Before opening in 2013, River Bluff High School (RBHS) was architecturally designed and academically planned for a flexible modular schedule. Instead of a traditional bell schedule, we wanted a new approach that provided space for students to develop skills such as time management, collaboration, and independent decision making. We wanted RBHS to be a place that empowered students and placed the leadership of learning into their hands. We wanted to create a true learning environment where time benefited both students and teachers. (more…)
Guest post by Sedric G. Clark
As a young English I and Algebra I teacher, I always searched for best practices that would help my students succeed. One of the practices I encountered and embraced early in my career was 4×4 block scheduling. In fact, I completed my master’s degree paper on the topic and later chaired a committee for my district that recommended the implementation of 4×4 scheduling in all high schools.
That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have served as assistant principal and principal in five different schools in four different school districts—in two different states. I am now in my first year as superintendent, and hopefully, my last year as a doctoral student. When my doctoral adviser asked me to choose a topic for my dissertation, I once again turned to block scheduling. I wanted to see if block scheduling still offered the benefits that I thought it did at the beginning of my career. (more…)
Guest post by Britton Hart
We had a problem at Emporia High School—failure rates were going up but the time and money available to address student needs stayed the same. For several years, there had been a steady increase in economically disadvantaged and ELL populations. Our leadership team needed to find a solution using existing resources that helped us address the educational challenges of our evolving student population. (more…)
Guest post by Lesley Corner
Before the 2016–2017 school year, Camden High School provided after-school tutorials and after-school homework centers for English and math. These methods of academic assistance increased student achievement, but we couldn’t reach some of the students who needed the most help due to their after-school obligations or transportation issues. After extensive research and school visits, we remodeled our schedule to include academic assistance during the school day for all students. Our model includes two types of assistance: Individual Learning Time (ILT) and Structured Learning Time (SLT). (more…)
Guest post by Jeff Simon
Last week, I discussed the importance of building a positive school culture by utilizing a one-hour lunch period for clubs and activities that foster school pride and for innovative labs that encourage enthusiasm for learning. This week, I will share how we’ve built a culture of personal responsibility at Payson High School by providing a positive support system for student learning through embedded intervention.
Guest post by Jeff Simon
Indiana Jones was my hero growing up—I wanted to be just like him. And now, as high school administrator, I get to do that every day, because not only did Indiana Jones study culture, he taught it to inquisitive minds and instilled passion in curious students to become lifelong learners.
Principals know that as the culture goes, so does the school. From Day 1, our administrative goal at Payson High School has been to build a culture that focuses on pride in our school and enthusiasm for learning. (more…)
Guest post by Brad W. Staley
With so many things competing for their time, students often struggle to fit everything into a single school day. As administrators, we want to give them enough freedom to explore a variety of school offerings while still maintaining order.
At Northside High School in Jacksonville, NC, we decided to try something new to afford students more autonomy to make the most of their day. We call it Power Hour: A one-hour lunch period in which students can use the time as they wish. (more…)
Guest post by Ashanti Bryant Foster
Master Schedule: the two words that usually cause a cringe and instant headache for many educators. The reality is that if you don’t have a firm grasp on the master schedule, it is difficult to understand the movements and ‘flow of traffic’ in your building. One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in scheduling is so I could understand the task inside out, just like discipline, leading collaborative planning, and supporting parent programs. As an administrator, I need to know the ins and outs of all major decisions that impact student achievement. (more…)
Creating sustainable, quality education programming is a driving force for all public schools. We all look deeply and rationally at our students, striving to identify their needs. However, with all that is before us, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here at Woodbridge Middle, we spent some time researching, analyzing, and planning such a program that would benefit students regardless of their achievement level or demographic. With this in mind, we established an opt-in Same Gender Program based on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax.
