HISD principal puts twist on learning

October 19, 2010 5:37:17 PM PDT
One middle school in the Houston Independent School District is taking a different approach to teaching. While many schools focus on smaller class sizes, the principal of Albert Thomas Middle School is making them bigger and throwing several teachers in the mix.

This is principal Dr. Lannie Milon's first year at Thomas Middle School. He was brought in to raise lagging test scores, and his new approach has the middle school classrooms looking more like university classrooms.

For a Thomas Middle School student, the day starts with a greeting from Milon. The principal wears a suit everyday and expects his students to take their appearance into consideration as well.

"Perception, attire, all of those things -- they are being measured by all those things," Milon said.

Milon is implementing a new teaching method at Albert Thomas Middle School.

Instead of smaller classes, Milon doubled or tripled their sizes, very much like a university course.

One English class of more than 60 students meets in the library to have enough room.

The team-teaching approach features a lead teacher executing the lesson plan.

Meanwhile, three to four other teachers rotate the classroom to keep students engaged and answer questions trying to prevent a learning gap.

"We work with the students one on one, so we are able to catch if they are understanding, maybe need to be tweaked a little bit," teacher Verlia Reed-Byrd said. "We are able to work with them directly. We catch grammar, punctuation, spelling, all of that."

Milon says teachers end up coaching each other and classroom interruptions are dealt with by supplemental teachers as the lesson continues.

"By combing the teachers, you have a teacher that is there; that teacher can share that knowledge and as that teacher is sharing that knowledge, raising that other teacher's teaching style, that student is still learning," Milon said.

Students say it all equals more individual attention.

"They will come walk around the tables and help us with the work that we need, if we just raise our hands and ask them," sixth grader DeMarcus Charles said.

HISD gives principals the discretion to try new approaches and parents say the change is welcome.

"He has several teachers in there to help students on different levels, so I think it'll work," parent Christi Stewart said. "Anything is worth a try to improve test scores."

Aiming to raise low test scores, Milon says teachers getting the support they need all trickles down to the student.

"I think teachers are very capable," he said. "I just think the task that they have sometimes exceeds the reality."

Milon has essentially brought a fresh approach to Thomas Middle School. When hired this summer, the first thing he did is have the school pressure-washed, repainted and new tile added.