Weston Youth Services use space at Hurlbutt Elementary School for Weston’s One World (WOW) after school programs. The space is also used by the Daisy/Girl Scouts and several summer camps. For the most part, the children that access these programs are Hurlbutt students and are supervised by Town employees. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the district tightened up its security protocols for all school buildings. This included managing access to our schools in a more controlled, monitored manner. Since all sections of the school, with the exception of the Senior Center, are needed for instruction, we cannot currently secure sections of the school to be used for before-school activities without additional security and expense, making these options less desirable.
The district studied this issue when it restructured the start and end time of the school day in 2009. At that time, the high school had a start time of 7:25 a.m. However, because the district had three different start and end times for its four schools, there were many high school students that were picked up at the bus stop as early as 6:15 a.m. Recognizing the need to provide additional time for teens to sleep, to improve the efficiency of the transportation, and enhance safe arrivals and dismissals on campus, the district divided the district into two tiers. The middle and high schools are on the first tier, with a start time of 7:45. The intermediate and elementary schools are on the second tier, with a start time of 8:30. To provide additional sleep time for students on the first tier, the district established a policy whereby the earliest pick-up time would be 6:50 a.m. Moving the start time later in the morning for the first tier, would push elementary drop-off during the winter months to periods of limited light. The district has tried to capitalize on the “sweet spot” of schooling hours that also considers student safety at school bus stops in our New England latitude.
We have recently participated in a Tri-State Consortium evaluation of our K-12 mathematics program. Educators from high-performing districts in the Tri-State regions visited Weston to review our program as “critical friends” in order to provide us with feedback to enhance math teaching and learning. One of the areas that we requested feedback from the visiting committee was on the differences between the standard and honors courses. Their findings will be summarized in a written report anticipated in May 2015 and will be presented at an upcoming Board of Education meeting.
The high school administration takes a proactive approach to maintaining a safe school environment which must be drug and alcohol free. Our health curriculum focuses on making positive, healthy choices while helping our students understand the dangers and negative effects of substance abuse. Our athletic director and coaches also reinforce the importance of our student-athletes remaining drug and alcohol free. Our school counseling staff members work to connect students who struggle with substance issues with appropriate services. We actively monitor students throughout the day. Our faculty and staff, including security guards, custodians, and administrators frequently patrol bathrooms and hallways. We keep certain bathrooms locked during low-usage times to eliminate opportunities for student misbehavior. We have installed surveillance cameras in key areas throughout the building, balancing student privacy concerns with our obligation to maintain a safe, secure school climate. Despite our best efforts, we have had a few students make poor choices regarding drugs and alcohol in school. Such incidents are addressed according to the Board of Education policies, maintaining student privacy as required by law. The school works with the family to make sure that the students involved get the help that they need so that they can return to school as productive members of the school community.
Weston High School has established specific guidelines concerning academic expectations and protocols, including academic performance, homework, and grading and annually details these point in the Weston High School Handbook (2014-2015).
Students working collaboratively in groups, both in and out of the classroom, under specific teacher direction and supervision, has become an integral component of learning in the 21st century classroom. This instructional strategy has been the topic of departmental professional development, and its continued implementation in the high school classroom is consistent with research on the topic:
Weston High School teachers use group projects across disciplines in coordination with a variety of individualized assessments to ensure a comprehensive approach to the evaluation of student learning. The group work itself is tailored to meet course requirements and to recognize the particular learning needs of an individual class.
The assigning of relevant homework is essential to provide a continuation of concepts addressed in the classroom, to foster an independent, self-motivated approach to learning, and to establish the value of research to support learning. Weston High School’s homework guidelines as outlined in the Handbook include the following:
At the beginning of each course, each teacher shall give students an outline of the requirements for every course. Homework counts as a part of a student’s grade in all courses. In academic courses, students should expect 2.5 – 5 hours/week for each course. Honors courses require considerably more out-of-school study/homework than standard academic level classes. (p. 21)
The Weston Public Schools Board of Education policy on homework (policy #6154) is referenced in the Handbook, pages 70 & 71. This policy is consistent with research recommendation concerning the nature, advantages, and amount of home to a comprehensive, challenging high school experience.
Grading guidelines are clearly delineated in the Handbook and provide a standard for teachers, students, and parents to reference throughout the school year. These guidelines also establish a process for grade review should students and parents believe that one is necessary:
Expectations and reporting: Overall evaluation in a course is assessed in a number of ways: class participation, homework, attendance, written work, performance assessments, and subjective and objective testing at intervals during the course. Course grades are an average of quarter and exam grades. The percentages shown for exam grades are maximums. (p. 20); and
General concern regarding a given teacher’s standards:
The individuals should meet with the teacher to explain their concerns and to hear the teacher’s explanations.
If the individuals are dissatisfied with the given explanation, they should request a meeting with the teacher and the curriculum instructional leader.
The curriculum instructional leader may call on other teachers of similar courses to attend this or a succeeding meeting to provide a broader base for determining the validity of concerns.