Currently fifty percent of the students at our public, coed middle school receive their instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies in an all-boy or all-girl setting. We have multiple learning community structures in place which extend beyond simply building time in the master schedule so that teams and departments can meet. Our structures provide opportunities for teachers to constantly examine how we do business, what impact we have on students, and what we need to consider for improvement as we move forward. Our goal is to continuously search for better ways to meet the academic, emotional, developmental, and social needs of our students. Our Same Gender Program is one example of how we have worked together to meet the needs of our students.
The all-boy program’s objective is to establish an environment in which middle school boys can learn best. Through research and student observations, we have developed an active, kinesthetic-learning environment where boys can succeed. An all-boys lesson modifies the topics, activities, and instructional delivery to increase student engagement. Within the all-boys program, we have developed a House System where students participate in healthy competition in both academics and extra-curricular activities. The House System also serves as our behavior management tool, in which students take ownership of their own behaviors and adjust their social tendencies. At the conclusion of our program, we hope to develop young men with good character and the motivation to succeed.
Similarly, we have developed an all-girls program with the aim of building leadership, integrity, and self-awareness. By excluding the distraction of gender stereotypes and building upon gender differences, we have, as Dr. Sax put it, “got beyond pink and blue.” We see girls as individuals and understand that they do not need to be trapped by certain feminine stereotypes, such as “girls are not good at math and science.” Instead, we create opportunities that allow them to succeed by modifying their environment. For instance, we expose students to female scientists, mathematicians, and authors in the hopes of providing examples of greatness. We also utilize texts with strong girls as major characters who have attributes with which they can identify.
Additionally, we spend a great deal of time providing a safe place where girls can express themselves without the fear of failure or competition. As reporter Sara Rimer of The New York Times explained, “being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls.” Our teams seek to reduce the anxiety many girls experience by citing mantras such as Failure Leads to Success, Be Flexible, and Practice Balance. These keys of excellence help the girls release the deep-seated feelings of insecurity many of them have experienced throughout their academic and social careers. It also gives them permission to take risks where they may not historically have done so.
The middle school experience can be isolating and overwhelming for many students. By understanding how boys and girls learn differently, our school has created a welcoming place where All are Respected and Achievement is Expected regardless of gender, demographics, and other characteristics. While we have by no means perfected the model, we are confident in its effectiveness and continue to build upon our successes.
Woodbridge Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking RanksSchool Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Woodbridge team will be presenting A Same Gender Option: Boys and Girls are Different! on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.
Guest post by Chris Jennings:
What happens when you create an opportunity for students to choose where they will go and what they will do during the school day? Chaos? Anarchy? At Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, we discovered that students may surprise you.
During the 2011-12 school year, a group of students and administrators met throughout the year to discuss how we could work within the confines of our existing seven-period day to create more opportunities for students to have independent time for clubs, extra help, and teacher meetings. When I opened the discussion to the staff, one of our teachers recommended we take a look at Princeton High School’s “Wednesday” schedule. We did, and we adopted a similar schedule for the 12-13 school year. We have not looked back.
The basic premise is this: Each Wednesday, we shorten each period by eight minutes to allow for an activity period that runs during normal school hours – in our case, from 1:40-2:35. During this period, every school employee is unencumbered and available for students. Teachers and counselors can meet with students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Tests are retaken or made up, labs are completed, homework is done, and questions are answered.
You get the picture – but the catch is that at 1:40 school is dismissed, and students can choose whether or not they participate in the activity period. This is the part that made the grown-ups nervous. What if they all choose to leave? It took a leap of faith, but a year and a half later we consistently have 1,000 students choosing to stay in school and work with teachers. We relax school rules about hats, iPods, and cell phones during this period, and students are allowed stay for just ten minutes or beyond the duration of the period. We trust students to make decisions that are in their best interest, and they genuinely appreciate having the freedom. In my seven years as principal at BHS, I have not been involved in another decision that has been so universally accepted by students, teachers, and parents. The Wednesday Activity Period has become an important component of our approach to differentiate school for our students.
Chris Jennings is the principal of Bloomfield High School. Bloomfield High School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Bloomfield team will be presenting Transforming a Title I High School through Culture, Collaboration, and Curriculum on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Bloomfield High School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.