North Reading High School
North Reading, MA
Adapting School Organization to Promote Student Success
At North Reading High School:
Five years ago, the superintendent of schools and the school committee of North Reading, Massachusetts commended North Reading High School for its placement of graduates in good colleges, students' above-average SAT scores, and its high ranking on the statewide list of 10th grade students passing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. But something was still missing. Only a small number of students had the opportunity to extend themselves into high-level courses.
In order to engage every student at the school and make sure that the school served all students equitably, the administration came up with a new mission and vision. Teachers studied multiple learning styles and different teaching strategies, but also worked with the administration to help change the structure of both the school day and the school management system.
The Academic Division Leader (ADL) positions for Humanities and Math, Science, and Technology were created and filled by Lally and Dr. Patricia Oakley respectively. They joined Principal Ann Papagiotas in leading the staff toward creating a more student-centered learning environment. The ADLs regularly hold meetings with teachers in their divisions and teach two classes themselves. These meetings help teachers share information about students and strategies that have worked for them in the classroom.
In order to free up time for these meetings and for the professional development necessary for a shift in practice, the administrators of the school reorganized the school day. Teachers investigated and chose a new schedule that would afford more time per period. The block scheduling the school adopted dropped the class number from seven to four per day. This opened up possibilities for students to take directed study time during the Power Hour, engage in extra-curricular activities, or attend talks by former graduates on preparing for postsecondary schooling and employment.
Teachers also helped the administration and students develop a writing rubric that could be used across the curriculum. Teachers in all content areas made adjustments in their practice to accommodate writing assignments that would help students express themselves clearly and understand the expectations for a particular unit or project.
"When we say we want them to write effectively across the curriculum, this can be handled differently in each classroom," says Papagiotas. "In an art class, rather than just turning in a painting they will have to answer a question about the style or the medium they are working in. The kids know they have to be able to explain themselves clearly."
The changes in structure and management of time at North Reading have allowed more students to enroll in higher level classes, take advantage of study time, and engage in activities that motivate them and personalize the learning experience for them. Five years ago, the school had one precalculus class with 21 students in it. Now, there are four full sections of the class, and approximately 91% of students from the class of 2002 went on to postsecondary education.
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