Rethinking High School

How we educate high school students in the U.S. needs to change. Our high schools are no longer relevant to the needs of 21st century learners and the system must be restructured. This restructuring will allow students to choose from a variety of new study options. The days of “one size fits all” for secondary education services are coming to a close – it is now about providing students with a “customized” course of study in their pursuit of a high school diploma. Students should have a choice among the traditional high school model, a community high-school model (a hybrid between traditional and online instruction), and an early-college model that will allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree by taking a fifth year of high school.

Central to all three high school study options, or combination of options, is an intensive focus on making each learner’s secondary school experience a successful one (particularly at the freshman level), and offering ubiquitous student access to the Internet both in school and at home (using a variety of mobile computing devices). A synopsis of each program option required in a restructured high school include:

Freshman Academy

Research has shown that the transition between middle and high school is one of the most difficult developmental challenges a person faces in life. Students who are not successful in 9th grade are six times more likely to drop out before completing high school compared to their peers. The reasons for such a high failure rate include a variety of student factors upon entering high school:

– Physically and emotionally changing;

– Different setting with different expectations and experiences;

– Moving from a school environment designed to nurture children to one that

is designed to produce independent young adults;

– Academics are more challenging;

– Young teenagers are immersed with older teens.

A Freshman Academy helps to ameliorate these potential problems and issues by creating a “school within a school” environment as part of the larger high school student population. This is done by clustering 9th grade teaching teams and classrooms together, and utilizing group of upper classmen that will provide peer support. The program ensures that teachers have adequate student-focused common planning time and engage in cross-curricular instruction. Parent involvement and peer mentoring are also key components of the Academy.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Technology plays a large role in our students’ lives today. Personal devices can enhance and enrich learning opportunities both at home and at school. High schools today must be committed to allowing responsible, learning-centered use of personal devices at school so as to provide as many pathways to understanding and learning as possible for students.

Access to robust wireless networks is vital to student success these days using a variety of mobile computing devices. These devices can be either school-provided or personal laptops, tablets, or smart phone; however access to the Internet must be filtered to be in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Access from a personal device should be primarily for Internet use, but students can be given access to their own email account and document folder on the school’s network server.

For purposes of allowing students ubiquitous access to the Internet for instructional purposes, “technology” means a privately-owned wireless and/or portable electronic hand-held equipment that includes, but is not limited to: existing and emerging mobile communication systems and smart technologies, portable Internet devices, hand-held entertainment systems or portable information technology systems that can be used for word processing, wireless Internet access, image capture/recording, sound recording, and information transmitting / receiving/storing.

Hybrid Community High School

The creation of a hybrid community high school, in addition to traditional high, merges traditional and online learning into one customizable secondary education program. This hybrid is particularly attractive to students who do not do well in the traditional high school setting, such students at-risk of academic failure, gifted students, or students who are just plain bored and need something different. This merger results in one, united flexible-program high school for “non-traditional” high school students who, for one reason or another, would prefer to complete many of their required credits online instead of in the classroom.

Every student attending the hybrid program receives a graduation plan during their enrollment period that best meets their individual needs. To ensure that students have the best opportunity for success with a program of this sort, a mandatory three-week (15 day) orientation is required of all new students designed to prepare them for independent online work using an online curriculum (such as e2020), while the faculty assesses each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

In my school district, students are required to complete a series of in-classroom courses that include: Career Cruising, Effective Note-Taking & Study Skills, and Strategies for Academic Success before being placed in one of three tiers that allow for independent work online anywhere, any place, and at any time. Each tier is designed to offer a customized blend of in-school support with a student-centered approach to providing educational services online on the student’s terms, not the staff’s terms. Students are assigned to an instructional track based on in-class performance, online attendance and activity, grades, and level of self-motivation after they complete orientation.

Students are reevaluated at the end of every session, at which time they may be assigned to a new instructional tier based on the above criteria. Tier 1 students are required to attend class five days per week, receiving the most in-class support and supervision. Tier 2 students receive in-school instruction 2 to 4 days per week. Tier 3 students need only attend school one day per week. In all three tiers, students are able to work an unlimited number of hours at home and have access to e2020 courses 24 hours per day. All students have access to teacher support via email or phone. Additionally, students in the hybrid community high school program must have access to the regular high school program and allowed to take courses there and participate in the full range of extracurricular programs alongside their traditional high-school peers.

