In 2007, Sherry Robinson started as principal at Bald Creek Elementary, a school nestled in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. Nearly a decade later, she has grown the Title I school into a powerhouse of teaching talent, developing high-achieving students and earning awards from the county and the state. When asked about the school’s success, Principal Robinson points to the teamwork demonstrated by teachers and the rigorous resources they’ve found to support teaching and learning.
Watch Principal Robinson and two of Bald Creek’s teachers talk about the school’s success, then read the full story below:
A Search for Rigor and Alignment
When the Common Core State Standards were first adopted by North Carolina in 2012, Principal Sherry Robinson and her staff at Bald Creek Elementary School spent the year feeling at a loss. Principal Robinson says, “We were struggling especially in math—just grasping at straws all year long, looking for materials, researching programs, and just trying to find out what was a good fit and what was aligned, K-5, to the Common Core math standards.”
The small, rural school was facing its usual host of challenges—a high achievement gap, a transient population, at-risk students—but now they lacked even the resources to shape an instructional plan. They began their research in earnest, and over the summer a veteran teacher recommended a supplemental curriculum she had used in another district: Total Motivation. It was aligned to Common Core State Standards, flexible enough to adapt to Bald Creek’s scope and sequence, and included a wealth of instructional support for teachers.
“We put that in the hands of some of our teachers that summer and just said, ‘Look at this and tell us what you think.’ And we came across the board to a consensus. We wanted to try it,” says Principal Robinson.
Keys to Implementation
During the first year of implementation, 2013–14, two things became clear: Total Motivation Math is very rigorous, and it works. That first year, Bald Creek’s math proficiency spiked from 60 percent to 87 percent. The fourth graders—who had a passing rate of 51 percent as third graders—scored at 90 percent that year. When asked about their success, Principal Robinson points to two factors: the quality of her teachers and the rigor of Total Motivation. She says, “The feedback that I get from our classroom teachers is that the curriculum is hard. It’s written at a higher thinking level, which we are starving for in our curriculum. We’re always looking for ways to challenge our students and teach up.”
The teachers appreciate Total Motivation because it gives them a common language to plan for vertical alignment and build a strong foundation for students even in the early, untested grades. Across the board, Bald Creek’s teachers use Total Motivation for daily instruction, drawing on the extensive catalog of instructional strategies included in the Teacher Edition to introduce new concepts and model new skills.
After teaching from the resource for two years, third-grade teacher Jessica Duncan has found that Total Motivation features more than enough aligned content to fully support instruction in a variety of contexts. “I read through the whole unit in the Teacher Edition and pull out the ideas that I think will work best for that group of kids. We work whole class, and we do some small group, some one-on-one for those who need to be retaught. There are lots of really good ideas that you can use to go along with the student book,” she says.
Ms. Duncan says that although her third graders begin the year feeling uneasy about the brand new material and the looming end-of-grade (EOG) test, they are ultimately very well prepared. “They come in learning multiplication and division, which is something completely new to them, and they’re scared about the EOG. But by the end of the year, they were ready. Afterwards, they said, ‘This is no big deal. This was so easy!’ You know, they did really well!”
Rising Scores and State Recognition
“As a principal, I’m always looking at the data and letting that drive our decisions,” says Principal Robinson. “The first year of implementation, our overall math scores went up from 60 percent to 87 percent. Total Motivation is really proving out for us.” After seeing the success of Total Motivation Math, Bald Creek implemented the resource for ELA during the following school year.
In 2014–15, Bald Creek’s Level 5 math scores were more than double the district average at 38 percent. Reading scores are now rising as well, and the school earned an A+NG grade last year, a distinction awarded to only 17 K-5 schools in all of North Carolina (only 4 of which were Title I). That same year—based on its sustained high performance on student achievement over a number of years—Bald Creek was awarded a $100,000 North Carolina Title I Reward School Grant. With that grant, Bald Creek has funded a 1:1 technology initiative.
Principal Robinson remembers how far the school has come. “This is my ninth year at Bald Creek Elementary, and I remember my first year I walked into the classroom and there was no technology—nothing—as though I had stepped back in history. To go from that to a 1:1 initiative in nine years is just fantastic. I was almost in tears the first day I walked into the classroom and saw every kid with their own device,” she says. “If we trace that back, we attribute a large portion of our success to Total Motivation.”
This article is part of the Success Story series, which features real classrooms and real results around the country in order to provide a transparent look at how Mentoring Minds customers are innovating, implementing, and engineering their way to academic success. Many thanks to Principal Sherry Robinson and her staff at Bald Creek Elementary for their willingness to share their experience.