A crowd of more than 100 teachers, school leaders, children, parents, Allston-Brighton residents, and Harvard University officials recently gathered at the Harvard Business School to encourage support for the Gardner Pilot Academy (GPA) and honor Lisa Moellman, the recipient of the second annual Gardner Champion Award.

GPA, located in Allston, serves 360 students from kindergarten through grade six, and plans to expand its program to the eighth grade in the next two years. More than 60 percent of its student body is learning English as a second language, and 85 percent of its students live at or below the poverty line.

Eight years ago, Moellman and her colleagues at the Harvard Achievement Support Initiative (HASI) began a relationship with the school, offering teaching and learning assistance during after-school hours.

Lisa is all about connecting real research with real learning,” said Erica Herman, principal of GPA. “Her countless hours of consulting and professional development have made an immeasurable impact on the after-school program at the GPA — and on the children and families we serve.”

After-school approach

Believing that a culture that emphasized professional development for teachers would improve scholastic practice and student achievement, the HASI team offered training to after-school staff. The team also supplied materials related to SmartTALK, a program that included a broad range of hands-on learning games and resources that helped students build skills in math and English language arts.

Over time, these strategies and tools migrated not only into the daytime classroom, but into the hands of families during evening activities such as Family Nights that offered similar training to parents to support at-home learning.  The relationship successfully opened new doors and opportunities for professional development between Harvard and the school.

“Lisa has been instrumental to our school in so many ways,” Herman said. “As a result of her work, we’ve been able to leverage lots of equal partnerships with Harvard, allowing us to access tools and processes like the [Harvard Graduate School of Educations’s] instructional rounds. But she’s also a tremendous resource, friend, and advocate for the school. She’s been a true champion for GPA.”

Herman said that helping teachers grow as educators was vital to GPA’s mission of continuing to explore ways to help students achieve. As a result, she said, “We value adult learning and professional development a great deal. Particularly since we’ve become a pilot school, we’ve really thought about where professional development fits in to that mission.”

Making the rounds

In their continuing effort to seek out new avenues of professional development at GPA, school leaders attended “instructional rounds” training at the Graduate School of Education in December. (Based on the concept of medical rounds, instructional rounds bring external administrators and teachers into a school to provide feedback on the teaching practices they observe in the classroom.)

School leaders also began working with Richard Elmore, the Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Educational Leadership at the HGSE, in incorporating GPA into its instructional rounds schedule.

“It’s a challenge, because you don’t always know what you don’t know,” said Herman.  “We’re doing everything in our power to help kids grow, but it’s important to get a different perspective to help us learn what we need to do.

“Really coming up with solutions to complex problems takes collaboration and it’s an immense amount of work,” she added.

The right ingredients for success

“When the GPA says they serve the whole child, the whole community, they do,” said Moellman after receiving the Champion Award. “The willingness to be open, to listen, to collaborate and truly partner is in the very ethos, heart, and soul of every person in that place, through the leadership, the student body, the faculty and the parents.”

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