Paving the way for high achievement of all students

Brittany Haley didn’t let having a baby her sophomore year of high school stop her from continuing her education.

Now the Bremerton High School senior is on track to graduate in June. Wednesday, she shared her post-high school plans with a sophomore class through her culminating senior project.

“Up until last year I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Haley told the sophomores. “Now I want to be a chef and own my own restaurant.”

Haley, 18, shared in her presentation some of the high school classes she had been successful in and her plans to go to culinary school and marry her boyfriend after she graduates. She presented to a sophomore Connections class, an advising-type class that meets weekly. All students are enrolled in Connections every year they are at the school and focus on different topics as they get closer to graduating.

Because Bremerton High School has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress five years in a row, the Bremerton School District is required to create a school restructuring plan to implement next school year.

Adequate Yearly Progress is the state’s system to measure schools and districts’ achievement in math and reading as required by federal law through the No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001.

At a Bremerton School Board last week, faculty and administrators presented a proposed improvement plan to the board that focuses on enhancing the positive programs that currently serve students. One of those points is with the Connections class. Another is proposing school-wide AVID exposure.

Advancement Via Individual Determination, more commonly known as AVID, is a program that teaches students good note-taking skills, how to study collaboratively and how to navigate through the curriculum that currently not all students are able to enroll in because it is an elective.

Other ideas to the plan include a late start on Wednesdays, project-based science class for freshmen with a STEM focus and phasing into more required credits to graduate by 2016.

Currently, students meet with their Connections advisor, a teacher that takes on that role, every Wednesday for 30 minutes, said Chris Swanson, career and college counselor at the high school. In the proposed plan, Knight Skills class would replace it and students would meet three days a week and the class would have credits associated with it. Connections does not have a grade or credit attached to it, said Swanson. Having a .25 credit per semester attached to Knight Skills would have both students and teachers become more accountable for the work, he added.

Knight Skills would incorporate elements of Navigation 101, AVID, work-based learning and career and college readiness. Although students are divided into their “career path” whether it be business or engineering or the arts for Connections, in the current 30-minute a week class, there hasn’t been time to differentiate the curriculum, said Swanson.

“We’ve made the attempt but we haven’t had the time to get to that level,” he said Monday.

With Knight Skills, the goal would be for more of a “engineering and technology” focus for students who plan go down that career path after high school, or any other career path. Regardless of students’ plans to go to a four-year college or trade school or do something else after high school, if they have the same interest area, they will be grouped in the same Knight Skills class.

Swanson’s one concern with the proposal is that with Knight Skills, students may not have the same teacher as their Knight Skills advisor every year, whereas in Connections, most students have the same teacher for three years.

For seven years, AVID has been a graded elective class at the high school where students learn foundation skills they can apply to all classes such as Cornell format for note taking and working in groups to study or answer a question. Although Swanson said some people have an association that AVID is for students on a pre-four-year college track, the skills learned in AVID are useful for everyone and that’s why the school hopes to expose all students to it next school year.

“It’s good for everyone whether they are going to Harvard or a state school or preparing for PSNS,” said Swanson. “It makes sure every kid receives this foundation and that it’s a common language used in all classes.”

Half of the staff at the high school are trained in AVID, said Principal John Polm. If the proposed plan is implemented as is, the second half of the staff would need to be trained in AVID. It is not something that if one teacher already knows it, can directly train another one in. Because the district has decided to apply Title I dollars — federal money for schools with high numbers of low-income students — only to the elementary schools next school year, the high school will be short about $400,000 from that funding, said Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman. An additional $200,000 will also be reduced from Learning Assistance Program funding, state money, Glaser added.

Because the high school will not be receiving federal dollars, its restructuring plan is actually an improvement plan because a restructure implies that federal money is received. Money to implement the improvement plan will come from the district’s general fund, Polm said. Mountain View Middle School is in its first school year of its restructure plan after also failing AYP multiple years in a row.

Polm said currently Title I dollars for the high school go toward AVID and Drawbridge, a credit-retrieval program, as well as support classes for students failing state assessments. Title I money also supports 1.35 staff and an additional $11,000 in staff training, Polm said.

“We need to determine what’s working and possibly lose some programs,” Polm said.

Haley said without participating in Drawbridge her sophomore year, she probably would have failed a lot of classes and would be struggling to graduate on time. The program allowed her to keep up with the material at her own pace, she said.

By shortening intercom announcement times as well as other changes, the total number of student-teacher contact time will increase, according to the proposed plan. Next school year there could be a total of 376 minutes — including regular classes and Knight Skills — from the 305 minutes in the current schedule.

“Time isn’t the whole answer, but it’s part of the answer,” said Polm.

Through the process of creating the improvement plan, staff as well as parents have been involved. For the most part, Ivaly Alexander, who will have a daughter in ninth grade next school year, said she is supportive of what has been discussed.

“I think what they’re trying to do is connect with all the students,” Alexander said. “They’re trying to do some good organization skills within the daily structure, I support all of that.”

In addition to changes to include Knight Skills and AVID to all students, the school’s proposal includes requiring all students to take a financial literacy class as a graduation requirement. With this added requirement, the total credits required to graduate would increase. Currently the class is offered as an elective to mostly juniors and seniors. Polm said about 90 to 120 students take the class a year. The high school has 1,230 students total this school year.

In a survey given to last year’s seniors, 54 percent said financial literacy is “very important” to their future. From the same students, 86 percent answered that all seniors should be required to take a financial literacy class. The class teaches students the basics of saving and investing to budgeting, career choices and taxes among other items.

Carrie Bassett, who will have a freshman daughter at the high school next school year, said she supports the Knight Skills class and the incorporation of AVID to all students.

“They’re not doing anything so drastic,” Bassett said. “It makes me really optimistic and encouraging.”

The one physical difference students may see next school year is the ability to sleep in on Wednesdays. The plan proposes a late start day on Wednesdays rather than an early release as it is now. First period would begin at 9:30 a.m. and sixth period would end at 2:35 p.m. on Wednesdays, according to the proposal.

Though many like to sleep in, some students don’t have a preference on whether they start late or not.

“I’d love to sleep in but I love to get out early,” said Abbi Kempf, a junior at the high school.

Bassett supports the late start idea as well as the plan as a whole but does have some concerns. She hopes that when parent input is offered, their comments are weighed into the process. She thought that with the middle school’s restructuring process, input was not weighed heavily and there was a lack of communication that left some parents surprised at the beginning of this school year when some changes they thought had occurred, did not happen — such as all students being able to take an elective class.

“I really hope they follow through with what they say,” Bassett said. “The school board needs to step up. They need to look at what the district administration is doing. They are there for checks and balances in my opinion, and if that’s not happening, that concerns me.”

Polm said monthly parent meetings on the improvement plan will continue until the plan is approved by the school board. Approval would likely occur in May or June, said Glaser.

“Change is hard — when working in any system,” said Polm.


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