Three years ago, Mary Black stepped into the lead role for the Raiseup Texas CLC project in Austin, Texas. The job required a person with significant knowledge of the Strategic Instruction Model™ and Content Literacy Continuum™ as well as an understanding of and experience in leading school faculty.
Raiseup Texas couldn’t have picked a more perfect person for the job.
“She has demonstrated leadership and knowledge of school change and the challenges that are inherent in such reform,” says Patty Graner, director of professional development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. “Significant leadership is required to ensure that schools carry out such implementation with fidelity.”
Because of her leadership and commitment to SIM for more than a decade, Black is the 2014 recipient of the SIM Leadership Award. Her road to becoming a strong SIM advocate began in California, when she was associate principal at Riverbank High School. “As a longtime English teacher, I believed I knew a great deal about literacy and reading,” she says.
But then in her first semester at Riverbank, she and the school’s reading teachers analyzed student data from a Learning Strategies class. Students who had failed every class for years increased their reading level three to five years. With schoolwide implementation of Content Enhancement Routines, the same students earned A’s and B’s in their classes.
“Watching teachers and students grow and feel powerful convinced me SIM was the answer to a great deal of our problems with student learners,” she says.
Black left Riverbank, but she did not leave SIM. She continued to promote SIM as principal of Merced (California) Union High School and principal of Cloverdale (California) High School before she became project director for Raiseup Texas.
“Mary is one of the smartest and most capable administrators that I have had the pleasure of working with,” says Ken Geisick, SIM Professional Developer and former principal at Riverbank High School. “She’s a ‘teacher’s teacher.’”
Geisick, now chief educational services officer at THINK Together, a California-based non-profit provider of extended learning time programs, praises Black as a skilled and masterful public school administrator.
“She is a powerful driver of change within secondary schools with veteran teachers who are often deeply tied to their traditional approaches to instruction,” he says. “She has the ability to inspire teachers and administrators to rethink how they organize their instructional program, and she has the sophistication to coach experienced teachers and administrators to adopt SIM and implement the strategies and routines with fidelity.”
All of Black’s California and Texas projects exhibited notable success. Merced’s Academic Performance Index, for instance, grew 83 points during her tenure, nearly four times the state expectation of 21 points. Seven teachers earned SIM certification during her time at Riverbank and Merced.
“Since I believed you should never ask teachers to do anything you weren’t willing to do yourself, I co-taught Learning Strategies in reading classes and Content Enhancement Routines in general education classes, and I earned my certification as a SIM Professional Developer with them,” Black says.
In addition to leading SIM projects, Black freely shares her knowledge with schools, districts, instructional coaches, teachers, and others involved in SIM work through presentations and as an administrative mentor for principals in a Newton, Iowa, project. She predicts she will always be active in SIM.
“It is the core of who I am as an instructional leader and an educator who wants to ensure that all students learn and reach their highest potential,” she says.
The only way to accomplish this goal, she says, is through SIM and CLC.
In Her Own Words: Three Projects, Three Stories
Riverbank High School
During my four years at Riverbank High School, I learned and refined my leadership skills under the guidance of Dr. Ken Geisick, who along with Peggy Graving introduced me to the CLC and SIM. As part of my administrative assignment, I worked with Carla Spyksma and Cris Romero to design a reading intervention class with SIM Learning Strategies as a foundation. They were special education teachers who initially resisted the idea of including all students reading below grade level in their Academic Strategies class. Together, we three worked through the challenges, taught side by side, and had a moment of sheer triumph when in January of the first year, every single one of “our” students had mastered two Learning Strategies—80 percent mastery of material at their enrolled grade level. Watching them learn and love to learn kept us going, and even now, after all these years, I see their faces in Teachscape videos and feel proud I was part of such a monumental effort.
Merced High School
In the fall of 2007, when I began the MHS implementation, it had been designated a Strategic Academic Intervention Team (SAIT) school in California, which basically means the school’s standardized test scores have fallen for more than three years, and a state team of educational experts “guided” you in creating school structures to increase student achievement. The leader of the state team had to be convinced that CLC and SIM would meet their requirements, but he soon became an advocate for our implementation. By the end of that year, we anxiously waited for results of our spring 2008 California Standards Test. If we improved our achievement results a minimum of a five-point growth in our Academic Performance Index (API), we were no longer “in need of improvement.” Our API grew 27 points! We met all of our AYP goals for all subgroups and improved our graduation rate.
I am deeply involved in the Raiseup Texas Project, which is implementing the CLC framework and SIM in seven middle schools in six districts in the region. The results from our external evaluators at Meadows Center indicate we are indeed improving the learning of our students in our schools. As I walk through each of the schools, I watch students and teachers actively engaged in SIM instruction and learning. I work as a partner with the principals to set expectations for SIM implementation and to understand their role as leaders. As a regional SIM coach for some of the schools (not as the project director), I even model lessons, co-teach, and support teachers to improve their instructional practices. It was exciting watching a school be successful with SIM as a principal, but it is an incredible experience to watch seven schools implement SIM as a direct result of my work as a project leader and the shared work of all of us on the Region 13 SIM team.