By Gene Roundtree
One problem that my small learning community (all of the academic teachers that share our group of students) at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School has focused on is the school performance of students who have not passed MCAS tests or are in danger of not passing these tests during their 10th grade year. We wanted to investigate the effect of problematic absenteeism (school absences and skipped classes) on the performance of a number of students within our cluster and to see if student performance would improve if we mobilized resources to better communicate with parents and improve school attendance.
In order to better support these students we designed an inquiry project in collaboration with the Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE). The inquiry project involved the creation of a three-tiered intervention plan to support all students, but provides more focused support and parent communication for students who do not meet attendance/performance expectations: (1) the collection of attendance and student performance data analyzed by BPE so that we could respond to trends in the data; (2) the adoption of a common grading/student information system used by all of the teachers in the cluster; and (3) the organization of school and city resources to support these targeted students.
We did face some significant challenges while designing and implementing this intervention plan. The first issue was time. We were able to engage in this work because our cluster is organized as a small learning community. We had to find common planning time for teachers to meet. We decided to use our non-contractual time planning periods, which worked only because we were willing to sacrifice that hour every week in addition to the time the group facilitator had to spend planning meetings. We looked at our schedules and decided to meet during our overlapping planning periods, which still required us to use substitute teachers in two classes for our meeting period. We were able get some support from the administration to pay for the substitute teachers.
The second challenge we faced was finding and receiving funding for a student information system, and then keeping that system updated with contact information for our students and their parents. In the age of cell phones, numbers change more frequently and at times are out-of-service, which forces us to constantly update contact information. We chose Snap Grades as our student information system, and we were able to get funding for it (about $40 per teacher for the year) from our school.
This model demonstrates both the importance and the benefits gained by developing a professional culture among teachers, administrators, guidance staff, mental health practitioners and social workers that allows these professionals to collaborate to support student performance and school attendance. I think the model also demonstrates the wide range of inputs that are necessary to improve student performance, and that many of these inputs take place outside of the school. The model also demonstrates how non-profit organizations in the education space, like the Boston Plan for Excellence, can contribute to student performance by providing teachers with strategic support and training.
Eugene Roundtree is a 10th grade biology teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Boston, MA.
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