Reflections on my tenure as the M-CHS principal

As I have accepted the role as M-CHS principal, many people, including myself, felt that it was going to be a huge undertaking. In my reading and research, I have come to understand that high schools are the hardest schools in which to create change. As I reflect back on my first few weeks, I realize that change at any level is difficult if there is a set culture already in place. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised to find that many of the high school staff really want to collaborate and have input into how we can make this high school a beacon of educational excellence in the Southwest. To help with this, I am offering some explanations to the community of what is going on, along with positives that have occurred and will continue to occur at our high school.

Let’s start with accreditation. Frankly, it has scared many people. Be not afraid! Yes, we have a great deal of work to do, but here is how we plan to create our vision of a great high school. Accreditation is a four-part score assigned to schools as well as the district in regard to their ability to educate students at a high level. We receive ratings based on achievement level, student growth, the achievement gap, and post-secondary readiness/graduation rate. The high school plays a large part in the district’s overall accreditation rating. The high school accounts for 1/3 of each of the first three areas and totally accounts for the fourth area that gives the district its rating.

Student achievement is measured by the students’ proficiency ratings on the state end-of-year test (TCAP). This area is weighted, but not as heavily as the other areas. To improve the M-CHS rating in this area, we are going to focus on a process we are currently calling “data teams” to ensure that students are making adequate progress in math, reading, writing, and science.

The condensed version of this process is that we will test the students before the unit to understand their strengths and weaknesses. We will then plan instruction to build on the strengths and fill in the holes that are causing the weaknesses. Throughout the units, we will constantly pull data to make sure that students are learning the material and make certain when we get to the end of the unit exam all students will know the material and be able to pass. This is the primary focus of the work we will be doing district-wide on Wednesdays during our early release time.

Student growth measures the amount of academic progress each student makes during the year relative to all of the other students in Colorado who had the same score on the previous year’s test. Using these data, the state identifies an “achievement gap” for any group within the school which performs significantly worse than the school average. If students of low socioeconomic disadvantaged backgrounds and the non-socioeconomically disadvantaged students’ level of proficiency have a difference of more than five percent, then we have an achievement gap. Both student growth and achievement gaps are factors in the accreditation process.

M-CHS currently has several concerning achievement gaps, and has years of positive growth mixed with years of low growth. To address both student growth and the achievement gap, we are looking at putting in place a set of interventions or safeguards for our students. Our first safeguard is to put in place tutoring during school for every student who is failing a class. As the year passes along, students who continue to fail, despite tutoring, will receive other assistance to make sure that M-CHS achieves its mission: a quality education for all!

The last accreditation areas are post-secondary readiness and graduation rate. What many don’t understand is that the graduation rate of MCHS (69.3 percent) is not that far off from Durango High School (74.4 percent), with the state cut line set at 80 percent. Durango, as many know, is a community of considerably more affluent parents and students, often a predictor of student scores in research literature. This is not a great comparison, but we must face the facts that many communities, regardless of wealth, struggle with getting adolescent teens to focus on school and to value education.

To boost our graduation rate, we offered credit recovery this summer in terms of summer school for freshman and sophomores in June. We are offering credit recovery for juniors in July to make a push for those students that have not yet gained the necessary credits to be able to graduate next May. A second wave of classes will be offered before school throughout the year to again boost our graduation rate for next year. This process will have teachers and counselors assigned to these students to aid them in the process of getting the necessary credits to, most importantly, do right by our students in helping them attain their high school diploma. This, inevitably, will boost our graduation rates. We will also be offering a robust ACT preparation program to juniors before they take the ACT in the spring. This will help our students attain higher “post-secondary readiness” ratings.

Overall, our high school has a solid foundation to ensure we never lose our accreditation status. We have a plan to make sure we are above the cut line by the end of the 2012-2013 school year and then make a push to make our high school one of distinction in the following years. Many of these items mentioned have been ideas of the staff, not just new leadership with a new direction. With those staff to which I have talked, almost all asked many great questions, offering ideas for improvement, and were excited to see the plan in place. Next year we will have teams assigned to each of these improvement areas to ensure students do truly receive a great education at our high school.

All we need is for belief in our effort to increase and confidence to build as we push to create a beacon high school in our part of the country. Our focus this next year is our mission statementm which can’t be mentioned enough: We want “A Quality Education for All.”

Many of you might ask, “That is great for the students who are struggling to make great progress, but what about the students that are above average or those that excel in school?” More on this will come in future postings. Feel free to reply with any questions to my district email: Thanks for your time and support.

Jason Wayman is the incoming principal of Montezuma-Cortez High School.

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