Collaboration made things better for Romulus Middle School

In just a short period of time, Romulus Middle School went from being one of the 108 Michigan schools labeled “Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools” to the center of national attention as an education reform success story.

Within a week this month, they were visited by Jo Anderson, senior advisor to the Secretary of Education and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, both of whom praised the collaborative efforts of teachers, administrators and community to bring about change.

The school applied for and received a $5.3 million School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the U.S. Department of Education. They used the money to make education reforms that included technology, new instruction models for math and reading classes, and providing teachers with a variety of instructional techniques which engage students and lead to raising student achievement.

Much of the school’s success can be attributed to the strong collaborative relationship between teachers, administrators and the community. Anderson toured the school to get a first-hand account of the successful efforts made by union leaders and the administration with the SIG money.

“Teachers have formed a productive partnership with school leaders and administrators to ensure that every student is experiencing success here. We all acknowledge that we’re all responsible for every student,” said Romulus EA President Gary Banas.

And teachers made some bold moves. The first summer, they were active participants in writing the SIG. This past summer, teachers attended in-service sessions, developed curriculum and learned  new teaching strategies. To accommodate the new delivery of instruction, they added 25 minutes to the school day. Teachers adopted an alternative compensation program with an evaluation system based on student growth.

Banas said, “Everyone was on board. Trust was not being railroaded. We have the confidence in our leadership to help us better ourselves.”

Helping to build that trust was the school’s principal, Jason Salhaney. Up until two years ago, he was the Romulus EA president so he is sensitive to the situations teachers are facing. He had already earned their respect of as a leader and the teachers were willing to follow his lead.

“Our staff has adapted to positive changes in a short amount of time in order to improve our school for our students with the help and support of parents and the community. We’re seeing a great response,” said commented Salhaney.

Since Romulus Middle School is also a participant in NEA’s national Priority School Campaign, Van Roekel made it a stop on his Standing Strong for Students Back-to-School Tour. The goal of the Priority School Campaign is to encourage parental and community involvement to improve student success.

With the help of NEA, Romulus got community vote for the renewal of a $10 million millage for the next 10 years. Twice before, the community rejected the millage. NEA helped with messaging that brought the community in as a partner for the changes happening in their schools.

“NEA helped with implementing ideas that got the community on board with the changes we were making,” said Banas. “We told the community that if we don’t get public education right, we all fail.”

On behalf of the NEA, Van Roekel presented the school with a plaque noting their accomplishments and said, “It’s important that parents and the community be involved in the implementation of the new programs here. The community needs to see firsthand that the money is being used successfully to do exactly what was promised.”

Everyone connected with Romulus Middle School—staff, administrators, parents and community members—took what could have been a demoralizing situation and turned into a national success story.