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Peer reviews offer perspective for RPS 205 schools

A peer review team interviews students at West View Elementary School.

A peer review team interviews students at West View Elementary School.

Ten times a year in the Rockford Public Schools, a group of educators visits another school for two days. The Quality Peer Review is a chance to step back, exit the whirlwind and get energy and ideas to take back to their own school.

The QPR can offer the same benefits to the school being visited. For that school, it’s a rare chance to get feedback and perspective on the systems and processes that are so automatic, they go unnoticed.

Susan Fumo, Executive Director of School Improvement at RPS 205, says the best description of a QPR she’s heard likens the process to being away from your home on a two-week vacation. It’s only when you return, she said, that you notice your house has a distinctive smell.

Schools are like that. They are unique and complex communities with a lot of interworking parts. Sometimes the people immersed in the day-to-day work are so close to the challenges and successes they can’t see them clearly. The peer review gives them a chance to set goals for the next two to three years, decide the top priority and perhaps make a few changes right away.

The Quality Peer Review in RPS 205 is modeled on the Baldrige model for performance excellence. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recognizes best-practice management and is given in the categories of business, education, health care and nonprofit.

In RPS 205, the peer review process evaluates three areas in a school: teaching and learning, climate and culture, and continuous improvement. It compares a school’s self-evaluation to observations by a visiting team. The team observes in classrooms and hears focus groups of students, teachers, parents and community members.

Fumo, the school improvement leader, says running a classroom can be like building a plane and flying it at the same time–and doing it every day for as many as 30 students. A Quality Peer Review can offer the “white space” professionals need to design their systems for the best educational outcomes.

“We know kids are not widgets. We know kids are not dollar signs,” Fumo said. However, every school can benefit from outside eyes and learning best practices.

Morgan Gallagher, principal at Roosevelt Community Education Center, is looking forward to his school’s first Quality Peer Review in March. Roosevelt is pursuing accreditation through the National Career Academy Coalition, and the review will be a litmus test about areas that still might need attention. “Besides that,” he said, “it will be an opportunity to validate the great work already accomplished by our amazing teachers and staff.”

The peer reviews for the 2017-18 school year began this week at West View Elementary School and end with Whitehead Elementary School in April. The goal is to review all of the 47 schools in the district every four years.

Mary Kaull is strategic communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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