Early College Program

It is widely accepted that a majority of today’s jobs, eight or nine of every 10, require education beyond a high-school diploma. It is also known from U.S. Census data that most adults in the U.S. have not yet completed a two or four year degree. Although nearly 70% of high-school graduates start some college classes, only about 20% actually complete a degree. One significant problem today is that many students find that completing a college degree is difficult because of the many conflicting financial and time commitment priorities they face in today’s economy. A successful pathway to a college degree now requires a coordinated collaboration among high school, college, family, and community partners.

In my school district in Michigan, we have developed an early college program for a cohort of 50 committed students who agree to a rigorous academic program beginning in the 11th grade and continuing in a dual-enrollment program with a local community college through a 13th year in order to obtain both a High School Diploma and an Associate’s Degree. The program also provides an occupational track for students who wish to pursue a one year Certificate or Associates degree in a skill based area of technology, health, or business.

The cost of tuition for obtaining the Associate’s degree is paid by the school district, which utilizes it’s per pupil state aid payments to fully fund the program. There are very little out-of-pocket costs to the students. The savings on two full years of college tuition alone is estimated to range from $8,000 to $50,000 and beyond. The early college program also reduces the amount of actual time it will take a student to complete a degree by one year, which could provide one extra year of potential income in their lifetime. This earning opportunity value could range anywhere from $25,000 to $80,000 or more, depending on the student’s degree. Although textbook expenses are covered, some personal transportation costs will be the obligation of the student; although bus service between our high school and the community college is provided free of charge.

Early college students are enrolled in both high school and college for grades 11, 12, and 13. These students will complete a traditional six-year college education (four years of high school and two years of community college) in only five years, thereby accelerating their baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees.

Students with the Associate’s Degree are eligible transfer to most colleges and universities throughout the country. Because the first two years of tuition will be paid for by the school district, the student eligibility for sports scholarships, academic scholarships, and/or Pell grants will be extended to the year following the 13th year. Students do not lose eligibility for opportunities for college scholarships or federal financial aid because of their participation in our early college program.

Students who may not wish to pursue a Bachelor’s degree program are eligible to enter into a career program that provides employable skills while earning credits toward an Associate’s Degree or completion of a Certificate in the field of technology, computer occupations, nursing, and health/medical areas. Those obtaining an Associate’s Degree in any the community college’s technical/career program are eligible to transfer to universities or colleges that have approved Bachelor degree agreements with the community college for their specific area of study.

Through a unique partnership, counselors from both our high school and the community college provide services to early college students that support them throughout high school and their 13th year.

Summary

By rethinking how high school instruction is delivered, American secondary education can begin offering a truly customizable to its students. In so doing, we can produce high school and Associate’s degree graduates with a comprehensive set of critical thinking and tech-savvy skills that will serve our country well as these students compete for the new jobs in our global economy.

School and Community

My career in education as teacher, coach, and administrator, in various types of schools, has given me significant and comprehensive experience in the academic, athletic, and business arena. I have a background in parochial, public, Quaker, and nonsectarian single sex and coed schools. These include very small schools of 100+ students to very large schools of over 900 students. Through these experiences, I have gained an appreciation for different approaches to the educational process and the management of educational institutions. Some schools focused on discipline, others on academics, while still others on athletics or the arts. Some schools were well endowed and in a strong position fiscally while others were struggling to meet costs and raise funds. Others had a clear mission and vision while some were trying to determine what kind of institution they wanted to be.

However, regardless of the focus or position of the school, what I believe was always of great importance and high necessity was a solid and firm sense of community. The schools that I felt would survive and thrive, and where I felt most attached, were the schools where the culture fostered a strong feeling of togetherness, family, and community. When the Head of School, teachers, administrators, and Board at these institutions worked tirelessly to encourage a communal atmosphere, the school prospered on most levels and was able to focus on its core mission and vision. A collaborative effort from all involved was needed to initiate and sustain this level of teamwork and community. Therefore, to accomplish this task, it is necessary to understand the impact and contribution of the many dimensions making up the community.

First, are the families, beginning with the students. It is vitally important every student feel that the school is a place of comfort and safety. A place where they can be themselves, explore themselves, share themselves and, at the same time, be a part of something bigger than themselves. As a teacher or administrator, developing a solid relationship with the students is critical. Some students spend 7 to 10 hours a day at school, so it is important for both teachers and administrators to nurture that relationship. That’s nearly one-third of the day spent at our institutions and the main reason why our schools need to be communal. Every student must feel accepted and supported during the best and worst of times. They need to know they are being treated like a unique person, then as a student. When a student realizes a school is a haven for the positive, there is nothing they will not do to help maintain that feeling, enhance the community, and, simply, be the best person they can be.

