This past week, www.Greatschools.org, featured an article by Jessica Kelmon that discussed Renaissance Academy in San Jose, California. Titled “The mystery of Renaissance Academy: What magic formula makes this school succeed where so many others fail?” the article might make you wonder ‘So what?’ By most counts, this academy would not seem like a shining star from the outset. It is located in a low-income, crime and gang saturated area, where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Within this school, a quarter of the students are trying to learn English and many parents are working two to three jobs to try to provide for their families. Like many inner city areas, the challenges for students are numerous. Yet this school is outperforming its counterparts dramatically and has great success. In fact, it ranks in the top ten percent of schools in California that are serving a similar demographic population.
There are several factors that set this academy apart. As Kelmon puts it, there is a three-part dance. Administrators, teachers, and students have distinct roles that have great contributed to making the academy the high performing place and highly desired school that it is. Administrators and teachers have created an environment that is focused on collaboration and close communication with students and their parents. For example, administrators and teachers know every student’s name and strengths and weaknesses. They also know the students’ parents’ names. One of the school ‘s rituals is having each teacher shake the hand of her students as they come into the classroom and greet them by name. Students are expected to politely and thoughtfully respond to class discussion. Administrators and teachers are expected to make themselves available to help any student before and after school. The school also has very close correspondence with parents. Between posting assignments on their website and personal e-mails to student’ homes to the school’s requirement of every parent volunteering 30 hours a school year, parents have a clear understanding of what work their children are doing and expected to complete. Their children are expected to maintain meticulously kept notebooks to aide them in assignment completion and also aide their parents in helping them, with assignments. Homework completion is expected and when help is needed, students are expected to seek it from the ample resources at school and through parental interaction at home.
The school prides itself on creating an environment committed to and engaged in learning and success, through every player doing its part. With many flourishing students; test scores that have soared; and heavy parental involvement in an otherwise challenged neighborhood and context, the academy seems to be doing many things right….An impressive feat in these days of economic turmoil and change in education that has led some teachers, administrators and school districts such as Atlanta to try and take the dishonest route to academic improvement.