Circle City Prep: Leading the Way in Teacher Collaboration

In our new blog series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, Teach Indy will share the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.

Circle City Prep (CCP) is a public charter school founded in 2017. CCP has grown year over year to currently serve students in grades K-6. That growth is fueled by a belief that all students deserve academic instruction and character development that sets them on a path to college and a life of opportunity.

“We want students to be determined, resourceful, express integrity, use their voice to advocate, and be enthusiastic about learning,” said Samantha Hyde, Circle City Prep’s K-2 Senior Instructional Coach. “Every scholar learns every day.”

When asked what makes Circle City Prep special, staff noted the community aspect of the school. This means partnerships with organizations like the Patachou Foundation to provide farm-to-table meals for students. It also means community in a more conventional sense, with Hyde sharing, “We reach out and include families. Every month, we are doing something to include them.”

Perhaps the most salient feature that differentiates Circle City Prep from other public charter schools is a different approach to classroom staffing, implementing a lead/associate teacher model for K-3. That means every classroom has a lead teacher and an associate teacher. At the kindergarten level, this goes a step further with both educators acting as co-lead-teachers.

Typically, the lead teacher is more experienced and the associate teacher supports them with literacy rotations and small group intervention for core subjects, the Circle City Prep team was quick to note that associates are equally-valued members of the team. If a lead teacher is out sick or on vacation, the associate teacher steps up and student learning is unaffected. 

Kindergarten Lead Teacher LaCari Gant shared, “It’s a great experience being able to collaborate with another individual. The best part about it is seeing my associate teacher blossom and give me feedback. Being in the field over 20 years, it would be easy to feel like I don’t have more to learn but she pushes me.”

It is not just the teachers benefiting from this approach, the students are seeing positive results as well. Circle City Prep knew that its literacy proficiency was not where it needed to be at the end of last year. Certainly, the lingering impact of the pandemic had something to do with that, but the team did not use that as an excuse for limiting the possibilities of what the students  could achieve. 

Much of the credit goes to the implementation of this lead/associate teacher structure. “Having someone who gives me that extra boost to support all scholars at a high level is critical. We can give a lot more hands-on support,” Gant noted. As of their last round of interim testing, 100% of students in Ms. Gant’s class who have been with them since the beginning achieved one or more levels of literacy growth, indicating they are at or above grade level. 

Kindergarten Associate Teacher Mallory Pendergast, who is partnered with Ms. Gant this year, said, “It is awesome to share responsibility and have someone to learn from who is so seasoned and knowledgeable. With 30 kids, it is great having two adults in the classroom. I believe it makes instruction stronger.”

This model didn’t just create itself overnight. Hyde emphasized the importance of culture in making such a concerted shift in how elementary classrooms are structured and staffed. Change management is never easy, but Sherry Tardy, a 1st Grade Associate Teacher, said, “We all step in and help where we can. That’s our culture here. All of us, lead and associate teachers, want to support our scholars in the best way and we dig into what is needed for each scholar to make that happen.”

Hyde was quick to shout out the great work of her colleagues who are making this model work. “Ms. Tardy joined as an associate and is positioned to be a lead teacher in the future because of the learning and growth she has acquired. And Ms. Pendergast is one of the best phonics teachers in the state with the data to prove it because she could learn from experienced teachers. Our lead/associate teacher model is opening opportunities for future leadership.” 

Circle City Prep is leveraging a structure that is getting results for kids and developing educators at the same time. As a closing thought, Hyde wanted other schools and school leadership to know, “We believe anyone who puts in the work can become a great teacher; our model is proving it.”

We thank the incredible educators of Circle City Prep for sharing their experience: LaCari Gant, Lead Kindergarten Teacher; Samantha Hyde, K-2 Senior Instructional Coach; Mallory Pendergast, Kindergarten Associate Teacher, Sherry Tardy, First Grade Associate Teacher