Within this type of community, students feel valued and respected. They are engaged, expressing their opinions positively and openly, while attempting creative problem solving. Students are appreciated and celebrated for their individuality, taught to listen to themselves as well as listen attentively, thoughtfully and reasonably to the ideas and opinions of others. This can only be achieved if the students have the feeling of belonging. And that feeling of belonging can only take hold if the community is one where there is a conscious effort to establish and promote it.

Parents are an integral part of the community. Obviously, their support in many ways is critical to a school’s culture and sustainability. In the same way a school strives to make every student feel welcome and safe, the institution must make the same effort in regards to the parents. In a school of any size, the diversity of the parent body could be vast. Different cultures, religions, nationalities, and other preferences are all present in our schools. From those who can afford to pay the high tuition without financial aid, to those who qualify for almost full need, to those caught in the middle, they are all part of a school community. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the school to assure that all families feel supported and have the opportunity to become involved.

All too often, schools forget those families who cannot take time off from work to come to school events or serve on committees. Schools must provide programs and opportunities that can involve all community members during the course of the year. This, again, needs to be a conscious effort by the school. Whether it’s through the parent’s association, the athletic department, or the Board of Trustees, every single family must have some chance to participate and/or have their voice heard.

When people can converse, barriers are broken down, stereotypes are demystified, and insight replaces misconceptions. This strengthens the school as a community, allowing the needed interaction amongst the various constituents. This interaction is always a good thing for without it, factions can form which could destroy the very fabric and cohesiveness of an institution.

Teachers direct the engine of the school. Just as the executive chef manages the engine of a successful restaurant, the kitchen, the teachers manage the classroom. The teacher’s classroom prepares the food of learning. Having numerous years of experience in the classroom, I clearly understand the need for passionate teachers in the community. A passionate teacher has the welfare of the student at his/her core and the ability to encourage students to learn through doing. A teacher’s mission is to assist children with their intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical development, as well as encourage students to help each other. This helps create a community that builds its foundation on a strong, safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment.

Teachers are the heart of the school. When that heart is beating strongly, it means the teachers are invested. They have been involved in decision making, had their opinions heard and generally, had a level of transparency from the administration that allows them to fully understand the vision and mission of the school. This support and level of trust is imperative to a strong and creative educational environment.

The administrators of a school are the leaders of the institution. They must be a group where risk taking and thinking creatively is encouraged for everyone. An institution must not only provide stimulation for the entire community to discover and implement creative solutions and ideas, but also the motivation to aspire to something higher and better. People perform best when they take personal ownership of their surroundings and situations. To achieve this, effective delegation of both authority and responsibility must be part of the equation.

The administration allows members of the community to learn to be effective learners and contributors and, more importantly, leaders. This is not to say that the lead administrator, the Head of School, is totally hands-off. However, this approach allows the Head a greater freedom and flexibility to oversee the entire community, and act as a coach and mentor, leading through effective and positive influence, yet clearly recognizing that the ultimate responsibility for all decisions in an institution rests at the top.

Given the above, this next point has become extremely important to every independent school, as well as most business institutions. While I believe the sense of community is vastly important to the success of a school, none of the aforementioned areas will be possible unless the school is fiscally responsible and sustainable. Most schools have become complex financial enterprises, needing to be strategic in their approach both in how they spend money and how they raise money.

Marketing, positioning, branding, consumer mentality, accountability and a whole host of other business-like terms have found their way into reports and procedures as the process and expense of operating a school has changed and increased. Maintenance, food, books, insurance, and salaries have all increased over the years. Higher tuitions are coupled with the need for increased financial assistance, becoming a high priority as we witness the need to help families afford these fine educational communities. Schools, especially independent schools, face the challenge of being financially sustainable while meeting the challenges of maintaining quality programs, good teachers, and the diversity of the community.

To assist in keeping a school sustainable, the importance of developing that sense of community is vital. Part of sustaining an institution means having a certain level of transparency from the administration, specifically the Head of School. I believe it is extremely important that the various constituents of the school community fully understand the state of the school. Without the knowledge of the state of the school, members develop their own ideas which may or may not be accurate.

However, when people have accurate information and can make educated decisions, they will do what is necessary to stabilize and strengthen the school. It becomes a collaborative effort to design, implement, and promote the mission, vision, and culture of the school. It’s an expanded, cohesive concept of “advancement” and everyone from the development office to the business office to the parent’s association to the Board of Trustees, become focused on the single task of building a cooperative, sustainable community. When the academic, financial, demographic, and global dimensions of the school are clearly identified and understood, I believe there is very little that will encumber a school. Schools are complex, exciting, and interesting places.