If, as a result of this meeting, it is agreed that some changes may need to be made, the curriculum instructional leader will work with the teacher on whatever the perceived problem/solutions might be. Final decision about grades is the responsibility and domain of the classroom teacher. (p. 23)
Midterm assessments are designed and the results are analyzed within the different departments with teacher partners of the same course. The administrators and school counselors also review the data of the students who receive D or F in their courses throughout the school year. A recent review of 200 report cards, 50 per grade level, conducted by the principal indicated that a clear majority of students in that sample earned grades higher than D and F on their midterm and semester grades. Depending on the teacher, students’ quarter grades are more holistic reflecting homework, classroom participation, and multiple types of formative assessments. Summative assessments are challenging measuring students’ mastery of particular content and concepts at that point in the course.
A school climate survey was completed this fall with 32.7% of high school students responding and nearly the same percentage of parents. The data speaks to the climate of the school and the relationship between staff and students. Here are some noteworthy points.
The data indicated that 73% of the parents feel there are trusted adults in the school who their child can go to for help all or most of the time. A clear majority of the students felt the same way with the highest percentage being 72.6% of the seniors. High school parents feel that the adults in their child’s school treat them fairly. For All or Most of the time the results are as follows: 86.8% freshman, 91.4% sophomore, 87.7 % junior and 96.2% senior parents. Students also feel that the adults in the school treat them fairly. For All or Most of the time the respondents are as follows: 83.6% freshmen, 84% sophomores, 74.4% juniors and 83.9% seniors.
Perhaps, senior and co-president of the school, Jackson Marvin, described it best when he spoke at our transition night to our current eighth grade families. Here is an excerpt from his remarks.
I think what really makes our school and our teachers so special is that everything is centered on growth. Some schools are focused on scores and testing and results, all of which Weston does well in, but it’s not about that. The teachers are here to help every single student grow--whether it be intellectually or otherwise. In my four years I’ve taken 28 different classes with 22 different teachers in a variety of subjects, and not once have I felt uncomfortable or scared approaching a teacher about a question or concern of mine. I think that’s really remarkable, that I can look back on my high school career and have a difficult time finding the “one teacher” that inspired me to work harder and do more, because every single teacher I’ve had has provided me that message. Don’t get me wrong, some of the teachers are intimidating because some of them are so smart and quick you kind of second guess asking them something out of fear of looking stupid, but I know that every teacher at WHS would be insulted if you didn’t reach out when you needed help. I mean I’ve never met a teacher that didn’t vocally advertise their extra help hours, which are at least twice a week; never met a teacher who discouraged high ambitions; most importantly I’ve never had a teacher who tolerated less than my best. I know I’ve never worked harder in a class than I did last year for APUSH, but when I walked out of that class I’d never felt more confident in my abilities as a student. There will be times in your child’s years when they say “Mom/dad, this class is SO hard this teacher doesn’t like me”. And that’s false, but also true. There are classes in school that I’ve taken that have made me want to give up and stop, but my teachers have actually approached me and offered their help in making a brighter student and mentally stronger person. These teachers are truly special, because the mentality across the board is “if they fail I fail, and that is unacceptable.”
The practice of not returning an assessment permanently to the student does not mean that the grade is more important than the learning. Our teachers spend a great deal of time assessing student work, writing feedback, and reviewing this feedback in class. Students are also encouraged to meet with the teacher individually for help and assessment review. Teachers’ office hours are posted on the front page of the school website. In addition, parents are also welcome to come in to the school to meet with teachers and review assessments. Posting grades continuously on PowerSchool also makes students’ progress transparent to parents. Teachers focus on instruction in the classroom and assessments that align with this instruction. Our assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of critical content and concepts in our courses and inform future instruction based on student performance.
Midterm and final assessments are not returned to the student. Teachers have different practices with their other assessments depending on the discipline and type. Some teachers may not return all assessments for students to keep, but they will make themselves available to meet with students and parents to discuss assessments and review student progress on any assessment. Learning is clearly more important than grades. However, in a highly competitive high school, students’ academic transcripts are a component of the college application process and it is inevitable that the students focus on their grades and GPA regardless of whether they have their assessment returned permanently.
We have looked at the possibility of expanding our Special Education pre-school program and/or offering a regular education pre-school program. We are continuing to explore the possibility but there are areas of concern that still need additional research. Although we may have some additional space at HES, the space may need to be adapted for pre-school children by adding bathrooms in the classroom and some other accommodations. In addition, we would want to look closely at the pre-school programs in the area to assess the impact on them should we move in that direction. Secondly, we would want to look at their enrollment trends. While there is discussion of possible federal funding, it appears to be targeted initially at more urban districts and so the costs of a pre-school program would need to be reviewed as there would be staffing, material and furniture needs that would increase the current tuition rate of our program significantly. However, we will continue to look at the feasibility of additional pre-school classrooms over the next few years.
During the school day we continue to offer math and writing enrichment opportunities at WIS. We are looking at how we schedule students for enrichment to use our staffing in the most efficient manner; however, there are no plans to increase staffing at this time.