Lafayette principal vows to lift school’s dismal rating

This is the year that J.W. Faulk Elementary is going to finally shake the F rating it’s held for the past few years, but it’ll also take work outside the school walls, says its new principal, Jamilah Hicks.

“It’s going to take the community being involved. It’s going to take parents being involved and present in their child’s education,” Hicks said last week as she prepared for the start of the school year. “If education only takes place here in this building, it’s not going to work. That learning has to extend to the home.”

That’s why she’s focused on ways to improve parental involvement — even providing bus transportation to get parents to the school for events like math night where they can learn ways to reinforce at home what students are learning in the classroom.

It also means additional, focused instructional time on English language arts and even opportunities for students to come to school on Saturdays for extra time with teachers.

“This year, we’re going to use our auxiliary staff — physical education teachers, counselors, librarians — to push out into the classrooms to assist with a two-hour block of ELA,” Hicks said. “Everybody in the school for two hours will be focused on ELA every day.”

Last year, Hicks said, 77 percent of Faulk students grew one year or more in their reading level.

“We want to keep that going and we want to foster a love of reading in our students,” she said.

The two-hour English language arts block is in addition to the 30 minutes of extra ELA time struggling students already receive. The schedule already includes an extra 30 minutes for an instructional review of math concepts.

Hicks was able to hire an additional four tutors for a total of eight who will work directly with struggling students.

To provide more support for teachers, Hicks has asked to hire an additional assistant principal, who would handle discipline, so she and Assistant Principal Courtney Zammit can spend more time with teachers in the classroom focused on instructional practices.

Hicks, who was a kindergarten teacher before moving to administration, plans to work with kindergarten through second-grade teachers, and Zammit will work with teachers in grades third through fifth. The duo will work alongside the school’s data analyst and instructional strategist to plan strategies to help teachers in the classroom.

“That’s going to be our focus — to make sure quality instruction is taking place in the classroom,” she said.

Previously, Superintendent Pat Cooper and his staff requested specific resources for Faulk — including the additional assistant principal position and a parent liaison to help connect parents with the school.

The board didn’t specifically address Cooper’s request during its budgeting process but did lower the cap on the school’s class sizes to 17 students per teacher. Cooper had proposed a cap of 15 students. Last year, class sizes ranged from 21 to 23 students, depending upon the grade, Hicks said.

Schools in Lafayette follow a model of reinforcing good behavior in students known as “positive behavioral interventions and support,” or PBIS.

Schools have PBIS stores where students can redeem tokens earned for good behavior and following school rules for items such as pencils, erasers or even small toys. Hicks said she’s hopeful that the community will step up to partner with the school to fill needs like keeping the PBIS store stocked.

“We appreciate all the support that we have received,” Hicks said. “A lot of people have been reaching out and offering their assistance.”

Hicks said she also needs funding to cover transportation costs for her plan to increase parents’ involvement at the school. For many parents, transportation is an obstacle to attend school events or teacher conferences, she said.

This school year, she also wants her teachers to make home visits to students’ families “to build that bridge and open up the lines of communication,” she said. “We don’t want their first contact with the school to be a negative one because their child got sent to the office.”

The school created a parent handbook and provides tips and resources for parents to help their children with homework.

“I think parents want to help their kids, but many don’t know how,” she said. “We want to give them the answer to how.”

Eventually, Hicks wants to see the school offer an academic-based, after-school program, but that requires transportation costs and an additional $80,000 for staffing, she said.

“That may not happen this year because of the budget,” she said.

Meanwhile, she plans to offer a Saturday learning option once or twice a month at the school.

Hicks said she knows the next year will have its challenges and she’s ready for them.

“I love it here. I love our kids. They have a very special place in my heart,” she said. “I’m not one to run from a challenge. It’s a challenge and it’s one we can conquer.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.