The Comer Program

Drury University, Springfield Public Schools and Yale University have joined to bring newfound success to some of Springfield's most challenged schools. The improvement is based on the Yale University Comer School Development Program created by Dr. James Comer. The Comer model creates a school environment dedicated to supporting children as they learn and grow:

- Learning is an exciting adventure
- Students, parents and teachers work together
- Change is good because it brings improvement
- School and university join to shape national education policies
- Teachers can earn a masters degree for free
- Everyone is focused on helping children succeed
- Respect rules the roost

The Comer Program in Springfield

The program began in Springfield when Drury University formed a partnership with Boyd-Berry Elementary School, just north of the university's campus. Pipkin Middle School and Central High School joined the school development program in 2000.

Tangible results are evident even in the program's first years. Students are working hard and excited about learning. Test scores have jumped. Fewer students get in trouble. Teachers no longer transfer out at the first opportunity. Boyd-Berry and Pipkin are suffused with a new sense of unity, community and purpose.

"What started as a neighborhood cooperative effort has resulted in gains beyond our wildest dreams."
-
Daniel Beach, EdD
Former Director of the Drury School of Education & Child Development

What's the Comer Concept?

Just as doctors encourage patients to stay well and avoid future harm, the Comer model seeks to improve the "wellness"of the classroom. Feelings of safety, security, belonging and self-esteem are the goals.

Reaching those goals takes unity. The Comer process mobilizes teachers, parents and other caretakers, counselors, administrators and the community at large. Yale provides guidance, support and training. Drury faculty work closely with the schools to keep programs on track, and Drury education students bring extra power and motivation to the process. Strong community leadership provides a solid foundation for progress.

How Does it Happen?

How do you approach the complicated work of transforming a school? This is where the Comer model is most valuable. It provides a system and a structure for preparing the way, implementing change, monitoring results, and reworking the school to improve it further. Think about it in threes:

Three principles guide the process:

1) Consensus
2) Collaboration
3) No blame

Three operations shape the school:

1) The Comprehensive School Plan tackles the big issues - curriculum, instruction, student assessment, social and academic climate, interaction between school and community.
2) The Staff Development Plan creates programs to meet needs identified in the School Plan.
3) An Assessment and Modification process allows for orderly change and adjustment.

Three teams take responsibility:

1)
School Planning and Management Team: Develops and monitors the Comprehensive School Plan; includes parents, teachers, administrators and others.
2) Student and Staff Support Team: Helps improve the school's social climate; includes counselors, social workers and others with child development or mental health expertise.
3) Parent Team: Promotes parent involvement in all areas of school life.

"Four years of experience at Boyd-Berry proves we can make education work in schools with the greatest needs."
- Springfield News-Leader, Sept. 11, 2000.

The Work Shows Results:

- Increased attendance
- Increased parent participation
- Lower teacher turnover
- Students are more ready for tests, and showed dramatic improvement in the first years of the Comer program.
- The number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions has dropped dramatically.



Language arts MMAT scores for Boyd-Berry second graders
Percent scoring in the
top 40%

Percent of students receiving
out-of-school suspension

Out-of-school suspensions
25 1st year of Comer 10.1
39 2nd year of Comer 3.6
47 3rd year of Comer 2.2

Special Opportunities:

- Drury University waives tuition in their master of education program for teachers at Comer schools. - Drury undergraduates' participation in school classrooms broadens and deepens the educational experience.
- Teachers in training are deeply involved in school life, since classes are taught at Comer schools. - Teachers and undergraduates travel to Yale University for training and conferences.

These opportunities are an investment in success, deepening the commitment to the Comer process and the Springfield Public Schools-Drury partnership.

"It's important to help the whole child. You end up with much higher performance. It brings everybody together. It's like a good symphony."
-
Edward Joyner, EdD
Executive Director of the Yale University Comer School Development Program.

The Future

In 2000, Central High School joined the partnership. Direct involvement in the Comer process and an influx of students from the other Comer schools will have a combined impact, emerging over the next few years.

Departments across the Drury University campus, excited about the program's success, have asked how they can contribute to improving the classroom experience at Comer schools, and how Drury students can learn more by working in the schools.

For More Information:

Drury University
School of Education & Child Development
900 North Benton Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802

Dr. Jayne White, Director
Drury University Comer School Development Program
Phone: (417) 873-7260
E-mail: jwhite@drury.edu

Springfield R-XII School District
940 North Jefferson Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802

Dr. Norman Ridder, Superintendent
Phone: (417) 864-3800
Web: www.sps.k12.mo.us