The Early/Middle College at GTCC-Jamestown
Geoff Barham, Tonya Bodie, Dramaine Freeman and Susan Kimbrough have spent the past decade working together at the Early/Middle College at GTCC-Jamestown with Principal Loretta Rowland-Kitley. As part of our 10th anniversary celebration, we asked them to share their thoughts on teaching at an innovative high school within the NC New Schools network. [Photo: Principal Loretta Rowland-Kitley, left, with Career Development Coordinator Dramaine Freeman, second from right, and students on the school's Relay for Life team to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.]
Tonya Bodie, math teacher:
"During my second year at GTCC-Jamestown, we joined with NC New Schools and started putting words to ideas we had been informally practicing -- things like 'power of the site' and 'rigor-relevance-relationship.' Now it is an expectation that each student will take college classes during their high school years. We've created supports for the kids taking college classes and work on maintaining effective relationships with students taking full college loads."
"We have an amazing team. Ms. Kitley allows us to try new ideas and gives us the freedom to find what works for each of us individually as well as for our school. At our staff meetings, everyone contributes, questions and seeks to better the community. We don't always agree on everything, but we see the diversity of ideas and perspectives as a strong point. Because we know each other so well we are willing support each other as we take risks and give each other room to fail. We are always reflecting together as a staff to capitalize on things that are working and make them better and to try to improve things that are not working."
"NC New Schools has been influential in my growth as a teacher. As a young teacher in a traditional school with large classes, I spent so much of my planning efforts centered around what I was going to do. As I have grown, I have become a big believer in the 80/20 rule, with the kids doing most of the talking. The common instructional framework has helped me to make my planning more student-centered and has given me tools to adapt for teaching my curriculum. As a math teacher, the CIF practices have helped me convince the kids that learning math is as much (if not more) about the process than the answers."
"Building strong relationships with students is at the heart of helping them grow. The relevance is imperative for getting them to buy into the educational process and the rigor is essential if they are to continue in higher education and become life-long learners."
Geoff Barham, social studies teacher:
"We don't have a large faculty so most students will get each teacher at least once if not two or three times. I think this promotes a stronger sense of community among teachers and students. When our school began as a middle college, we were a dropout prevention program. We took students who either wanted to drop out of school or had already dropped out. After moving to the early college format, our program has become more rigorous. Getting our students to graduate high school is still a priority, but now we plan for them to at the very least start taking college classes."
"We all have the goal of doing what is best for the students. We also know each other's strengths and are a build to improve our school based on each other's capabilities."
"NC New Schools has provided with us with the Common Instructional Framework and a coach who comes to observe how we use the CIF. The coach makes suggestions on how to improve our lessons and gives us insight as to how we might further use the CIF. NC New Schools also provides us with professional development so we can keep up with improvements in education and the opportunity to do visits to other early colleges throughout the state."
Dramaine Freeman, career development counselor:
"The teachers and students have a better chance to get to know each other outside of class, so it builds those relationships and helps students get through those tough experiences in high school. Because of the close knit family that we have here, we are able to help students overcome obstacles that they wouldn't have been able to in a traditional high school."
"After working together as a faculty for so long, we know each other's weaknesses and strengths, which is great when we're working together to create an educational plan for each student. We are all on the same playing field, so we communicate with each other about ways we can improve."
"The biggest learning experience for me has been the instructional strategy. I do a lot of work now with new teachers and it's easy to show them strategies that they can use. There's no middle man. When we have a plan to advance for students, the teachers and parents are ready to make it happen."
"At the NC New Schools Summer Institutes, I've seen more schools presenting each year -- new schools, established schools, veteran schools in areas I didn't know. It's always great to see a purposeful reach to as many different types of schools as possible so that we can all share with each other about these strategies."
Susan Kimbrough, curriculum facilitator and SAT prep/leadership teacher:
"We are not afraid of trying anything! If it works, great; if it doesn't, that's okay too. Being a part of an innovative high school allows the staff to be creative, to try new things, to not be afraid of failure -- but to learn from them. The transition from a middle college to an early college was not always an easy one for our staff. It took some time to really embrace the design principles, but now everyone on our staff is fully committed."
"I actually was a pretty traditional 'stand and deliver' type of teacher when I started teaching here. It's how I was taught, and I also like to feel in control. It was a leap of faith to turn over most of the learning to the students. I remember my heart beating so fast the first time I really used collaborative learning in my class. Once I saw was happening in my class, there was no turning back."
"The Critical Friends training I received early on from NC New Schools changed my life -- it changed how I teach and how I view others. The Summer Institutes and other events offered by NC New Schools have given me and our school so many new ideas and affirmed so many of the things we do."
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