The Loreto Street School is an elementary school located in Los Angeles, California with grade offerings from kindergarten through fifth grade. Loreto Street School is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school was founded with the mission and vision of being a social justice school, accomplishing this through practices such as Peace Assemblies and an annual Festival of Masks to introduce the community to different cultures.
The student population consists of 345 students, 94% of which identify as Latinx, 3% Asian, 2% White, and 1% Black or Native American. 39% of the student body are English Language Learners (ELL) and 94% are economically disadvantaged. Additionally, a high percentage of students’ parents have a low literacy level.
Additionally, the school is bilingual, with each grade having an English monolingual classroom with Sheltered English Instruction (SEI). The school also offers a dual language classroom with Spanish-English instruction. In the dual language classrooms, the teachers speak either English or Spanish each day, wearing clothing that indicates the language they will speak on that day.
Two years ago, Maria Leticia Arciniega became the principal of Loreto Elementary School. When she assumed the role, the school was facing very low state test scores. Due to the development of new charter schools in the area, Loreto’s student body had decreased by half over the past decade.
In the 2016-2017 school year, Loreto experienced declining test scores on California’s Smarter Balanced Assessment System. Upon declining 12 points and landing 74 points below state expected standards in ELA, Loreto fell into California’s red category of lowest performing schools. This marked decline in scores was across all subgroups, including English learners, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students. In math, Loreto similarly declined by 12 points on the Smart Balance test, leaving them 72 points below the state’s expected standard in math.
As the school worked to understand current practices, they discovered potential problems. Many teachers were looking less at evidence but rather grading by sentiment. Teachers did not know how to read, interpret, or use data reports that they were provided. With these findings, Loreto realized that cycles of improvement would need to be a central component to their transformation.
As Loreto began to consider transformation, it was decided that their vision statement would remain consistent. Loreto began a process of transformation staying true to their vision statement:
“Loreto students are empowered to develop their full leadership potential through initiative, self-direction, communication, creativity, and teamwork to reach academic excellence.”
For Loreto Elementary, the vision statement speaks to the school’s aim to raise socially-just students. The principal and faculty refused to let low test scores distract from the skills and attributes that students will acquire from the classroom, school and the world around them. The vision of the school is exemplified in school artifacts such as a sign that hangs outside the main office that reads:
When you enter this school:
Transformation at Loreto began at the faculty level, where the faculty worked with the school’s leadership to build an open and trusting professional culture with a particular focus on collaboration. Loreto adapted initiatives that aimed to help foster a sense of collaboration between faculty which included starting professional development faculty meetings with “grounding” and connection activities. Other initiatives that developed included a Shout Out Bulletin and Google Board.
Following the foundational step to improve professional development, Loreto’s focus turned to evidence-based cycles of improvement. The plan initially focused on English Language Arts (ELA), selecting one literacy strategy to try at a time. To accomplish this, teacher teams would become experts in a strategy and be tasked with explaining and presenting the strategy to fellow faculty. They would also explain methods to incorporate the strategy into instruction to encourage the faculty community to try these strategies. Some strategies were easy to implement quickly, while others required considerably more trial and error.
Following their work with ELA, they have since shifted their cycles of improvement work to focus on math, incorporating pictures and manipulatives as tools for students to explain their thinking.
Principal Arciniega also created a common planning time for the SEI and Dual Language teams so that they had the time to focus on data analysis and instructional improvement. For the SEI team, this involved two hours of planning per month. The DLL team spent one hour planning each Monday. The common planning time also allowed teacher teams to ask for additional time to be released from their classrooms for additional data cycle work. With the school’s high percentage of English-learner students, additional professional development was conducted on second language acquisition as well.
In each classroom, teachers set up a data wall, where students had the ability to track their own progress toward academic goals. In addition, the Loreto School classrooms began the implementation of a peer observation program. For math, these are “three-phased lessons” comprised of:
-Introducing and building student understanding and ownership of a new skill
-Tackling a skill-embedded problem, both individually and in groups
-The “Summit”: Students come to the front of the classroom to share their path to solving the problem. During this phase the teacher notes down the paths students take to get to the answer and then reviews each path with the students
When another teacher observes a lesson like this one, they use Google Sheets to record any observations. This gave teachers the capacity to have a running conversation between the observing teacher and the teacher being observed.
In addition to the cycles of improvement strategy that Loreto rolled out, the school also encouraged teacher teams to request additional coaching when needed provided by an instructional coach and the principal. This allowed them to receive additional feedback following classroom observation.
Beyond just the changes implemented during the school day, Loreto School also launched two after-school academic interventions: one program that meets twice a week after school and one that meets on Saturdays for six weeks. These programs are taught by the teachers, but each teacher is assigned to a classroom different than their own. This allows a different set of eyes with varying skills to work with the students and allows the teachers to share their personal observations on each student.
Though Principal Arciniega and the Loreto School faculty know there is much more work to be done to reach their desired outcome, progress has already been achieved. After having experienced declines in test scores in the year prior to the Loreto School’s transformation process, the test scores began to turn around after Principal Arciniega arrived for the 2017-2018 school year. Loreto’s California state testing results significantly improved. ELA test scores improved by 30 points. Loreto students also made improvements in math, increasing performance by 21 points.
Regarding Loreto’s English learners specifically, significant progress has also been made. Reclassified English learners achieved higher gains than their English only peers. 24% of English Learner students met the criteria to be reclassified as English proficient, which exceeded the school’s target goal. Both of these improvements have been attributed to Loreto’s Dual Language program, which the school has found helps English Learners reach fluency at faster rates than in SEI classrooms. Though Loreto still works to improve, the results so far have been noteworthy, showing that they are headed in the right direction.
Throughout Loreto’s transformation, the school has worked to create a supportive culture of accountability, remaining vision-driven with a focus on equity and social justice. They have worked hard to assure that staff members are committed to the school’s mission and direction, and that everyone on staff can express their opinions and share their voice. The school has leaned into challenging conversations, and strive to answer questions like, “What is preventing us from ensuring our students have similar high outcomes across all our subgroups (race, income, language)?”
Not only has Loreto worked hard to assure that all staff members are an influential part of the school transformation process, but they also work to assure that student voices are heard. Principal Arciniega invites student feedback both in her office and in the classroom, using techniques like thumbs up, thumbs down check ins to gage how things are going for students. Individual check ins then can take place with the students who do not give a thumbs up.
For Principal Archiniega, the work is all about the students. She shares:
“As long as students are at the center of my work, I have the strength to continue those hard conversations about where we need to go as a school, and we will be able to overcome our challenges. I always have to remind myself that I am doing this for students. I need to continue to be reflective and remind myself that it is not about the adults, it’s about the students.”