We charge our teachers with building champions in our kids, and so we charge our coaches to build champions in our teachers.
Those were the words of Huntsville ISD director of secondary education Dr. Mina Schnitta, who along with Dr. Scott Sheppard, Marcus Forney, Jessica Moore and Amy Turner launched a model at HISD that provides coaches to teachers.
After earning an overall failing grade on the state accountability system for the 2017-2018 school year, HISD has raised their standing by two full letter grades thanks in part to the newly implemented instructional coach model.
Sheppard, HISD’s superintendent, saw the model’s success at Cypress-Fairbanks and brought it with him to Huntsville.
“The instructional coach model puts experts on the campus-level to help work with teachers to improve their lesson cycle, expand structures and strategies for the classroom and to be a non-administrative classroom support for teachers,” Sheppard said.
The model works in different levels to identify, learn and improve. Instructional coaches work with campus leadership to determine strategies that will be impactful for the campus, then find the needs of individual teachers, analyzing testing data to make necessary adjustments.
Data analysis is not only about test scores and academics, but getting to know students on a personal level, a part of their model known as differentiation, as students come from all different walks of life.
Especially at Huntsville ISD, where 57.2% of the students are economically disadvantaged.
“Economically disadvantaged often means educationally disadvantaged, so this model really helps teachers expand their ways to reach those kids”, Sheppard said.
The model covers everything from classroom management, to modeling different instructional strategies and structures for the classroom to building assessments and digging into the data.
“Coming from the role of the teacher, it’s really very similar to the way that we support our students,” instructional coach Jessica Moore said. “We’re really able to work with teachers on an individual basis and provide them the support that they need.”
Last year, coaches were shared amongst all HISD campuses, however more positions for dedicated coaches at each campus were added this year after officials saw the success of the model.
As of the 2019-2020 school year, Huntsville Intermediate School has three content area coaches, Mance Park Middle School has four for contents and Huntsville High School has three (two of which are shared with Mance Park).
Elementary campuses have coaches all the way down to pre-kindergarten.
“The coaches are working heavily with campus leadership and are really focusing heavily on kindergarten, first and second grades … making sure that the rigor is there and that the instruction level there is high, so that when our students get to third and fourth they are prepared for the content coming before them,” director of elementary education Amy Turner said.
Huntsville ISD has historically been composed of a younger teacher demographic, however the program is for both rookie and veteran teachers alike.
“Teachers need support, it’s a difficult job,” Sheppard said. “This program is designed to help all of our teachers, not just our newbies.”
Teachers and superintendents are now on the same page throughout the district and share the same message between the schools’ upward movement.
Dedicated coaches enable teachers to train every day with a professional learning model, where their training is job-embedded. Onto of that, the district launched the teacher academy – a new mentorship program between veteran HISD teachers and newbies to the district – and that helped Huntsville ISD make massive leaps in only one year under the model.
“It’s still pretty shocking to me. I get texts, calls and emails from all over the state from other school districts asking ‘how did you do that in a year?’” Sheppard said. “It was a whole lot of work, a whole lot of people and it’s a great success for the community.”