Coeur d’Alene Elementary; One School’s Journey Towards Instructional Excellence

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Coeur d’Alene Elementary;  

One School’s Journey Towards Instructional Excellence

LAUSD’s Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice is a stunning example of what can be accomplished when dedicated teachers, a visionary school leader, and outside foundation support come together in common pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning.

As principal of Coeur d’Alene, Andrew Jenkins leads a cadre of teachers who are committed to innovative teaching and learning. After a round of a Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING fellowship, he has adeptly propelled his teachers – both Cotsen fellows and their colleagues who are not in the program – to work as a team when it comes to adopting and implementing powerful instructional approaches such as Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Balanced Literacy.

“When I came to Coeur d’ Alene, there were exciting things happening in individual classrooms, but they had not been adopted school-wide,” says Jenkins, who has been at the site for six years. “I established the rationale that we should be implementing promising practices together so that we have a common language for teaching and learning. For example, small group instruction is what’s best for kids, so we grew that model. Technology is [important], so everyone began using SMARTboards and incorporated them with their in-class tech, their classroom laptops, and the iPads that we purchased.”

Although there were many good things happening at Coeur d’Alene, the 2013-14 school year seems to have been a time when several factors converged to thrust the staff even further along the path towards instructional excellence. During this pivotal year, Jenkins facilitated professional development sessions on the new state standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, bringing a school-wide common focus and understanding of what students needed to learn. Two of his teachers, who were Cotsen fellows, shared their implementation of CGI strategies to develop students’ conceptual understanding and mathematical thinking with their colleagues. They spoke to its positive impacts on students who were not formerly successful in mathematics. Also, as part of the faculty’s work, Jenkins and the teachers analyzed Smarter Balanced sample assessment items to understand the kinds of questions that students would be asked and how their teaching was or was not aligned to meet the rigor of these questions. Their findings through this process made the need to implement CGI as a school-wide practice clear. As a result, Coeur d’Alene partnered with UCLA researcher and Cotsen professional development provider, Dr. Angela Chan Turrou, who guided the teachers in their implementation of CGI throughout the school.

A graduate of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Jenkins knew the value of Balanced Literacy, and when a few of his teachers expressed an interest in it, the school used Common Core monies to purchase Lucy Calkins’ units of study for reading and writing. As was the case with CGI, the positive results on student learning in classrooms that utilized Balanced Literacy spread, and soon other teachers became interested throughout the school. Jenkins was able to negotiate agreement with Coeur d’Alene’s teachers to implement Balanced Literacy school-wide as a result.

Jenkins’ success in supporting the teachers in their implementation of both CGI and Balanced Literacy produced a holistic effect upon both his teachers and students that was so powerful that it has profoundly transformed instruction at the site.

“When I think about the success we’ve experienced, I think back to my original meeting with Liz Romero (Coeur d’Alene teacher and third-year Cotsen mentor) and her goals and vision,” says Jenkins. “She said to herself and me, ‘I’m going to be the best mentor,’ and set a high bar for herself. I think that was really instrumental in moving the program.”

“Being someone devoted to professional development and growth gave me that sense of urgency and need to make sure we capitalized on the time with Cotsen to the fullest extent possible,” he says. “It’s such an amazing opportunity to have someone of Liz’s expertise working with a group of teachers and the opportunities that Cotsen provides you in terms of outside professional development is so invaluable. Cotsen came at a really opportune time. We were really ready to move to the next level as a school, not just with the fellows and a mentor, but with all of our teachers. One of the goals of Cotsen is to grow the practices outside the fellows’ classrooms, and that usually happens after the two-year commitment. At Coeur d’Alene, this happened during the two-year commitment, almost immediately during the first year.”

Jerry Harris, Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING executive director, who, prior to joining the foundation in 2007, served as longtime principal at Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified, understands firsthand the importance and necessity of sustained support and professional development at a school site.

“One rarely sees the coalescing of an entire staff around instructional improvement occur so rapidly,” says Harris. “The Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING is pleased to be a part of the tremendous work that is taking place at Coeur d’Alene Elementary.”

Recognizing the impressive progress that has been made to date, and the potential for even greater impact, the ART of TEACHING granted Coeur d’Alene another two-year fellowship cycle, which began this past July.

Jenkins’s leadership, dedicated teachers and support from the ART of TEACHING have proven to be a winning combination at Coeur d’Alene. At a time when many principals struggle to unify their staffs around instructional improvement, the Coeur d’Alene teachers are enthusiastic about refining their craft, and eager to continue their journey towards instructional excellence.

“I came into this job understanding that in order to maximize student learning and achievement, you have to have continuity of program,” says Jenkins, “And I recognized that the best schools are ones that embrace change and programs together as a team. I think what distinguishes us as a team is that we share that vision now.”