Teachers at Gonzales Middle School began their 10th Summer Institute by defining what education looks like at GOMS, Principal Lorie Charlet said. Then they defined what their dream school for their own children would look like, and compared them.

It was a humbling experience for every teacher, Charlet said, and defined the gap they are determined to bridge at Gonzales Middle, “no matter what it takes,” she said. It’s a gap Charlet hopes a new program, TAP, will help bridge.

Teachers at Gonzales Middle School voted in the spring to adopt the System for Teacher and Student Advancement, also known as the Teacher Advancement Program, at the school.

TAP is a program that rewards teachers with financial incentives when their students grow academically, said Jennifer Tuttleton, director of school improvement for Ascension Parish Schools, and TAP includes an intensive professional development component that includes weekly peer group meetings for teachers.

Principal Lorie Charlet admits it was an anxious time at her school. “Change is hard,” she said, but for the first time in her 11 years as principal, she has only had to replace one teacher over the summer. Last year, she replaced 5, and has historically had a high turnover.

That, she said, has her excited. Nearly all of those teachers agreed to come to a three-day TAP Summer Institute, which ran Aug. 2-4 at the school, to prepare themselves for the big changes ahead.

Last spring, Gonzales Middle School had a state school performance score of 87.5, out of a possible 200 points, Charlet said. Because the score was below 90, it is one of seven schools included in Ascension Parish’s new Turnaround Zone.

Each school within the zone will get concentrated resources and one liaison, known as an internal school partner, from the Central Office, to advocate for the school at the administrative level.

“We basically cut through the red tape and get them whatever they need, whether it’s computers or benchmark assessments,” said Tuttleton, the ISP for Gonzales Middle. Tuttleton participated in the Summer Institute last week, and on Wednesday, when the teachers were in the process of reviewing the school’s own assessment tests for each subject area, the teachers requested this year’s district assessments, which weren’t scheduled to be delivered until Friday.

“So we’ve got a copy on its way here,” Tuttleton said. “That way, they don’t have to stop what they’re doing, make three phone calls and try to find the right person.”

Start from where you are

It’s important to keep their momentum going, Charlet said. “None of us want to fail our kids,” she said. “We have to make sure every single child is learning, and growing academically.”

Roxanne Skias, a master teacher at GOMS, worked as a master teacher at Lowery Intermediate, a school that has seen marked improvement after implementing TAP.

Her game plan is the same for GOMS, she said. “We identify the needs (of the students) based on data, then we come up with a plan to address those needs,” she said. Devising strategies based on student test scores is the focus of master teachers, Skias said. Those strategies become lessons, she said, that then go to classrooms of mentor teachers, where the lessons are tested out on their students.

If the lesson works, that strategy is filtered throughout the school, Skias said.

The beauty of the TAP program, Skias said, is “we meet you where you are, and move forward from there.”

But they’re not expecting to stop at the minimum score to show proficiency on tests. “The status quo isn’t good enough anymore.”

As they gear up for the next year, Charlet repeats the same mantras often — Learn — more and better.

“We’re anxious,” she said. “We’re humble. But we’re ready. We got this.”