Elmont and Malverne: A Window on the ‘Scalability’ Question in School Improvement
One of the big questions in the field of education is what is sometimes called “scalability.” That is, how can we use the expertise developed in one school to help others and thus spread success?
There isn’t a good answer to that question, but Elmont High School provides a little window into one way to think about it.
The first time I went to Elmont Memorial High School was in 2005, when Dr. Al Harper was principal.
As I wrote in It’s Being Done, I fell in love with Elmont while talking with the leadership team. I had asked how many students were ineligible for sports and clubs because of poor grades and was told that a lot of students were technically ineligible. But most of them were able to participate in after-school activities because they were on “contracts” that held them strictly accountable for getting extra help in the classes they were failing. Students might be failing because they were going through some difficult personal troubles, explained one of the assistant principals, and they might really need the support of their teammates or bandmates. “We wouldn’t want to take that away,” she said.
And that’s when I knew that Elmont was something special.
Soon after my initial visit, Assistant Principal John Capozzi succeeded Harper as principal, and over the years I have visited Elmont many times (for more information see here and here). From Capozzi and many of the teachers, I kept hearing about the principal who had preceded Harper, Dr. Diane Scricca, and how she had shaped the culture of the school.
She had left Elmont to become an assistant superintendent of curriculum in a nearby district, Malverne, but by the time I tracked her down, she had become a superintendent elsewhere on Long Island.
Scricca recently sent me an email urging me to visit Malverne High School and meet its principal, Dr. Vincent Romano. She had hired Romano as a social studies teacher at Elmont and then lured him to Malverne to be the head of social studies in the district. He subsequently became assistant principal of the high school and has been principal for the last couple of years. During his years in place, the school has vastly improved. (For more on Malverne, see my Huffington Post column.)
This is what Scricca wrote: “He grew as a teacher in Elmont, embracing the culture and professional development … He took to leadership training as he did teacher training (great teachers make great leaders), but most importantly, he loves the kids and really believes that every kid can achieve at a very high level …. He is the REAL DEAL and then some.”
When I talked with Romano about how he learned what he knew about leading a school, he said, “I was trained by Diane Scricca.” He knew I would understand what he meant.
And sure enough, just like at Elmont, struggling students at Malverne aren’t kept out of after-school activities. Football is actually listed as an “intervention” for struggling students, in part because the football coach is considered a mentor.
“We want students to have as many opportunities to connect to school as possible,” a teacher said to me.
Being in Malverne reminded me of the DNA replication process, where the double helix unzips and both strands act as templates for the new strands.
Elmont and Malverne may not be “the answer” to the question of “scalability.” There may not, in fact, be just one answer. But to me, they seem to offer some intriguing possibilities of replication through expertise and leadership.
To read more about Diane Scricca, see Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, or one of the books she has co-authored, Supportive Supervision: Becoming a Teacher of Teachers and Become a Leader of Leaders.