Oklahoma City Public Schools Elementary teachers give weekend to improve

EDMOND — Efforts to improve the learning and environment at all 54 Oklahoma City elementary schools launched Friday night with five hours of intensive training for 350 teachers

LaHoma Harding a teacher with Edwards Elementary sings "Happy Birthday" during a class at Great Expectations at the University of Central Oklahoma, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in Edmond, Okla. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
“We feel like there's an opportunity here for the culture of our schools to turn around,” said DeAnn Davis, the district's executive director of elementary schools and reform. “It can change the way we interact and the culture of learning in every classroom to a positive, more welcoming environment. Your kids will want to be in school. Parents will be welcomed.”
 
The reform isn't a new model. It's a teacher training program that has been around for 20 years and that more than 35,000 Oklahoma teachers have been exposed to. It's called Great Expectations.
 
But that doesn't lessen the excitement among the teachers, principals and district officials who believe Great Expectations will make a huge difference in their buildings.
 
“It makes all the difference in the world with the climate of the school,” said Susan Martin principal of Fillmore Elementary who had Great Expectations training in the '90s as a teacher. “We jumped in fast and furious and asked if we could do it as a school.”
 
There were 32 Fillmore teachers at the Friday night conference, held in the University of Central Oklahoma's Nigh University Center. The Oklahoma City teachers also will spend all day today in classes and another Friday night and Saturday in February undergoing training.
 
“They are giving their time and that speaks volumes about the importance of this,” Davis said, noting that none of the teachers are being compensated for the additional time at work.
 
Kelli Packnett, a fifth-grade teacher at Mark Twain Elementary, said it was “a little overwhelming” at first that she would have to attend the conference on her own time.
 
“But it's better than my summer time, definitely,” said Packnett, who has had some Great Expectations training at her school. “This is one of the best professional development programs. ... They really just flood you with ideas.”
 
Great Expectations is a nonprofit Oklahoma-based professional development program for teachers with six basic tenets: having high expectations for students, positive attitudes among teachers, knowing all children can learn, building self-esteem among children, creating a climate of mutual respect and improving teacher knowledge and skill.
 
Teachers Friday broke into classrooms after a kickoff assembly where the tenants of Great Expectations were demonstrated rather than lectured. Each classroom had a teacher or mentor who guided the teachers through a set of classroom management tools.
 
Great Expectations Executive Director Linda Dzialo said more than 35,500 teachers throughout the state have been trained in Great Expectations, which means about 1 in 4 students in the state have a teacher who has gone through the training.
 
“We really see this as our opportunity to impact thousands and thousands of children,” Dzialo said of the Oklahoma City rollout, which is the first districtwide implementation of the program. “It's what teachers need. It's a blueprint for how to be a master teacher.”
 
She said the program will cost about $500 per teacher and principal.
 
Oklahoma City had spent about $290,000 on Great Expectations using federal stimulus funds.
 
Dzialo said that a Harvard researcher is going to be studying the Oklahoma City reform efforts with Great Expectations for the next three to five years and will document a number of variables in student improvement from test scores to attendance.
 
“At the end of this three- to five-year period, we'll have a tremendous amount of data,” Dzialo said.