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Teachers in Charge: We Got This!


Kim Ursetta

I have yet to meet a teacher who has not dreamed about what it would be like to open their own school. At the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, where I work, teachers are doing just that.

As the powers that be continued to blame teachers for the shortcomings in achievement, teachers' hands were tied. Many teachers did not have the power or permission to choose their own lessons, let alone make necessary adjustments to curriculum based on student outcomes. Teaching has become, in many places, a rote process where students are expected to be on the same page at the same time with hopes of demonstrating academic proficiency.

In our school, by contrast, students are engaged in their learning by teachers who center instruction around the their needs. Teachers are treated as professionals and encouraged to work together to create lessons that engage and excite students. Thus, the challenge: Create a school where teachers and students learn, teach, and lead. As our students would say, "We got this!"

As a result, a group of teachers in Denver, with the full support of its union, designed its own school from a blank slate. Our school is teacher-led; with no principal. We serve 300 students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Teachers control curriculum delivery, choose resources and materials, manage student conduct, and establish a positive school culture. In exchange, we embrace higher accountability and increased collaboration.

We implement our own peer-review process, and divide the administrative roles among our teachers, who work in teams. Our students choose "passion areas" to study that are infused with mathematics and science. Parents are critical partners, and volunteer daily in our classrooms. Class sizes are capped at 25 so that our students can receive more personalized learning. Technology is an integral part of daily instruction. Our students also benefit from a well-rounded curriculum including music, art, physical education, and a science laboratory. Those that have visited often report an incredible energy and excitement from teachers, parents, and students about their learning.

Our school was designed to prepare our student population, mostly at-risk students and Latinos, to compete in jobs that are yet to be discovered. After being open for only five years, our achievement is climbing and our enrollment is at capacity. At the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, teachers are leading the way. Can teachers be trusted to run a school? We are here to tell you, "We got this!"

Kim Manning Ursetta is a National Board-certified teacher (Middle Childhood Generalist) and is a kindergarten teacher ELA-S (bilingual) at the teacher-led Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, Colo. Kim has been involved with numerous teaching and learning committees at the local, state, and national level throughout her 20-year teaching career.

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