Working together to transition freshmen & transform schools from the bottom up!
A year or so ago I had the opportunity to make a couple of trips to Portland, Oregon to work with the faculty and staff of David Douglas High School, Oregon's largest high school. They wanted to build a Freshman Transition program. Some of their faculty members had joined this site and had also read my book, The Ninth Grade Opportunity. They decided that they wanted to build a transition program that utilized a team approach and that addressed the essential components of transition.
Recently, their program coordinator, Maureen Utz, sent me the following thoughts in an email. I felt they were worth sharing here on her behalf as I'm sure some of you can identify with what they have experienced.
As you know, DDHS did a lot of consideration when researching and deciding upon our model. It continues to evolve and we hope to have a wrap-around 10th grade Academy to further support those students struggling after Freshman Academy. Our model is departmentalized, and currently has science, math and English teachers. We added our second Academy this past fall to support a broader spectrum of 9th graders (we have over 850 students entering).
One problem we have is that by delineating between pre-Alg kids and Alg kids we have inadvertently created a "challenged" academy versus a grade-level academy. We hope to rectify this by using health, English and science in future years. This delineation has also caused some staffing issues as being on the "challenged" team can be viewed as a more difficult assignment. We don't want there to be stigimitazation amongst academies.
There has been a little push back from other 9th grade teachers, primarily due to the fact that their loads did increase a bit with the Academies. Due to our budget situation, our school was forced to absorb 31 positions that were eliminated last year, making core classes large at about 40 to 50. Some electives have 60 or more. Any further burdens are extremely painful for teachers.
Despite these challenges, we have had success. Our student performance within the academy was improved over the general 9th grade population. Students had better attendance, overall GPA, generally earned 6.0 credits (a marker related to on-time graduation) and had fewer behavioral incidents. We will watch them throughout their 10th grade to see if their 9th grade experience carries forward.
The departmental academy fit us best, as it is embedded without further personnel costs. Teams have been carefully chosen, but with a sense that flexibility and an ability to "opt out" may occur. The Smaller Learning Community grant expires at the end of this year, therefore, any further sponsoring or underwriting is uncertain at this point. Of course, the federal fiscal issues continue to be up-in-the-air, making any further grants very uncertain.
Anyway, we continue to talk about, listen and react to our parents, students and teachers. We hope the model will continue.