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A Chance for Renewal

Brett BernardBrett Bernard is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in school turnaround.

I am honored to be selected as a White House Champion of Change for School Turnaround and to represent the incredible work of our staff and students at Emerson Elementary.  Emerson is small urban school with approximately two hundred students, located in the Argentine area of Kansas City, Kansas. Our student demographics consist of 60 percent Hispanic/Latino students, 20 percent African American students and 20 percent Anglo American students. Ninety percent of our students are classified as economically disadvantaged and 50 percent are classified as English language learners. We consider our diversity a blessing and an opportunity to make a difference across cultures.

Three years ago, Emerson was labeled the lowest performing elementary school in the state of Kansas. At that time, only 38 percent of our students were scoring proficient on state assessments in reading, and 45 percent of our students were scoring proficient on state assessments in math. Two years into our turnaround reform, our teachers and students have made amazing progress. On our 2012 state assessments, 80 percent of our students have reached the proficiency category or higher (an improvement of 42 percentage points) and 85 percent of our students reached proficiency or higher on the state math assessment (an improvement of 40 percentage points).

The school turnaround process offered Emerson’s school community a chance for renewal, and we have made the most of it. The process began with a shared and clear vision of our goals and a collective passion to make a difference for our students. Our school reform identified four specific areas of change: the implementation of our instructional improvement model; strengthening our literacy and language instruction; building strong relationships with our families and community; and providing quality extended learning time for our students, which is connected to their daily instruction. While we have experienced challenges on this path, we have never given up our beliefs in our students and each other.

My approach to our school turnaround was based on the understanding that reform efforts, grants, etc., come and go. We have a unique opportunity to rebuild the school’s culture and instructional practices that endure the length of this reform and promise continued academic growth for all our students. The changes we make must be sustainable. We have made great strides in attaining this by building a collaborative, risk taking culture that supports and challenges us each day.

Brett Bernard is the principal of Emerson Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas.