Opinion

A Principal’s View: My D.C. School Is Being Bold About What Works in Helping Students Achieve — and Just Won a Big Award for It

By Tiffany R. Johnson | November 19, 2019

whittierecstem/Instagram

Authentic. Groundbreaking. Compassionate. Loving. These are some of the words that come to mind when I think about the Whittier Education Campus community. I often joke with my staff that Whittier is the best-kept secret in the District of Columbia. And now, the secret is out! For the first time, our school community was recognized as a Bold Performance School in Washington, D.C.

During the 2018-19 school year, we were able to accelerate student achievement with double-digit gains in both reading and math on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Our instructional staff immersed themselves in intense professional development, weekly data meetings and content collaboration, and as a result, we saw double-digit gains on PARCC not only as a school community but also for our African-American and Hispanic students.

These are celebration-worthy results. But as a principal, I can honestly say our PARCC gains are not my proudest achievement.

Ninety-one percent of my teachers have recommitted to our Manor Park community in Northwest D.C. by returning to Whittier again this school year, demonstrating their belief in our school and my vision. Also, 98 percent of my students indicate that they love their school. For some of our students, school is one of the few constants in their lives. We know that for children who have been exposed to trauma or adverse childhood experiences, consistency and routine are critical for comfort and success. I take pride in the work my staff and the community do to ensure that Whittier students of every race, class, gender identity, ability level and English-proficiency level feel loved, supported and safe — emotionally, physically and academically. I believe their commitment is the reason we have been successful.

Reflection is our most valuable tool as an instructional staff. We noticed that our special education students and English learners were not performing at the same rate as their peers, so we required every special education teacher to receive a certification and/or training in an intervention. We also established a Response to Intervention team that connects students to the interventions they need. Our weekly data meetings drove our instructional moves, and we were able to see students’ progress through benchmark and short-cycle assessments. But our work doesn’t stop there.

Last year, our sixth-grade students transitioned to Ward 4’s new stand-alone middle school, Ida B. Wells. Losing an entire grade can have a detrimental impact on a neighborhood school, but Whittier still exceeded enrollment projections. That means more families are choosing Whittier, and I believe one reason is that we have established ourselves as a true community school.

We created financial literacy programs that provide support and education about money management and conducted hygiene drives for local shelters. Most importantly, we engage our families as partners in our students’ education. We hold parent-teacher conferences on Saturdays and in the evenings during the week, and host school and community beautification days on parent-teacher conference days to give families the opportunity to give back. We also host several health and wellness activities, including our legendary Family Fitness Night. All these programs and activities are possible because of the families who have entrusted us to develop and mold their children for generations.

We are bold because of our hard work, resiliency, togetherness and compassion, but most of all, our love for the Manor Park Community. It is and will always be our duty and honor to serve our students, families and neighborhood — that is the Whittier Way.

Tiffany R. Johnson is principal of Whittier Education Campus in Washington, D.C.

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