Dr. Jan Daniel Lancaster is the new superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In this interview with the Clarion Herald, she discusses various school initiatives for the coming year.
You’ve said you want to make sure students in all Catholic schools in the archdiocese reach or exceed accountability standards set by the state of Louisiana. What specific plans might the Office of Catholic Schools adopt to achieve this?
I am committed to implementing educational practices that will ensure lifelong learning, which will further the mission of our Catholic faith. We want students to love learning and become servant leaders who not only will be happy, successful adults but also will strive to make the world a better place. An authentically Catholic school should create a culture of servant leadership and strive for continuous academic excellence, which is achieved by providing ongoing professional development for our teachers and principals. All of our elementary and high schools either have or are currently initiating the SACS accreditation process. This ensures that principals are constantly examining classroom learning and achievement by using data and recommendations from external sources to improve academics. We are also initiating “Discovery Walks” in some of our schools.
What are Discovery Walks and how did you find out about them?
In 1999, I took part as St. Agnes’ principal in the nonprofit School Leadership Center of Greater New Orleans and became a fellow with the institute. That leadership training gave me specific tools to evaluate classroom teaching and student achievement and to set clear expectations for improvement. The center has a program called Discovery Walks where independent evaluation is conducted in classrooms at each school to ensure that teachers meet grade-level expectations. The center’s representatives meet school leaders and faculty to discuss lesson plans and observe classroom teaching to see if specific objectives that enhance learning are met. Based on results of the classroom visits, the faculty formulates a plan of improvement. A Discovery coach from the center coaches the principal on steps to augment teaching. The principal then works with the faculty to implement these suggestions. This process continues month after month with visits, evaluations and improvement. It gives the principal and the school the support they need. It’s not based on teacher evaluation as much as a whole-school evaluation. This method has manifested marked improvement in academics. St. Scholastica Academy in Covington and Stuart Hall in New Orleans have had great success using Discovery Walks. We plan to implement Discovery Walks on a larger scale beginning this academic year.
Archdiocesan schools, as a whole, do not take the state LEAP test. You measure student achievement with the Terranova test. Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have taken this test now for three years, after previously taking the Stanford Achievement Test. How have you been able to use the scores from the Terranova test to chart educational progress?
Terranova has allowed us to track students and their individual improvement by measuring how their scores increase in percentage terms in core subjects from year to year. This way, we make sure we are teaching the skills that the state expects us to be teaching for each grade level. We’ve done that in curriculum mapping where we use data to prioritize and monitor what we are doing and change what we are teaching to better meet the students’ needs. It’s a constant process. We also use other measures such as report cards. The most important thing we ask when we evaluate the curriculum is, “Do the students love learning?” We are trying to develop lifelong learning in students and teachers.
How important is it to continually evaluate a school’s success?
We want our schools, no matter where they are, to continuously improve. Establishing a culture of ongoing professional development for principals and teachers is one way to meet that objective for all the schools. Archbishop Aymond has demonstrated a commitment to our schools and is interested in the advancements we are making. I’ve also been impressed with principals who are so dedicated to their profession and want to improve their ministry as Catholic educators by participating in Discovery Walks. Our Catholic schools are an exciting place to be.
Dr. Lancaster will address other topics in future columns. If you have a question for her, please send it to email@example.com.