Level Four Schools

I taught in a school that, six years into my career, became a “Level Four School.”  Level Four means failing.  Low standardized test scores, graduation rates, high suspensions and absenteeism.

When I began at the school it was the same as when it was labeled six years later,  yes struggling.  Yes not serving some of it’s students,  Yes.  Failing.  It was not the same school I left after federal and state regulations got involved in this new era of No Child Left Behind just under a different name.

The school I left was beaten down, punished, restricted, and stripped of most of the really good things it had going for it.

Let me start by saying that schools should not be allowed to fail.  Schools that are not helping all students succeed should be held accountable.

But here is what was done to our level four school:

(I’m going to avoid lamenting about the teacher shaming and blame.  Although it can’t be measured it really affected us.  We weren’t racist. we weren’t biding our time to jump to another school when transfer opportunities came along,  we were not the bottom of the barrel.  We were teachers doing our best at a school we had so much pride in.  I also could talk about the way we were talked to and what was said to us by our downtown leadership, but, I wont.  I’ll stick to the even worse stuff.)

We were mandated to “Get rid of” %50 of our staff in two years.  Now, I said that I wouldn’t talk about the psychological affects of feeling blamed incorrectly, feeling like we wanted to be better and wanted help not punishment, that we were in fear for two years because a threat hung over our heads.  I’d rather talk about the effects it had on the school.

Devil’s advocate here:

It could have gotten rid of our “dead weight.”  Our burn outs that were protected by the union and weren’t the best fit for our schools.  There were so many problems with that idea:

#1:  WE DIDN’T HAVE THAT MANY TEACHERS WHO IN ANY WAY DESERVED TO GO.  I would admit it if we did.  I would admit it if I deserved to go.  But we didn’t.  I taught there.  I know.  We just didn’t.  So we had to get rid of good teachers.

#2:  THERE WAS NO PLAN TO REPLACE OUR TEACHERS WITH “BETTER TEACHERS.”  So, to cut to the chase real quick, the quality, over some time, of our staff plummeted.  How could it have done anything else?  We got gutted.

#3:  I’ll take the drama down a notch.  Teachers, for the most part, weren’t really fired, just shuffled around the district and we got teachers from other schools.  At least one transfer was a teacher who wanted to come over and she was the best thing to happen to that school during that time.  Some were teachers who were booted from other schools and were bitter about being at ours.  That’s really going to help things, isn’t it?

#4:  Instead of getting rid of teachers who needed to go, our district decided just to pull the “last hired first fired” maneuver.  An administrator spoke out against that – they were some of our best teachers! – and he rather quickly got not just fired but escorted from our building.  Now, there are two sides to every story, he had some anger, but I was angry, too.


Then there was extending the school day.  By forty fiveish minutes.  We got paid for it, but it made a big difference.  It took more time away from us when we needed to be given more.

It was also a difficult financial strain on the district.  So after two years they dropped it and went back to the regular school day.  They saw that the extended hours didn’t have a positive impact but that’s not why they stopped it.  They couldn’t afford it any longer.

It was also not good for the kids.  They were being forced to do more of what they already hated.  Attendance didn’t go up.  Our school didn’t become more desirable to go to.  Definition of insanity, more of what isn’t working looking for a different result.

We also all dedicated ourselves to staying late with our kids.  They had to do attendance buy back so we would stay an hour after school with them to erase an absence.  We would stay to give kids some extra help or to let them make up work they missed.

Parents were asking us why their kid was getting home at five from school and we had to explain that was because they stayed after, for only one hour.

Our school was at a disadvantage in sports.  No one else moved their game times to be later in the evening, so sports kids missed more classes then they were before leaving early to go to games.

Imagine the difficulty with play practice?  Students who already have so little were having more taken from them.  Everyone felt punished.

I agree that more time in school helps kids learn more and kids behind academically need it.  But they get it in after school activities and after school help all the time.  The whole extended day concept was created by someone who assumed nothing happens, no learning happens, in a school after the final bell rings.

And man, that extra almost hour, we felt it.

We had many teaches concerned about the extended day mostly because of their own families and children.  Our district told teachers with families that this school might not be the place for them.



And they gave us more professional development time.  yes. Ok, here is the time we get help and support to be better teachers.  We had to come in an extra week early from our summer vacation.  two weeks before school because we already came in for training a week early.  tired frazzled teachers keep having time taken and taken from them.  And I will talk later about what actually went on during those days.


Now, let me ask you some simple. Maybe I should have started this post with this question:

What do you think is the single most important factor in helping students succeed?




Yup.  Good teachers.

Can you clearly see how this process was taking away, driving away, turning away, and repelling good teachers from this school?

I ask myself what was really going on?  What was the real motivation.  I was always under the impression that the getting rid of %50 rule was actually Federally mandated, but I found out that another school in our district fell under the very next year, and they didn’t have to get rid of any staff.  I’d look into it, but I wont.


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