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VOL. 128 | NO. 207 | Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Richland’s McNary Recognized For Achievement

By Bill Dries

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When the school year began in August, Richland Elementary School principal Sharon McNary gave her teachers plastic action figures that could stretch.

Richland Principal Sharon McNary is honored in Washington as one of 61 principals across the country by the Association of Elementary School Principals.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

It was a reminder that with all of the changes in the schools merger and the advancement of Common Core standards, the teachers also would be working around a renovation of the East Memphis school as well.

“We’re using the lounge. We are using the music portable. The music teacher is on the stage or in the classroom or using the art room,” McNary said of the renovation that includes new windows, heating and air conditioning and better access for the handicapped. “We’re just being very creative with space.”

McNary goes to Washington Thursday, Oct. 24, to be honored by the Association of Elementary School Principals. She was chosen to represent Tennessee because of 15 years at the school, first as an assistant principal and since 2004 as principal of the school of 800 students.

McNary is a study in the kind of consistency that parents seek out in schools. And she is being honored at a time of significant change locally for the role principals have in selecting their teachers.

Shelby County Schools now use a “mutual consent” policy in staffing individual schools. It means a teacher and the principal of a school must agree on the teacher’s assignment to that school.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson counts it as one of the biggest changes of a landmark school year for public education in Memphis. And Hopson said it goes directly to the concept of holding educators more accountable.

“In the age of accountability, you can’t hold someone accountable for their team if they can’t pick their team,” he said. “So I think just giving principals the right to pick who they want to pick is different. It used to be that you may get moved around for a number of different reasons. A principal may show up one day and somebody’s in that class … that they’ve never even met.”

Most schools in the age of Common Core standards and intervention strategies have a “data room” where charts of the progress of students is kept and teachers confer across grade levels on their strategies for moving them further. The principal leads those strategies and tracks the progress of every student as well.

In Richland’s case, McNary’s office serves as the data room as well as several other purposes.

“Is it OK to be in yellow and red? Yes,” she said of the two colors that indicate students are below grade level. “Is it OK to stay there? No.”

Teachers have their own similar charts in their classrooms and the students at Richland identify their individual places on the chart using code words that only they are supposed to know.

What McNary sees in the classrooms, however, isn’t a focus on the charts but what happens when teachers begin probing students for why they came up with the answers to problems like a math question.

“The teacher is just walking around and asking questions. He might be asking advancing questions for those students that are doing very well,” she said. “What’s another way you could have done it and why? Or an assessing questions for a child that is struggling.”

The questions of the students, without choices or clues, is a key part of the emphasis on critical thinking skills that cross subject lines and also involve students asking each other what methods they used.

“Just to walk around and hear the dialogue – to hear some 9- and 10-year-olds to ask why did you do it that way is exciting,” she said.

And McNary said a student who shows up as advanced in the regular assessments by teachers isn’t left as they are.

“Even if they are in the blue, they could be just barely advanced. We don’t want them to drop down,” she said. “You hear people say all the time if they are highly intelligent and already in the blue they are not going to make growth and that’s going to hurt. That’s not true. They can make growth. They still can.”

McNary is one of 61 principals nationally being honored in the nation’s capital this week.

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