 SCORE Prize middle school finalist Freedom Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Memphis.
But the innovative supports in place at Freedom Prep aren’t just for students. Teachers at the school receive individualized, intentional coaching and development, bringing out the best in every educator and attracting professionals who want to do their best work.
“It’s our mission to prepare all students to succeed in college and in life. In order for us to do that, we have to show the students that we value them,” said Brittney Martin, a Freedom Prep English Language Arts teacher. “If someone is not that kind of teacher, they aren’t here.”
Freedom Prep Academy serves about 270 middle school students in grades 6-8, and this fall is expanding to a K-10 school. Students have a high level of success at Freedom Prep, which was also a SCORE Prize finalist in 2013. The school has narrowed the TCAP performance gap between low-income students and their higher income peers by 10.8 points in math and 9.9 points in science since 2012. TVAAS three-year math growth is also strong.
“What we’ve noticed through the data is that the longer that a child is at Freedom Prep, the more gains that they are making,” Roblin Webb, the school’s founder and chief executive officer, said in a SCORE video interview.
A vigorous weekly teacher coaching cycle brings expert educators into classrooms to observe, provide written feedback, and conduct coaching sessions with instructors. This cycle sometimes includes video analysis – administrators record about 15 minutes of teacher instruction each week, then meet individually with teachers within 48 hours to review the footage and identify strengths and areas needing refinement. Administrators are back in the classrooms within that same week for a shorter observation to check on implementation. Last year, this cycle was repeated on a weekly basis until January, when it shifted to a schedule of alternating weeks. Feedback was provided by content-specific coaches – two assistant heads of middle school, one specializing in STEM subjects and the other in literacy.
With this high level of feedback, coaching can take the form of fine-tuning. For example, Ms. Martin said she worked on using language more economically to allow students to do more heavy lifting during lessons.
“As an English teacher, we tend to talk a lot,” said Ms. Martin. “Now I give them the information and then I back off. My students learn best from hearing each other.”
Administrators also support teachers by being present in hallways during class time for immediate student interventions. Students who aren’t invested in coursework can be directed by teachers to the hall, where they’ll be speaking with a dean within a minute or two. The right conversation can have the student back in class soon after, ready to engage.
To learn more about Freedom Prep’s work to raise student achievement, watch this video filmed at the school last fall.