Scheduling

School Showcase Feature: Bloomfield High School

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.

School Showcase Feature: Fossil Ridge Intermediate School

Better. This simple word has characterized and driven the work of the members of the Fossil Ridge learning community. Through this desire to become better, Fossil Ridge has developed a collaborative culture focused on guaranteeing high levels of learning for every one of their students.

Opened in 2003, Fossil Ridge Intermediate has become increasingly diverse over the last several years, with 24% of its students representing minority groups and approximately 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-price meals program.

The root of school improvement at Fossil Ridge lies in the school’s culture. A tremendous amount of work has been put in to aligning the beliefs, behaviors, and practices of the school. This focus on an effective culture has allowed subsequent structural change to flourish and enabled an entire learning community to focus on what matters: improving individualized student learning.

After its culture was firmly established, the work turned to focus on struggling students via a modified bell structure, a new pyramid of interventions, extended learning time for struggling math students, and additional interventions in reading.

Fossil Ridge’s school-wide intervention system provides immediate, specific intervention to identified students who require extra time or more individual assistance in meeting a particular standard or criterion. Students are required to attend specific interventions with other students considered deficient in the same concepts. Students who demonstrate competency for a given week are offered the choice of a variety of other classes designed to provide extra learning opportunities during the REAL Time block.

Over 5 years, Fossil Ridge has seen dramatic increases in student learning with increases of 18-30% on end-of-level assessments and individual subgroups. As a result of this work, Fossil Ridge was selected as a national model Professional Learning Community School by AllThingsPLC.info in 2011.

As further evidence of Fossil Ridge’s high levels of learning, they were recognized as a 2013 National Breakthrough School by the NASSP. Even with a change in leadership and varied personnel, the culture of learning combined with the inherent desire to get better continues to drive the work of this nationally recognized school.

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Fossil Ridge team will be presenting Preparing for Take-Off: Specific Actions that Make a Difference in Student Learning on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Fossil Ridge Intermediate, check out the article published in the May 2013 issue of Principal Leadership.