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Many people will tell you that urban schools can’t succeed without involved parents, motivated students, adequate supplies, and a safe neighborhood. While all of these factors would make the success of urban schools more consistent I can tell you that certain organizational structures can benefit students even without all of these factors in place.
The school to which I was assigned when I first started teaching in Philadelphia had only been open for a year. The school was physically divided into four “houses” or learning communities. Each house was overseen by a director who taught a few classes a week and spent the remainder of the time handling discipline, contacting parents, and seeing to it that each house functioned as a community. There were between ten and twelve classes in each house. A house meeting was scheduled into our roster where we could discuss problems, plan trips, and exchange successful practices. All four grade levels were represented in each house (grades 5-8) and teachers of the same grade were able to exchange students on a trial basis without administrative permission. If the swap worked we would then notify the main office and the official class change was made. This allowed us to handle personality conflicts and bullying situations quickly. Students remained within the same house for their entire time in the school. This allowed the students a stability that often did not exist elsewhere in their lives. It also meant that each student knew that he/she was accountable to all of the adults in the house.
We also had the advantage of having one counselor per house. The counselor saw individual students who needed help but also had the time to conduct group meetings with children who shared similar problems. At least twice a year each counselor would do a group activity with each class. Sometimes it was conflict resolution. At other times the focus was on decision making. Every child knew that there was someone to speak to individually in times of crisis.
Not only were teachers and counselors directly involved with the students but so were the non-teaching assistants, the cafeteria staff, and the custodial staff. Students knew that they were part of a community and if they needed an adult to talk to someone was always available.
We had the smallest number of disciplinary reports of any middle school in the city because of this organizational structure. We also had a very stable staff because we were allowed to take charge of making decisions we knew would work. And most importantly, we had an administration that respected us as professionals.
One of the side effects of this organization was that we had a fairly high parent engagement for an urban school. This was in part because the parents knew that we cared. Student achievement increased because of the number of adults each student was accountable to. Discipline was handled quickly and fairly. The only thing that we couldn’t change was making sure that we had adequate supplies but we managed to find creative ways to make the best use of what we had.
Urban schools can have success even without full parental involvement; self motivated students and a stable community. In fact, for students in an urban setting it is a necessity that the schools function well to help the young people in the community lead successful lives as adults. The structure I have described here: a stable staff, planning time for teachers, administrators who allow teachers to be professionals and the engagement with students of every adult on staff to maximize adult supervision is the best way I have seen for a successful urban school.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]