I first met Dr. Cintron as he jetted down the hall, waving his iPad, calling, “I’m on my way to do observations!” He took a circular path to becoming principal at Phoenix, starting first as a teacher at Phoenix, then at DPS to manage Title III, and then as principal by the Education Achievement Authority to re-invent the school as a Student-Centered Learning model. (Please read the post on EAA to understand the SCL model and how mastery-based learning is embedded in the overall approach.)
Phoenix is a K-9 school in the middle of the Hispanic community known as Mexicantown in Detroit. Its student body is 70% Latino (of which 70% are English language learners), 10% African-American, and the remaining a mix of white and multi-racial students. Phoenix also has a number of students age 13-17 that are refugees from Guatemala and Hungary that high schools wouldn’t accept because the students’ education has been so interrupted.
Phoenix got results even in their first year of operation. They were the fifth most improved of all schools, according to Excellent Schools Detroit. As a result, enrollment is increasing with 100 additional students this year.
Responsiveness Leads to Innovation: One of the key characteristics of Phoenix is its problem-solving mode of operations that generates innovation along the way. One example is how it morphed into the unusual structure of a K-9 school. Originally it was K-8, and eighth graders, upon graduation, had no choice but to attend a large high school outside of their neighborhood because the local high school had been closed. Knowing that there was going to be a lot of gang conflict, Phoenix added a 9th grade academy to their existing K-8 structure, in which the 9th grade students would spend part of their day at Phoenix, continuing to build up their language skills, and 2/3 at the Central High School.
Another example of innovation is the Learning Village, where three teachers have integrated their 1st and 2nd grade classes to better manage the environment in order to support the students. The majority of the students did not have any pre-K experience and are ELL. They found that the transition between the stations, from receiving new instruction to practicing or demonstrating, was challenging for many of them. Using the three classrooms along a dedicated hallway, the teachers use one classroom for new instruction, one for tutoring, and the other for two stations, small teacher-led group and technology-based practice. In this way, they can help the students orient themselves and make the transitions more clear. They also have flexibility to group students along levels so that regardless of age or grade, students at or below Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 all have a chance to work together. (more…)