Alumni Story – Carolyn Hall (Ed.S. ’93)
Carolyn Hall (Ed.S. ’93) has dedicated her life to making a difference in children’s lives.
She spent the bulk of her career in south central Los Angeles, working for 16 years in the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the country. She then moved more than 2,000 miles to Georgia, where she spent a stint in suburban Atlanta as the principal of two Cobb County elementary schools.
But it was hearing about the appointment of Beverly Hall as the new superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools in 1999 – and Hall’s passionate commitment to reform – that inspired the former teacher to return to her roots in urban education as principal of L.O. Kimberly Elementary School in Atlanta.
Hall set about making her own changes at L.O. Kimberly. But in 2001, when she heard that Georgia State’s College of Education & Human Development – the place where she had earned a specialist’s degree eight years earlier – was taking part in a systematic program to address the shortage of qualified urban teachers in metro Atlanta schools districts, she knew she wanted to be a part of it. The Professional Development Schools program was a chance for Hall to work with her alma mater, and it was also a chance for her elementary school to benefit from an influx of new teachers, new thinking and new ideas.
“I pursued it because I wanted that opportunity for L.O. Kimberly, to get involved with having student teachers and interns. It’s a challenge finding highly qualified teachers,” Hall said. “As we’ve continued with the interns and the student teachers, I’ve been able to hire people from the program, so we truly enjoy the benefits that the school receives from being involved. It’s been a real rich experience, and every year it gets better.”
As part of the exchange, L.O. Kimberly works regularly with PDS program liaison Brian Williams, an assistant professor of early childhood education at Georgia State, who helps teachers develop standards-based science classes through collaborative planning. The school has also forged a relationship with Georgia State’s Lou Matthews, an assistant professor of middle-secondary education, who assists with the development of math courses and also plans to launch an intensive math tutoring program called the “Inspire Academy” to help 10 to 15 of Kimberly’s lowest-performing boys succeed on the state’s annual assessment tests.
The PDS program is as much a benefit for Georgia State students as it is for L.O. Kimberly. The exchange gives teachers in training hands-on experience, first working with individual students and small groups and eventually teaching alongside L.O. Kimberly teachers. They also participate in staff meetings and grade-level team meetings and attend staff training sessions.
“We don’t let them observe for very long,” Hall said. “We completely immerse them into our school, so much so that after a while, we don’t even notice that they’re interns and students.”
As a result of Kimberly’s involvement with the PDS program, Hall now meets twice a week with her teachers and conducts weekly assessments, allowing her staff time to discuss and reflect on the feedback they receive so they can readjust their lesson plans for students who aren’t mastering the content. But the program also has changed the way Hall and her teachers approach their jobs in general, she said.
“We’re more involved now with looking at best practices and research to see if it works by looking at how our students do,” Hall said. “If it works, we embrace it. If it doesn’t, we take a second look at how we can improve it.”
The changes the school has made as a result of its participation in Georgia State’s PDS program have also brought about a palpable change in the overall atmosphere at L.O. Kimberly, Hall said.
“It’s been a really great collaboration because the Georgia State students can come in and feel like they’re a part of our staff because our teachers are so open to new ideas and suggestions from them,” she said. “In fact, many students choose to come to us after they graduate because of the warm collegial atmosphere that we’ve been able to create. I think all of that has improved because of our relationship with Georgia State.”
This article was published in the Summer 2008 issue of Milestones, a publication of the College of Education & Human Development.