Students' Strong Scores Give Principal a Lift, Too

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

To the list of extreme measures principals will take to meet state academic standards, Melissa Glee-Woodard has added working on the rooftop.

There haven't been studies on any link between student achievement and unusual stunts, but Glee-Woodard, principal of Lewisdale Elementary School in Hyattsville, provides one data point. Last school year, she promised her students that if they made "adequate yearly progress," the state's ever-rising test-score standard, she would spend an entire day on the school's roof.

They did, and on Monday she honored her promise.

At a gathering in the morning, the school's students craning their necks upward could scarcely believe the sight. They wondered how she got up there and how she would get down (on a metal ladder in a storage closet). They cheered for her as a red banner hung over the school's entrance proclaimed in large, hand-painted white letters: "WE DID IT!!!"

"I told them the importance of reading and checking on their math facts," Glee-Woodard recalled Monday morning, as she sat in a fold-out chair under a sun shade with her testing coordinator, James Green, who was also working on the one-story-high rooftop.

They both had small desks with laptops capable of accessing school's wireless network. Glee-Woodard had her BlackBerry and radio handy as well, calling below when she had to. If all else failed, there was the yelling technique.

"They called from Web Services to ask how long you're going to be there!" a staff member on the ground shouted up. "I told them the end of the day!"

Glee-Woodard said the thing she missed the most was visiting classes and talking to students. She did go down the ladder a few times -- for lunch and for restroom breaks -- but otherwise she kept to the plan. At one point, Green emerged from the hatch with two bottles of Perrier. With the temperature in the mid-8os and an occasional breeze, life was good, Glee-Woodard reflected.

"It's been a great day," she said. "I love this type of weather."

It also wasn't a bad day for Lewisdale, where 84 percent of the 560 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, one common measure of poverty. Two years ago, they were still in "school improvement," a label the state affixes to schools that haven't met the testing standard for two consecutive years. It takes two years to shake off the label, and at the same time the bar for scores in reading and math keeps raising.

Lewisdale got off the school improvement list last year, and as a reward Glee-Woodard and Green let the students dunk them in water, carnival-style. (Glee-Woodard found this year's challenge far more preferable: "I prefer to stay dry.")

During the previous school year, the motivation to pass the Maryland School Assessments started early. Teachers used the traditional methods of data-driven instruction and one-on-one meetings with students and parents. But they also encouraged students and teachers to bring in military fatigues, saying, "We're going to win the war against the MSA."

In the end, 83.7 percent of Lewisdale's students earned proficient or advanced marks in reading, and 87.9 percent passed in math.

Now they're thinking of what they'll do next year. Green had one idea, but Glee-Woodard, usually up for anything, seemed skeptical.

"He said, 'Jump out of a plane, parachute,' " Glee-Woodard said. "I said, 'I'll watch from the ground.' "

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