At Ashe Elementary, dreams become reality
Ashe Elementary School has an unusual motto: “Don’t quit your daydream.”
Clyde King, the school’s principal, said he adopted the motto with the hope that it would inspire his students.
“In all my years, I’ve never caught a kid daydreaming,” King said. “I want kids to dream for their futures. Kids need to plan — and those plans start with their dreams.”
King knows from experience the importance of having a dream; the motto speaks to his own aspirational leadership style.
When King was hired as principal three years ago, Ashe was in a difficult place. The district had placed the Chatham elementary school on “intensive support,” which meant that students’ academic performance was well below the district average.
King knew what it took to transform a school; as an assistant principal at Lavizzo Elementary School, King helped move the school’s SQRP rating — a measure of school performance — from a Level 2+ to a Level 1+, the district’s highest rating. But now that he was in charge of his own school, he struggled to prioritize his time on the things that mattered most: teaching and learning.
“I’m not the best with time,” King admitted. “I knew I needed more time to get into classrooms — outside of teacher evaluations — to help my teachers grow their instructional practice. I wanted to take the pressure off of our time together so I could better push teachers to help students.”
Between 2016 — when King started — and 2018, Ashe moved off probation and climbed from a Level 2 to a Level 2+ school. Students’ math and reading scores on the NWEA, a national standardized test, inched up steadily. Student attendance rose too, growing from 90 percent in 2015 to 96 percent in 2017. Chronic truancy fell from 75 percent to 40 percent during the same period.
But incremental growth wasn’t enough for King.
“I felt we had to kick it up a notch,” said King. “I ask my teachers to attend professional development. I realized I needed to participate in professional development as well so I can help them help students.”
And then he did a brave thing: He sought out help.
When King received an invitation to join a pilot program targeted at a group of South Side elementary schools, he jumped at the opportunity. King wanted to increase student attainment, and he recognized that improvement starts with the leader.
Over the last school year, 12 organizations — including The Fund — have been providing multiple, layered supports to Ashe through the South Side Education Alliance (SSEA). With guidance from SSEA partners, Principal King has worked to improve student-teacher trust, elevate teacher voice in schoolwide decisions, raise the rigor of classroom instruction and tailor professional development to teachers’ needs.
Now, King spends less time on the minutiae of managing a building and more on developing his teachers’ instructional leadership.
“I’ve seen growth from my staff and students,” said King, smiling from behind a pair of black, thick-rimmed glasses. “This has been a positive year. The partnerships have helped that growth.”
But, as King knows well, there’s always room for improvement.
“We have to make sure this isn’t a one-time thing,” said King of the SSEA support. “We have to continue to see the fruits of our labor. We’ve shifted a lot of mindsets. I would hate to see the support taper off.”
Where King really needs help now is meeting students’ social and emotional needs. King explained that his students experience a lot of trauma in their daily lives. One student recently saw a video on Facebook of her cousin being shot. Another student was hospitalized for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“We have a lot of social-emotional learning needs that are going unaddressed in this community,” King said.
As the SSEA program moves into its second year, the partners are re-evaluating how they can better serve school communities — like the one at Ashe — that have been affected by chronic gun violence.
King is already working with SSEA partners to find more ways to make Ashe a truly safe space for students. But ultimately, King explained, “improving student achievement is always the end goal.”
As King sees it, if students leave Ashe with the skills, knowledge and attitude they need to be happy and healthy, they can turn their daydreams into reality.