Reiche School will be teacher-led

PORTLAND — Reiche Community School is preparing to make history in a few months.

When summer vacation ends and classes resume, teachers, students and staff members will return to an elementary school without a principal.

Instead, the teachers will be in charge.

The new leadership arrangement follows a year of investigation by Reiche teachers into the teacher-led model and a secret-ballot vote in which 84 percent of the school’s teachers embraced the arrangement.

The model isn’t intended to breed radical change, said Kevin Brewster, a kindergarten teacher who’s spent half his time over the past academic year as a teacher leader.

“We felt that going in this direction would be the best way to maintain and continue the vision and beliefs that made Reiche successful,” he said.

The idea of a teacher-led school arose at the end of the 2009-10 school year, when the Portland School District transferred Reiche Principal Marcia Gendron to East End Community School, Brewster said.

Gendron’s tenure as principal had been transformative, he said, and “there was kind of an organic conversation about, how do we keep the Reiche vision alive?”

Teachers approached central office administrators with the idea, then the school board, which agreed to hire an interim principal for the 2010-11 year while teachers looked into the teacher-led model.

An exploratory committee of teachers, parents, district administrators, a teachers’ union representative and a school board member spent the past year making plans for Reiche, studying other teacher-led schools, visiting two of them (the Math and Science Leadership Academy in Denver and the Boston Teachers Union School), and learning from their experiences.

When the 2011-12 school year begins, 320-student Reiche will have two teacher leaders who will spend half their time in the classroom and half performing administrative duties. Four teacher leadership committees will deal with professional development, instructional leadership, internal communications and other topics. Parents, school board members and district administrators will also be part of the governance mix.

That governance model resembles the one in place at Denver’s Math and Science Leadership Academy, Brewster said.

According to the Portland school district, Reiche Community School will become the first existing — other teacher-led schools have been start-up schools — and largest school to use the teacher-led model.

It might not feel so historic, though, Brewster said. That’s because Gendron had involved teachers in leadership during her tenure at Reiche.

“In a way, for the past couple of years, we had been preparing for this without knowing it was coming,” Brewster said. “We were used to making decisions, analyzing data and using it proactively.”

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