Gains Are Underway At PECHS

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – The end of the three-year contract with Cambridge Education is nearing. Earlier this month, Cambridge presented its quality review final report of the high school.

The team that conducts the annual review (conducted by those not directly associated with the school) specifically cited things the school does well, and areas that need improvement.

What The School Does Well

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Among the list of what the school does well:

*The school has made gains in student achievement, graduation and attendance in each of the years that it has been in transformation.

“That's what we should be seeing,” commented Ian Nelson, of Cambridge. “We should be seeing those gains each year, and that's what we actually have been seeing…and credit to the school there.”

*The proportion of special education students gaining a regular diploma has increased significantly and the performance gap between student sub groups has been reduced.

Narrowing the gap, Nelson cited, is “crucial because AMOs (Annual Measurable Objectives) are determined by those subgroups and if we're not narrowing that gap, then we're likely to end up in a federal category…”

*The school culture reflects a student-centered focus on achievement and personal pride.

*The master schedule reflects an array of electives including career technical education courses and that course offerings allow students to balance academics with electives and extracurricular activities.

*The high school provides courses that give students post-graduate options for college, career and/or technical education and flexibility to explore potential career pathways.

*And five focus areas of professional development for teachers are serving as catalysts for building capacity and greater collaboration among the faculty.

Nelson noted that what they need to do as a school and as a partnership is to ensure that when Cambridge is gone that the school continues growing.

What The School Needs To Improve

In areas where they are to continue, Nelson offered, a start has been made.

Among the findings of the report is that they need to:

*Continue professional development training that emphasizes rigor and focuses on improving teachers' skills in asking better questions that enhance students' critical thinking, their ability to self-assess their progress, and identify a clear plan for improvement. (It was later cited that they have a group of teachers leading the focus on professional development, rather than bringing individuals from the outside all of the time.)

*Continue to drive the use of data down to the classroom level so that students and teachers are joint partners in understanding and utilizing data to improve teaching and learning.

*Improve access and utilization of technology by teachers throughout the school.

*Improve the current system of tracking student attendance throughout the entire school day to ensure accurate reporting of student absences, and to ensure student safety.

While they have done a lot to improve attendance, Nelson offered, that needs to keep on improving.

*And ensure that the school's successes are shared with the wider community, and expand the use of media to promote the good news about the school's improved academic achievement, enhanced teacher quality, and other recently improved school conditions.

“…What the team found was that the parents particularly were saying that there's still talk in the…wider community about the old days and there's still talk about Prince Edward a long time ago when it wasn't being as successful as it is now,” Nelson said. “And, so, what they're saying there is, that (the) school really needs to actually get beyond with that so that we can actually get out into the community-that this is not…the school of ten, 20 years ago, five years ago, three years ago. It's Prince Edward school now and it's actually (having) these successes and we need the community to understand that so that people can actually hold their heads up, be proud of the school.”

Other Findings

The report, listed in its main findings, assessed that the high school is “a proficient school,” and noted that it has “shown improvement in student performance for each of the years that it has been in transformation. Pass rates for English, history, and science have increased, gaps among student sub-groups have been reduced, and both graduation rates and attendance rates have improved.”

Transitions in the administrative team have been smooth and new administrators, it was noted, “are working as a team to provide adequate monitoring and supervision of the school. In addition, it was noted, “New initiatives in professional development are helping to build teacher capacity and increase collaboration, and the creation of the Community of Learners is bridging the divide between core academics and CTE.”

The report also cited, however, “Challenges for the school remain in the areas of technology availability and integration, incorporating greater rigor into lesson planning and delivery, and building stronger ties between the school and parents and the community. Not enough attention is being paid to ensuring that basic school operations such as scheduling and discipline are handled in a way that supports the school's mission and vision. Establishing and maintaining a dialogue with the community about the school's progress and building a partnership that will serve to strengthen the school into the future is vital if it is to overcome the continuing memory of the school's segregated past and school closings.”

The report also assessed, “The strongest improvements have been in the areas of science and history. All of the school's state assessment-Standards of Learning (SOL)-rates compare favorably to the state averages.”

The report also deemed that school is “proficient” in the area of quality of learning, teaching and assessment for learning. “However,” it also cited, “most of the classrooms visited continue to reflect a traditional, teacher-directed approach to instruction that does not address the wide variety of student needs through differentiation. While efforts have begun to assist teachers in developing and delivering more rigorous lessons, students lack more frequent opportunities to explore content area knowledge at a higher level, and in more varied teaching styles in core content areas.”

The report also cited that classrooms were equipped with technology-such as Smart Boards were being used by many teachers-but that in many career technical education classes and computer labs, student use of technology in the classroom was limited.

The report found in the area of leadership, management and accountability, that the school's work is proficient.

“The work of improving the school continues to be complex, covering many fronts,” the report stated. “Not enough of the small, day-to-day details are appropriately delegated and taken care of so they do not become time-consuming problems. This detracts from accomplishing the big things in a timely and professional manner.”

It specifically cited an issue with process of setting, communicating and revising of student schedules.

The report also found the areas of school culture and professional development proficient.

“The school administration has committed time and effort in transforming the school's culture over the past two years,” the report stated. “This year's theme of 'I Believe' focuses on character and commitment to doing one's best to achieve. The theme is evident throughout the building and is enacted with students through a process in which they submit two personal goals to the principal they receive an 'I Believe' button. Students were seen with the buttons and could articulate the reasoning behind them.”

It also noted focus group discussions with parents and students revealed high levels of satisfaction with the overall quality of the school and acknowledged improvements.

The report cited, “The school continues to be challenged by its history of resistance to court-ordered desegregation and the subsequent closing of the schools in the 1960s. This ongoing legacy provides an opportunity for open dialogue both in the school and community. Not enough of the good news about positive changes in the school is communicated to all members of the community, regardless of whether or not they have children at the school parent focus group discussions revealed a real eagerness to confront this issue and help others in the community recognize that the Prince Edward of 2012 is not the Prince Edward of 1962, and the half century that has passed, and particularly the last two years, has brought real progress and change that should be celebrated and supported.”

The report found that the work in the area of partnership with parents, guardians and the community is undeveloped. The report cited specific outreach efforts (noting outreach efforts to communicate to the wider community have stepped up in the past year), it also offers that the efforts provide “basic information about the school to stakeholders” but that there “is still insufficient meaningful parental involvement.” And, while there is a fledgling parent teacher association, “there is not an organized means for parents to have meaningful input into school decision-making and to be a productive part of the overall efforts to improve school culture.”

The report offered, “Parents say there are still families who opt out of the high school because of its past reputation and who continue to perpetuate the past in their conversations in the community. The school has not developed an appropriate response narrative for those who would dwell on conditions that are no longer relevant to the school.”

More Discussion

School officials are looking to a lead teacher concept, though at this point does not have a stipend. That is expected to be a part of upcoming budget discussions.

Nelson suggested that the principal, Cambridge representative, and central office get together, look at the issues for improvement and put together a simple action plan.

The board, however, engaged in a discussion on the scoring system used to assess the school in a wide range of areas, questioning the reasoning behind receiving a low score (a one) in specific areas.

Nelson explained that a one score meant the area was undeveloped, a two meant proficient, three well developed and, a four excellent. Board member Linda Leatherwood cited that scores also include perceptions.

The bottom grade, Nelson also offered, doesn't mean there's nothing being done right. He cited that means there's some work to do.

“…The use of this is to point out the problems,” Dr. Sedgwick summed up near the end of the discussion, adding that they need to triangulate, put all of their data together then try to come up with a strategic plan.