The challenge of building a school community is an ongoing process. Each year, it is incumbent upon the school to take a close look at how it is achieving this goal. I’ve always looked forward to working in a school community that creates an atmosphere where conversation and inquiry can occur, and initiatives and challenges are resolved in a productive and collaborative way. A school where the leadership is grounded in moral foundations that project positive influence and motivation, scholarly stimulation, and personalized reflection, is a school where exciting and authentic pursuits and changes occur. It is also a school where the culture promotes what I call a “HIP” environment- Honesty, Integrity, Passion. The school culture instills these values in their students and community and they are empowered for life.

The Exceptional Qualities of a School Principal

The School Principal should possess special qualities of being a leader. These qualities will determine him/her of his/her qualifications in managing his/her people in the school vineyard. Without these extra-ordinary strengths or qualities of the school leader, he/she should not be worthy of his/her job as school leaders. This might be the reasons why there are school leaders who fail to functions successfully in their job as School Principal. If only all of School Leaders have the exceptional skills or qualities of being a leader, then we are absolutely sure that our educational system is on the way to standard and excellence.

Being the leader of an educational institution, the School Principal has to possess remarkable qualities which make him/her superb among others in an organization. These qualities are as follows:

a) Transparency
The School Principal should first be transparent in his/her work as school leader. He/She should have the clean conscience of facing the night and day with all the honesty inside and outside of himself/herself. The one that has the drive to teach his/her people to bring back the value of honesty because he/ she is a model of such virtue. Before the School Principal could mandate honesty and transparency among his/her people, he/she should be a paragon of such virtue for others to follow. The old adage “Honesty is the best Policy” is used by the Department of Education (DepEd) as a living reminder to all school leaders in the educational vineyard. Posting this adage to every classroom in the school cascades the virtue of honesty from the school leader to the students. For that, transparency becomes the aftermath of honesty which the school leader should possess.

b) Good Visionary
The School Principal should visualize about the future of the school. This kind of special quality is considered an exceptional one because not all of us can have a good visionary gift. He or she can be a fortune- teller who could guess what happen in the future. But unlike the fortune- teller, the School Principal can guess what will happen in a month or year to come through his/ her anticipating skills, decision- making skills, extra-sensory skill and through his/her experience. My School Principal almost never sleep for the night because even she is about to sleep or even she is already sleeping, she is still bringing with her the plans and the future of her school. I even told her once ” I am sure you are not sleeping Ma’am because every slits and slats of the school issues and concerns you have all the prepared solutions”. She replied “We should always dream. We have to dream big, bigger than our dream!” To prove that, while others including me were already snoring in the deepest silent night, she sent text messages to our cellphones about instructions of our job as coordinators, teaching personnel even to PTA officers of the school. That is a school principal’s additional quality to ponder with.

c) Risk Taker
Another quality of a school leader is being a risk taker not for himself/herself but for his/her constituents. The best leader is the one who tries to cross the unchartered seas and see for himself what lies beyond. This is another exceptional skill of being a leader. Most of the educational leaders are obedient and they conform to the norm of the department. But among those many, someone has to be brave enough to wave his might and risk his job just for the improvement of his/her school and people. The very good example of how the School Principal is risking his career is his/her decision to divert funds for another projects. This is a violation of department’s policy. But sometimes, a leader should do the diversion for school improvement and students’ academic improvement too. The School Principal’s role is not really an easy one because if his/ her decision won’t give the right outcomes, then he/she would find himself/herself in jail. However, many of the School Leaders become successful because they have with them the quality of being a risk taker. They are taking risks in their abrupt decision on matters of immediate solution to a problem. Example to this is sending to hospital an ailing student or a student who meets an accident inside the school premises without parent’s permit. Another is to report to Department of Social Worker and Development (DSWD) personnel of student’s case of parental abuse and to uniformed men of drug addiction problem. These are only few instances of the risk- taking decisions of School Principal in his/her journey of leadership.

d) An Eye and Heart for his/her People
The School Principal should capitalize his/her own personnel. He/She should know who his /her potential personnel are. He/She should not leave those non-performing ones but tries to think of remedies/ solutions in making these people in his/her vineyard the best as possible. While giving better opportunities to those the performing ones, best challenges or opportunities will also be given to the later. Aside from that, the School leader should think of what joy, comfort, reward, incentives and award he/she could exhaust from his/her leadership for the betterment of his/her human capital. The feeling of self-awareness of people’s emotion should be profoundly considered by School Principal in order that the harmonious relationship exists within the organization. School Principal should accept his/her weakness and should listen to his/her people so that everyone has a place in an organization. By this, School Principal should not have only an eye for the school problems but an eye for his/her people’s potentials, emotions and needs.