For the second year in a row, Belleville High School Principal Michael Van Tassell began the school year with a State of the High School analysis. This report demonstrated with data the progress made toward the school's two primary goals: increased academic achievement and an improved school culture to support that.
The cultural values of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility at BHS start with the adults. The Four Non-Negotiables for staff are (1) we will not use humiliation, (2) we will not argue with students, parents, or staff, (3) we will not yell, and (4) we will not be critical of previous teachers or schools. Staff accept where teens are and look forward to what can be done from now on to help them better achieve their goals.
In a random-sample survey this past summer of the full range of students and their parents, when asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how well BHS exhibits a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility, respondents gave an average rating of 7.7. The average rating for how well BHS provides High Levels of Learning for All was 7.3.
The school culture has changed demonstrably. Discipline referrals declined 46% from 2009–10 to 2010–11. There were fewer thefts, assaults, and fights, and fewer reports of insubordination. In 2010–11, 40% of staff wrote zero–5 pink slips (discipline referrals); 78% wrote 10 or fewer for the year. Some 33% (578) of the student body participated in the Privilege Program, which requires a minimum 3.0 GPA, 95% attendance, and no suspensions for a marking period. The Peer Mediation program, started at mid-year, conducted 70 mediations.
About half (37) of the high school staff spent their own time last summer (significant time, for some) without compensation developing their professional skills. BHS has dived into the Reading Apprenticeship program to address the foundational skill for all learning: 11 teachers attended RA training at RESA; 12 attended RAISE training. Recognizing the importance of student engagement, BHS staff is determined to incorporate project-based learning wherever possible; 21 teachers attended two-day training in PBL. Seven staff members spent much of the summer on training for our New Tech program. Five were trained in the new hands-on biology curriculum. Two studied Layered Curriculum for special education students. The math department chair attended a U. of Michigan program and brought back software to enhance and individualize math instruction.
Regarding the goal of High Levels of Learning for All, BHS has yet to achieve this. In 2009–10, it did not achieve Adequate Yearly Progress due to inadequate English Language Arts performance by the Students with Disabilities subgroup. In 2010–11, it did not make AYP due to inadequate Math performance by the Economically Disadvantaged and African American subgroups. It did meet 18 of 20 participation and proficiency targets. As the No Child Left Behind deadline approaches (by 2014, all subgroups are to be proficient in ELA and math), fewer and fewer schools will be able to make AYP. (Only 60% of Michigan high schools did so this year.) That is why the Secretary of Education specifically invited states to apply for waivers from this requirement and the attached penalties.
Test scores and AYP status, of course, are not the only measures of student achievement. Particular emphasis has been put on ninth graders at BHS, pre-targeting those most at risk for failure with extra opportunities for success and closely monitoring achievement to enable early intervention. The number of freshmen failing English went down a stunning 60% in one year; algebra failures declined by 21%; biology failures were down 36%; world history failures down 22%. Using the Measures of Academic Progress test data, 50% of ninth graders made a full year of growth in reading and 57% a full year of growth in math. While there is clearly room for improvement, Explore test data showed us that 64% of incoming ninth graders were “not ready” in reading skills and 76% were “not ready” in math. (Note that only about 50% of BHS students have been with the district from kindergarten.)
BHS personnel created and have been refining a menu of options for failing students, depending upon the diagnosed reasons for failure, and ranging from mentoring by assistant principals to action plans for disciplinary issues, to E2020 individualized programs, to completely reworked “credit recovery” classes. Within classes, teachers are making heroic efforts to assess frequently and adjust teaching strategies to adapt to the needs disclosed by assessment.
Many other initiatives are bearing fruit. Parent involvement at the school has increased dramatically. We went through several variations of school security personnel until arriving at one that worked well. The new Fusion-based web system has opened new opportunities that teachers are taking advantage of. Special twelfth-grade assemblies and seminar days are offering targeted information that may once have been found in electives, before those were squeezed out by the extensive Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements. Significant changes are being instituted in special education support classes and co-teaching within regular classes. The new, later schedule has already reduced tardiness.
Within the school as a separate, self-contained program is New Tech High, an entirely project-based, interdisciplinary approach to high school that will eventually serve up to 500 students in four grades.
In other words, staff has not waited for the new building to create a new Belleville High School. Pride and productivity are in the air. And, despite all the financial pressures on the district that translate into lower pay for employees, morale is high due to the incalculably valuable sense that great things are being accomplished and that there is more progress in store.