Wyandotte High School
Kansas City, KS
Design and Implementation
In order to begin reform at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, the new principal, Walter J. Thompson, felt he had to give staff members the autonomy to address some of the problems themselves. He did this by allowing them to change their schedules to make time for hallway duty and by establishing a Stakeholder Team to discuss how the seven features of the First Things First program could be integrated into Wyandotte's unique environment. After this team had explored the possibilities of the program, they designed a two-day roundtable about the features for the entire Wyandotte staff and facilitated weekly small-team meetings with all staff to discuss the options available to them.
Through these meetings, the staff decided to reorganize the school into small learning communities, defined as "schools-within-a-school." Interdisciplinary teams of teachers would teach groups of 160-200 students from grades 9-12, including special education students. English language learners would remain in an SLC for elective classes and receive pullout language instruction.
In addition, the staff decided that each small learning community would revolve around a common theme, and all members of the community would focus teaching and learning around that theme. The staff developed the small learning community themes based on the needs and interests of students and agreed to engage in ongoing staff development focused on these needs and the theme of their community.
To staff the learning communities, the school developed a Staffing Committee, which included teachers, and had an outside consultant examine a staffing survey. The Staffing Committee also interviewed and selected a lead teacher to serve as coordinator for each SLC.
"The idea of small learning communities gave us the opportunity to interview and bring in the caliber of talent we needed," says Principal Thompson.
Once the staff was in place and students had chosen their communities, teachers received payment for 56 hours of preparation time, including a summer workshop where each SLC planned its goals, expectations, parent involvement component, and agenda for reading, problem solving, assessment, and instruction. In addition, teachers took responsibility for scheduling issues and advisory tasks within their SLC.
As the reform got underway, staff worked together to collaboratively solve problems and address the issues of their students. However, they found they needed more support from the school to face the previously unknown issues of those students who had not come to class in the past. To this end, the local school board approved the reorganization of Wednesdays to allow for an early release of students and two hours of study-group time for teachers. During this time, teachers discussed the needs of their students and how to connect their content to their SLC theme.
Teachers and district-level administrators also collaborated on a teaching and learning document that articulates a focus for all school staff. Through study of professional readings, dialogue, and collaboration, the staff chose three key topics: classroom environment; instruction (to include active engagement, connectedness, and reflection); and professional learning community.
School staff also kept an eye on student achievement data at Wyandotte. When reading skills emerged as a problem, the teachers researched and selected a reading program and began training. This training led to an after-school study group for teachers who had little experience teaching reading skills. The group meets weekly to model lessons, discuss the appropriate use of strategies, and offer suggestions for implementation.
The staff at Wyandotte also participates in peer coaching, including two days a week when the school brings in substitutes so that teachers can observe other teachers in their classrooms. In addition, the coaching system now includes mentoring new teachers, collaborating with teachers in other schools, and embedding support from outside consultants into the classroom.