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Navigator Schools: Blended Delivery, Engaging Classroom, High Performance

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The garlic capital is home of the top scoring new elementary school in California--Gilroy Prep. Veteran educators James Dent and Sharon Waller opened the charter school two years ago after visiting all the best schools and "reverse engineering from site visits."

Sharon Waller visited Morningside Academy in Seattle twelve years ago to check out their special education program and realized that a school with some autonomy could create an effective instructional program around an intellectual mission.

After Sixth Street Prep in Victorville boosted their state API from 599 to 960 nine years ago James and Sharon planned a visit. "It knocked our socks off," said James, "it transformed our idea of what engagement classrooms looked like." Sharon was "impressed by the level of oral language and whole brain teaching with prove/disprove strategies--the level of discourse in the school was amazing."

When James was assistant principal in Watsonville, he visited KIPP Heartwood in San Jose where he saw a culture of high expectations and active engagement he had not seen before

Sharon Waller, co-founder and vice principal of Gilroy Prep said, "We have created that culture of learning in our school. James noted that districts and parent groups "are visiting our school and they have the same reaction that we did--site visits are transformational."

From Rocketship they picked up tips on the fiscal model, learning how to leverage teach talent with technology. They also adopted Rocketship's commitment to locating elementary schools in low-income areas.

Gilroy Prep School's first year API of 978 may have been the highest first-year API in the history of California. "Utilizing a combination of engaging teaching strategies, immediate intervention, high-level implementation of blended learning, and a strong spiral review component helped our students achieve this level of success," said Dent. " Despite being located in Gilroy's most run-down neighborhood and supporting a student body of close to seventy percent Title I and seventy percent English language learners, we essentially had no achievement gap and ninety percent total proficiency levels in ELA and math. Most exciting is that our levels of advanced students were 73% in ELA and 82% in math."

"We are committed to providing full inclusion to our SPED students," said Sharon. "We have many disabilities represented at our school and those kids have benefited so much from the type of programs and teaching methods we use. Our special education referrals are zero because we provided so many safety nets to our kids."

The opening of Gilroy Prep went so well that James and Sharon are attracting a lot of attention. Board members and donors are eager to see more great schools in low income communities. They formed Navigator Schools to develop a network of high performing California schools.

Gilroy Prep has two computer labs and one iPad lab. Primary students have an 8 hour day and spend about 100 minutes on computers. Students use Pearson'sSuccessMaker in the computer lab. They use ST Math from MIND Research Institute in the iPad lab for 20-30 minutes daily (and regularly register as one of the highest usage sites). Their short video illustrates how they deploy components in their approach to 'whole brain teaching.'

In addition to opening great schools in high need northern California coastal towns, Sharon said, "We really want to change practices in schools around us." James and Sharon were
were joined by co-founders Karen Humber, Kristyn Corley, Paul Nadeau and James Garguilo.

James said, "We opened our first school, Gilroy Prep School, in 2011 and have our second approved charter scheduled to open in Hollister this August. Last week we presented our school plan to Morgan Hill Unified District where we aim to open Navigator Schools 3 in 2014."

Navigator Schools are successful, suggests James, "student engagement is high because; teachers make strategic spiral reviews of the standards, frequently collect data and provide immediate intervention."

For more, see this District Administration article on Gilroy Prep.

Disclosure: Pearson and MIND Research Institute are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

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