School Officials Propose Changes for Heights High Next Year
Freshman experience, blocked scheduling, an extra period and shorter lunches are among the recommendations
This is the second in a series of articles about the concerns and accomplishments highlighted in Superintendent Douglas Heuer's State of the Schools speech Jan. 26.
Cleveland Heights High split into five small schools in 2004 and 2005 as part of the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative, and the hope was that student achievement, engagement and graduation rates would improve.
But school officials said results have not met their expectations. Students aren't taking all classes within their small schools, achievement has tapered off and about a quarter of freshmen are struggling.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer has spoke about his concerns regarding the high school at recent board meetings, and he addressed this again in his State of the Schools speech on Jan. 26. He explained the decision to eliminate one small school next year.
High school officials presented specific recommendations for next year to the Board of Education on Jan. 18 following the announcement that the P.R.I.D.E. school will close at the end of the year.
The small-school model works best when students identify with and take their classes in their individual schools. But 35 percent of first-year students don’t take their core classes — English, math, science and social studies — in their small school, said Jeffery Talbert, assistant superintendent.
That number only increases with grade level. And 20 to 25 percent of ninth-graders are repeat freshmen, he said.
Instead of adding enough faculty to teach core classes in each small school, which would strain the budget, the district is closing a school and focusing on freshmen, Talbert said.
High school principals met with the 344 students of P.R.I.D.E. (Producing Responsible Individuals Dedicated to Excellence) in ninth, 10th and 11th grade Jan. 26 to tell them more about the individual schools that they can choose from next year, said Angee Shaker, director of communications and community engagement for the district. Students had to choose their new school — Legacy, R.E.A.L., Mosaic Experience or Renaissance — by Monday.
P.R.I.D.E.'s principal, Joseph Nohra, will lead the effort to create what school officials are calling the “freshman experience.”
The freshman experience was created to ease the transition between middle school and high school. School officials want to ensure that all first-year students take core classes within their specific small school to improve achievement and student-teacher relationships.
“Many times we hear ... that the two toughest grades are the sixth and the ninth grades. From someone who truly loves freshmen, truly loves ninth-graders, I can tell you that I believe that the ninth grade is the toughest year, the toughest adjustment," Nohra said.
Among other initiatives, the school wants to expand mentoring programs, include more service opportunities and develop a new schedule structure where groups of ninth-graders have the same core classes in their small school and move together between periods for half the day. Core class teachers will also have the same groups of students, and ideally classrooms will be close together, Nohra said.
This schedule gives teachers flexibility, Nohra said. For example, if teachers decide that the students need more English instruction that day, or want to do a special project in science, they can stay in one class for an extra period or two.
Adding periods for the teams of teachers to plan, collaborate and discuss students’ needs is also a priority and will be possible with the new schedule, Nohra said.
The district is also considering using blocked scheduling, which has already been implemented in middle school math and English classes. Students would take English three days a week for two periods or 90 minutes, for example, instead of taking it for one period or 45 minutes every day, Talbert said.
Blocked scheduling saves time in the classroom, as a portion of a single class period is reserved for taking attendance and collecting materials like homework, Talbert said.
One more class period, reducing lunch
One more class period and reducing the lunch period from 50 to 30 minutes is also being proposed.
Adding a period will give freshmen who didn’t pass all of their core classes an extra opportunity to graduate on time, he said, and students can also take more electives.
Other proposals include expanding a program where high school teachers tutor incoming freshmen during the summer to prepare them for ninth grade, and specific recommendations for students with special needs, such as having the middle school intervention specialists sit in on high school classes so they know how to prepare students for the rigor of ninth grade and beyond.
The exact cost or cost savings of these recommended changes was not provided.
The 25 P.R.I.D.E. teachers will find out more about decisions for next year after student enrollment and teacher certification is evaluated, according to the district's website.