Glenn O. Swing Elementary’s keys to success? Principal Alter says it’s all in the ‘Swing team’
Oct 12th, 2016
By Vicki Prichard
By most standards, Glenn O. Swing Elementary in Covington works with daunting deficits – homelessness and poverty among its student population, and a high percentage of students classified to receive special education. But, when Kentucky’s School Report Cards were posted on the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) website earlier this month, test scores showed that Glenn O. Swing outperformed all elementary schools in Kenton County, and all but two in Northern Kentucky. Out of 710 elementary schools in Kentucky, the school ranked 20 and was identified as a distinguished school.
Scott Alter, principal of Glenn O. Swing, says they’re pleased that they’ve increased proficiency in reading (39%-72%), math (28%-70%) and social studies (30%-100%), over the past five years, and they’re addressing areas that need improvement.
It’s no surprise that schools across the state, and from the Cincinnati area, want to learn how Glenn O. Swing makes the grade.
“This year we are getting ready to schedule seven or so visitation requests,” says Alter.
Alter says that they share as they much as they can with other schools, but the fact is, some of the things their teachers do simply cannot be taught.
“I always tell teachers, ‘Your success with your students will be about 50 percent what you teach, and the other 50 percent will come from how well you develop relationships with each student, without both you will not be successful with students.’”
Alter says their students are aware whether the teachers care about them and will not perform to their full potential for teachers who cannot do both know them and tech the material.
“But, when teachers can develop those relationships our students will run through walls for them,” he says.
The halls of Glenn O. Swing, says Alter, are peppered with photographs of students and parents celebrating accomplishments, illustrating the pride the administration and staff have in them and how important their family connections are to the school’s continued success. Manners and respect for one another are key tenets.
“We could not show the gains we have without the hard work of every single staff member in our school and the support we receive from our parents, stakeholders, central office, and school board,” says Alter.
Every adult accountable
He describes the culture as one where every adult in the building is accountable to students’ success, and one of consistent progress and hard work.
“Staff lunches and doughnuts are nice once in a while to bring a smile to people’s faces, but student progress and success drives every single person in our building deep down,” says Alter. “This is the type of culture that sticks and fills your tank.”
While the staff is aware that many of their students struggle with challenges and obstacles that few people might ever experience or imagine, Alter says they choose to be proactive and not use disadvantages as excuses.
To help students deal with the daily obstacles they face, Swing developed a Student Support Team.
The team is comprised of the school counselor, school psychologist, family resource coordinator, behavior coach, school nurse, North Key Counselor, and afterschool coordinator.
“This team has been working together for about five years now and has become stronger, more proactive and decisive in what they do each day,” says Alter. “We consider them our on-site wrap around service for our kids. If you look at our student behavior data, coupled with student academic progress, you will see how effective they really are as a team.”
Alter says that having such a program in place allows the teachers to do what they do best – teach.
The Student Support Team not only supports the students, but the teachers as well, with behavior management and dealing with tough behaviors in the classroom.
“Yes, what our teachers do each day does go beyond the confines of a school day,” says Alter. “Teachers spend their lunch time, planning time, and very often, time afterschool working with groups of students and also one on one with students who need further support.”
Five-day after school program
He says the type of work they do cannot happen in a seven-hour day alone. Swing also has an afterschool program with runs from 3 to 6 p.m., five days a week. The program focuses on student academics as well as arts and physical exercise.
“There are many stakeholders from the community which enhance this program and we are very well supported by the district and Covington Partners with this program,” says Alter.
The school receives partner support from Duke Energy and Ernst and Young, as well as a strong mentoring program called One to One reading and math, which is provided by Northern Kentucky Education Council.
“It is one of my favorite, most consistent and effective mentoring programs in our school,” says Alter.
A strong team that works collaboratively, studying discipline and academic standards, is a key component of the school’s effectiveness, says Alter.
“We have systems in place which drive this learning every single day of the year, year after year,” he says. “We stress literacy throughout every single subject throughout the ay. We use what has been proven to be successful in our school with our students over time and we strive to improve it year to year.”
Professional development is carefully chosen and imbedded to Swing’s learning communities. Specific learning communities in the school have been strategically developed and are led by teacher leaders.
For instance, Alter says each team has a math lead who is responsible for guiding their team through the learning and processing of math standards. The lead works directly with him and the assistant principal with a vision for the school and the team. Each grade level and vertical team has the same lead with the same vision and goals for the school. Each grade level has a lead for all academic areas so as to establish consistent systems throughout the school.
The Swing team
“We also have systems in place which help us develop teachers in our school,” says Alter. “If a teacher is struggling, or has a new view, we have a core of very strong veteran teachers who help develop them. These teachers can provide coaching and modeling for those to learn from.”
He says teachers are provided time outside of their classrooms by sending teachers into other classrooms to observe their peers who are successful.
“There is only so much a teacher can learn by listening to a principal talk about what works,” says Alter. “We need them to see it in action as many times as it takes.”
Planning times, which are built into teachers’ daily schedules, are protected, says Alter.
“We have very high expectations for every single teacher and they need time to carry out planning and studying their craft with their team,” he says. “We also try to compensate our teachers for their time and leadership when we can and they appreciate this.”
Ultimately, Alter says, the Swing team is proud to have shown that their students can compete with any student body in any zip code in the state. But the focus, he says, remains on student proficiency and growth.
“We look at our student results and work every single day,” says Alter. “We know that state tests are very important, but for most teachers it is a two-day test.