Planning for High School Improvement

During the last few weeks I have been part of several conversations with High Schools engaged in redesigning themselves, some through small learning communities, to better meet the needs of their students.

Much of this effort begins with questions to reflect on current practice and its effectiveness.

I spent one day with a high school staff in department meetings using the following questions:
Considering the current design, schedule, focus, and practices:
Which students would you say we are serving well?
Which students would you say our success is “hit and miss”?
Which students would you say we are missing the mark?

–How do the current design, schedule, focus, and practices:
Support the teaching and learning of your course content?
Impede the teaching and learning of your course content?

–What skills and attitudes not in the “formal” curriculum do you believe should be practiced and developed by your students?

At the end of the day I shared in a faculty meeting common points that emerged from these conversations:

* There existed a strong consensus that “average” students were being overlooked. Some of these students described themselves as “not college bound”. Others said they were college bound. The non college bound found little value or connection in the content of many of their courses. Too many of the college bound were meeting minimal requirements among and within their course choices. The focus of both groups was on credits needed rather than depth of learning.

* Faculty identified that a lack of school and career counseling for students was part of students making poor choices.

*Staff was evenly divided and quite passionate regarding the seven period day vs. a block schedule as being most supportive of teaching and learning.

All three of these items are covered in a Research Brief from SREB’s High Schools That Work, Putting Lessons Learned to Work: Improving Achievement of Vocational Students.

· It matters that students complete a challenging curriculum with increased graduation requirements and that teachers set high expectations and make assignments that engage students. Students should prepare major research papers, complete short writing assignments, make oral presentations read several books and use technology to prepare assignments. In math and science students should talk about the content and work in groups to solve challenging and real problems.
· It matters that students receive early and continual guidance and advisement from caring adults. High Schools That Work research shows that student achievement increases when schools increase time available for students to talk with counselors and teachers about planning a program of study. Counselors and teachers need to involve parents as well as students in setting goals for after high school, developing and pursuing a program of study aligned to those goals, reviewing progress and making adjustments.
· Advantages of block scheduling…it can enable schools to…
* increase the number of advanced-level courses and enroll students in math and science courses in their senior year
*require unprepared ninth-graders to take “double doses” of reading and math
*increase opportunities to retake failed courses reducing the likelihood of dropping out
*give teachers more time to plan and engage students in learning
*get students to complete courses above the core academics in an academic or career concentration.
*improve relationships between teachers and students as teachers generally are working with fewer students per day.


David Phelps (principal of South Salem High School supported by instructional coach Nancy Stephens) and Steve Barkley

High school leadership and staff need to be in continual conversations examining the impact of current practices on student success. I recently spent two days in the Salem Keizer School District in Oregon working with instructional coaches and principals. One item we explored is the responsibility of coaches and administrators to question each other about the roles they play in challenging status quo and supporting teacher and student changes. Time must be set aside for these conversations…I had such time at South Salem and enjoyed exploring possibilities with their team.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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