We set a staff goal to decrease our student course failures by 50%. As the early numbers trickle in, we are on path to reduce the course failures by over 75% from this same time last year. We’re so excited that we wanted to share our success with other schools.
Part of being a principal involves worrying about our students. If we don’t worry we probably should find a different line of work. In terms of academic failure there are always a few names that come quickly to our mind.
Last year’s student support group spent a lot of time worrying. Every week seemed the same. A typical example is as follows: We’d open with a short prayer and then go over the academic failure list. The same names peppered the list every week and the explanation was usually the same. Billy struggles to turn in homework. Sally is a poor test taker and her teacher in that class has the majority of points coming from tests and quizzes. Jake is a good student and talented but doesn’t come to school very often and seems to have a finesse for missing Mondays. I’m sure your school has students similar to Billy, Sally, and Jake. We were great at identifying the issues and giving the warning talk but no changes really took place. Some students fell through the cracks and ended up at the local alternative school. Others fell off the path to on-time graduation and enrolled in the neighboring public school where graduation requirements are not as strict.
Our administrative team resolved to make the 2008-2009 results different. Over the summer we created a plan of action with our leadership team of establishing various student support teams. We divided the students into six groups by alphabet and created six teams consisting of an administrator, a counselor, and two teachers. The teams met a minimum of twice a month and monitored students assigned to their alphabetic group. Each meeting consisted of not only identifying the issue but also the plan for improvement with the requirement that the plan be tied to a measurable goal for improvement. The team would decide which individual member would follow up with the identified student and what the plan of action would be as well as the measurable goal. The teams would follow up in two weeks and if the student hadn’t met the goal, a new course of action would be set. Everything was logged in a google doc that team members could reference.
Here’s an example: In early October Billy presents on the weekly failure list as carrying an F average in two classes: Geometry and English. As the team meets they pull up his grades via our online grade network and see Billy is missing eight of ten homework assignments and is at a 69.5% in English due to a low test grade on the 1st half of “Brave New World” by Huxley. The team decides to set a goal for Billy of completing his missing homework by the next check in period and earning a C or better on the next exam. Billy’s English teacher offers a study session before and after school the day before any test. The teacher assigned to work with Billy goes over the plan and Billy agrees to it (freewill is important). After two weeks Billy has pulled up his English grade but is still failing Geometry and has only turned in two of the missing homework assignments. At the next meeting the team see’s Billy’s status and discusses with Billy and his parents (via phone) that Billy needs to finish the missing homework assignments and can attend morning peer-to-peer tutoring for help. Billy agrees… and on and on.
As the semester went on, the effectiveness of the interventions was tied to the strength of the relationship created between the team and their students. Parents were ecstatic about the help being offered their children. They were also impressed with how well our staff knew their child. Looking for the Friday afternoon’s failure list became an exciting event to see who had made progress and who hadn’t.
These teams also helped build a spirit of fellowship between the various administrators. Friendly competitions and side wagers took place between the various teams as they jockeyed to have the lowest failure rate. But in the end it was the students who benefitted the most. Seeing a student move from the failure list towards their potential is an exciting thing to watch.
What is more astounding is the number of creative collaborative ideas that have come out of these meetings. We are creating mini-courses on test taking skills for those students struggling with tests. We’ve formed a peer-tutoring program. We’re working on a homeroom plan for next year that creates a special study homeroom for students who are failing as well as Saturday homework days for those lagging behind.
I wish we could report 100% success with our student body but there still remains a handful of failures.
Here is a link to the google doc with names removed. link here