Saturday, June 18, 2005

Changing The School Culture At One California Junior High

Led by an innovative principal, a junior high school near San Diego has been making some positive changes and getting good results:
The attitude that mediocrity is OK at Granger Junior High School is on its way out, Principal Susan Mitchell will tell you.

At her school, it's no longer acceptable to expect less from students if you're a teacher. But more important, she adds, it's no longer acceptable for students to expect less of themselves.

"No more pobrecitos," she says. No more poor little things.

For years, expectations of students were low, Mitchell said. This year however, that changed with rigorous course work designed to prepare students for college.

"Our students, if we think of them as poor things, will never make the A to G requirements," Mitchell said.

A to G course work is required to get into college ? classes Granger students didn't always take. And not just because they didn't want to, but because college prep courses weren't offered at Granger, which serves grades seven to nine.

"For many years, the seventh-graders at this school didn't take world geography or science," Mitchell said.
Principal Mitchell has been at the school for a year and a half. In that time she has caused quite a ruckus among her staff by implementing new curriculum for all students and interventions for those considered to be at-risk:

Mitchell instituted a program this year that puts most eighth-and all ninth-grade students in algebra or geometry, offers support classes and provides an aggressive after-school program that becomes mandatory if students get a D or an F in any class.

It is mandatory that students getting D's and F's stay after school every day for tutoring. Or, if students don't complete class work, teachers can opt to send them to the study hall to complete their work even if they're not failing.

Some parents at first objected to mandatory study hall because they thought teachers were being hard on students, Bleisch said. Now, students have to call their parents from school to tell them they're not coming home right away, which is the parent's signal that the child didn't do his or her work.

With students calling home sometimes daily, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of incidents in which parents ask why they were never informed their student was doing poorly until it was too late to intervene, Bleisch said.

"In one year's time, we have no students in remedial math," Mitchell said. "When I first got here we had one biology class. This year we have three."

The changes have resulted in substantial progress, as measured by state assessments:
The school, which is about 66 percent Latino and about 19 percent Filipino, has made progress the last two years in a state benchmark system called the Academic Performance Index, or API. The scale runs from 200 to 1,000, with a goal for every school to reach at least 800.

In 2004 Granger's score was 633, up from 604 the year before.
Having high expectations for student performance seems to be an essential ingredient in any recipe for a successful educational program.

At the California junior high school where I teach, we cannot even require that students stay after school for remedial help. We can however detain them for up to an hour after school for disciplinary reasons.

Update: (6/19) Classroom Teacher Craig Kelso, who works at Granger Junior High School, was kind enough to leave a comment. As a teacher, he has a unique perspective that shouldn't be missed.

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