Todd Beavers, educational technology teacher, helps first grader Alex Brown program a Lego robot during Lego Club at Glenwood Elementary School.
It’s Glenwood Elementary’s turn to wear the glass slippers.
Fifth grader Jadan Turner, left, and third graders Donavan Linzy and Zarnell Dicus marvel as Donavan's pinewood derby car weighs in close to the maximum allowance during Boy Scouts at Glenwood Elementary School on Friday.
Each year, Toledo Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Romules Durant names a “Cinderella school,” an underperforming school that comes from seemingly nowhere and makes major academic gains, similar to a small college that goes deep into the NCAA basketball tournament. Last year, it was Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys, and two years ago, it was Birmingham Elementary.
Fourth grader Kobe Rios, 10, builds a component for a Lego project during Lego club at Glenwood Elementary School on Friday.
And while district leaders will have to wait for state tests this spring to see if Glenwood students get to dance with the prince, there’s a sense of good things happening.
Scores are up. Discipline rates are down. And in an ironic twist, one of the keys to the school’s success was last year’s biggest mistake.
Glenwood, in the Old West End neighborhood, is one of four Toledo Public Schools that last year received a School Improvement Grant, federal funds sent to chronically low-performing schools that agree to certain reforms.
The school received a new principal in Jennifer Spoores last year, added staff, saw its days lengthened, and had training added. School runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.
More class time means more time spent on academics, which means better test results, right? That’s not how it worked out. Test scores dropped. What’s more, discipline rates went up during the last hour. Kids were bored and acted out. The extra hour, Ms. Spoores said, was wasted. But not this year.
“We learned from our mistakes,” she said.
Ms. Spoores collaborated with teachers in her Building Leadership Team to totally rethink the use of the extra time. They spent the summer developing the Bull Pup Academy — a reference to the school mascot and Glenwood’s link to nearby Scott High School. It’s a mix of small-group instruction and club activities.
Monday through Thursday, students are divided up at the end of the day based on academic need, for either enrichment or intervention, specifically tailored from internal test results. On Fridays, they get to choose their own enrichment activities. There are Boy and Girl Scouts, cooking and crafts clubs, dancing, robots, sports, and more.
“This is what the kids said they wanted,” said Susan Drabek, a third-grade teacher and the building’s union representative.
The club activities weave in reading and math — cooking students learned Friday how many quarts are in a gallon — and they’re also used as a carrot. Misbehave during the week and you don’t get to participate. In one room, scouts planned for a pinewood derby. In another, kids practiced ribbon dancing for a performance.
All staff members have to participate in the academics, and they also lead the clubs. Take Todd Beavers, team leader of a Batman, Lava Boy, and Shark Boy.
Mr. Beavers is normally the data coordinator for the school, but on Friday afternoons, he helps kids program robots. The youngest get into the basics, so that when they reach competition age, they hit the ground running, he said.
On Friday, a group of first-graders were putting the finishing programming touches on their robots. The kids get to name their own robot programs. First grader Christopher Chisolm’s was Shark Boy.
“He’s going to move forward, and backwards, and spin around,” Christopher, 6, said confidently about Shark Boy.
First, though, he needed to tone down his robot. When Carroll Beavers, 18, asked how many rotations Christopher had programmed, he giggled when he said 91.
“Come on, man, be reasonable,” Miss Beavers said.
Miss Beavers majors in speech-language pathology at the University of Toledo. She’s also Mr. Beavers’ daughter.
Teachers have recruited a team of volunteers to help run their clubs. Miss Beavers did robotic competitions in high school, with her parents serving then as fans. Mr. Beavers caught the robotic competition bug and brought it to Glenwood. His daughter caught the education bug from her family, and Glenwood seemed a good way to get experience while pitching in.
While even the lowest-performing schools in TPS have dedicated groups of volunteers, they tend to be small.
Yet volunteers abound at Glenwood on club day. Teachers bring family members and friends, church members, neighbors, people from near Glenwood or who live in Michigan. Nancy Lollar, for instance, helps students learn to craft, something she did with kids at church or by herself during her free time. When friend Dawn Henry, a Glenwood teacher, asked if she wanted to help out, she jumped at the chance.
“I love doing it,” she said.
Teachers said they were surprised how many people were happy to volunteer if only they were asked.
There’s more to Glenwood’s new look than the academy. For instance, the school took a page from a King Academy practice that sets regular academic goals for students, showing them their test scores and challenging them to improve. Teachers meet twice a week before school to go over data, which inform what interventions students need.
The school added “wrap-around services,” a buzzword for nonacademic aid for students and their families. Local community organizations help connect parents to health services. The school right now is helping a student’s parents find new housing.
Toledo administrators are eyeing the school as a possible model for the district. If Glenwood’s success sustains, and it can be scaled districtwide, Toledo Public Schools might have to think about getting more than one pair of glass slippers.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.