Wooddale Middle School’s English as a Second Language students increased to 137 in the 2022-2023 school year. This is the highest number of enrolled students in the last few years, prompting the need to add a fifth specialized teacher to provide the resources to accommodate the mainly Hispanic students.
“Our ESL number has increased in a huge jump from what it has been in previous years,” explained Danai Greene, the school’s new principal.
Ms. Greene said that because of how Wooddale has served students from previous years, it has garnered the attention of the Hispanic community in South Memphis. Word of mouth among the Latinos was the main promotional tool, according to the principal.
“I believe that the Hispanic community go where they like the school, they go where they feel comfortable, and where the resources are provided. I think that a very good job to ensure that we will support our ESL families in addition to word of mouth has been the best promotional tool,” said Greene. “I know we have social media and things like that, but still just hearing someone tell a story of why they chose to go to this school makes all the difference because we’ve had cousins, we’ve had siblings. Some of our students that are in high school, and college have siblings and their younger family members are attending the school.”
“Last year, looking at our pre COVID years, they were increasing, so you use the data to make an educated guess to know that you are going to continue in that upward trend. As a result we knew that our numbers would increase but we didn’t know it would be this dramatic,” explains Greene.
The increase in ESL students shouldn’t affect the quality of education offered to the new students, as more teachers are hired to overcome the language barrier. Present teachers in the Green Dot schools’ network are continuously taking courses to develop new teaching strategies and resources.
Last year, Wooddale showed the most improvement in iReady testing in Memphis, as the number of students that were on or above level went up 21%. This is not expected to change, according to Greene.
“We had some great progress in iReady and just some huge growth in areas of improvement. Knowing that and knowing that our ESL population is continuing to expand, the first thing that I focus on is that teachers are prepared,” said Greene. “Sometimes it is overwhelming especially if there is a language barrier and you are looking for resources on how to support, how to help and we are constantly working to provide the best teaching strategies and resources. We don’t want the language to be the reason why students aren’t receiving high quality instruction.”
Greene is in her first year as school principal, although she has been at Wooddale since 2014, as a Math teacher before becoming Assistant Principal a few years ago. Her experience as a teacher and knowledge of the community made this part easier than expected.
“Sometimes I can sound a bit predictable when teachers say they love what they do and educators say they love what they do, but I really love what I do, which is why I have been here for so long, first as the math teacher, then assistant principal and then obviously a principal. I love the community, I love the students and the families,” explains Greene.
Greene’s main goal today is to continue the excellence that was reflected in both Reading and Math iReady scores in the past school year. “Not only focus on ELA and Math, which of course the iReady data shows we had astronomical growth, but how can we translate that to science, how can we translate that to social studies. As principal, that’s kind of one of my priorities is making sure that hey, you are just not only getting these strategies and instructions in these two classes,” said Greene.
The key to success, explains the principal, is to set realistic goals and look at the big picture and the future.
“With the goals that we set we say, yes if this student is in the fourth percentile our goal is to get him to the fifth or sixth percentile by the end of the school year. Although on the outside looking in, someone might say: hey that student is still below, what are you going to do about that? You have to take the steps to grow, and you look at the whole picture, the big picture, so when you step back you see that by the time they left here in eighth grade they grew a huge amount” Greene concluded.