An increase in social-emotional support for students as well as opportunities for them to exercise leadership skills is paying off at a Chicago high school.
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Story Posted October 23, 2012. Results updated November 18, 2014.
Today’s Woodbridge (VA) Middle School in no way resembles the school that existed in 2005. Then, the students were mostly White and few qualified for the free and reduced-price meals program; today, there is no majority group among the 1,038 students and almost 50% of the students qualify for such support. Then, student achievement was average; now, it is significantly above average as measured by the Virginia state assessments. The story of the school’s breakthrough success is the story of a strong leader who works collaboratively with an entire school staff to teach each student.
Because of district boundary shifts in 2004, Woodbridge experienced a rapid demographic change but the entire staff felt passionately that stereotypes about poverty and expectations would not enter their building. To support their beliefs, the staff members and administrators knew that they would need to modify their instructional practices to meet a broader range of student needs. Working together, they scoured the research for what would work best for their students. As a group, they decided that all changes would be research-based and purposeful.
After a year of study, the faculty decided to restructure the school’s teams to offer a single-sex option along with traditional coed teams at each grade level in core courses. Their study of brain research convinced them that all instructional activities had to be differentiated, and that if they were, student engagement would increase and would be followed by improved achievement. Parents also were involved in the process and participated in the decision making, believing that single-sex classes would be appropriate for some students. Six years after the implementation, Woodbridge parents remain staunch defenders of having that option.
The whole leadership team presented its change proposal to Steven Walts, the superintendent of Prince William County (VA) Schools, who supported the program because it was research-based and highly collaborative to ensure sustainability. To support the plan, he and Woodbridge Principal Skyles Calhoun committed to providing ongoing professional development that would enhance teachers’ instructional delivery skills and build instructional leadership throughout the school. Today the single-sex classes are fully subscribed and all teams are performing at high levels.
A collaborative philosophy permeates the school. Teams rule the building. There are grade-level teams and content-specific teams as well as a literacy team and a motivation team. The faculty members meet regularly, and the principal’s advisory council meets monthly. The schedule supports teacher collaboration and joint planning. Instruction is designed to meet the diverse learning styles of the students. The purpose—the overarching focus—of all of the meetings is to improve students’ academic and social-emotional growth.
The relationships that are forged by the adults working together are reflected in the relationships that the adults have with the students and that the students have with one another. The students are acutely aware of how their teachers treat them; especially how Woodbridge is different than their previous school experiences. Calhoun proudly points out that the positive school climate is reflected in his students’ happy faces. Everyone associated with the school feels that these relationships have changed student outcomes—all students are fully engaged in their instruction. The results make Woodbridge one of the highest-performing middle schools in the state of Virginia.
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Copyright 2012 National Association of Secondary School Principals. For more information on NASSP products and services to promote excellence in middle level and high school leadership, visit www.nassp.org. Reposted with permission.