Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

System of Supports for Students Leads to Other School Change: Evanston Township High School Embarked on an Initiative to Address Struggling Students and Discovered a Process for More Widespread Collaboration and School Improvement

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

System of Supports for Students Leads to Other School Change: Evanston Township High School Embarked on an Initiative to Address Struggling Students and Discovered a Process for More Widespread Collaboration and School Improvement

Article excerpt

The joy in the auditorium on Institute Day was infectious. The superintendent was sharing great news with the staff--student test scores were up. Not only were they up, they were the second highest in over three decades and, in some groups, the gains were around 15 percentage points. Teachers, administrators, and board members were standing and cheering as the superintendent revealed the data, subgroup by subgroup. Staff felt an enormous lift at seeing tangible results after a year of grueling work to change how the school was approaching decision making, relationships, and the deep-seated issues that have long been a part of the school.

While the improved test scores were fulfilling, the massive school reform that began in 2006 never focused on test scores. The intent had been to improve the learning of every student through higher expectations, increased rigor, and increased personalization. Because they were under a restructuring plan with the state, Evanston Township High School continues to be concerned with meeting NCLB standards, but staff did not expect an improvement in test scores so quickly. As it turned out, the scores were an ancillary result and, in fact, only the beginning of the real change expected over the five years that followed implementation.

The call for change at Evanston Township High School (ETHS) came into full gear when a new superintendent, Eric Witherspoon, encouraged educators, students, and the community to follow their instincts and draw on their diverse experience and knowledge. In fall 2006, the principal and superintendent asked science teacher Steven Speight to assemble and lead a group of educators to examine what might improve their work with the most struggling students.

At the time, nearly 1,000 of the 2,950 students earned at least one D or F by the end of the first quarter. Many teachers knew through anecdotal experience that many of these low grades were avoidable. A lack of real collaboration at the large school was letting students fall through the cracks. Speight's group drafted a proposal to change that. The new System of Supports (SOS) would be a comprehensive system that:

* Established new standards for how students earned privileges;

* Rearranged the school day; and

* Prescribed interventions for the most struggling students.

Although ETHS expects to realize even greater changes over the next several years, the school already has identified some lessons that it can share with other educators.

LESSON #1: LEAD BY SERVING AND EMPOWER OTHERS TO MAKE CHOICES.

By February 2006, the 12 members of the initial SOS discussion group had met so many times that their classrooms suffered. The work was exciting and grueling, a taste of the many discussions that were yet to happen throughout the school. SOS members were discussing philosophies of teaching, attitudes of colleagues, general school culture, expectations for students, expectations for teachers, ways to improve hiring, the establishment of a system of earned privileges for students, possibilities for better technology, and the general future direction of the school. The group was beginning to discuss the school's failure to educate students of color as successfully as white students.

Evanston Township High School

Evanston, Illinois

Enrollment: 2,942 students

Grades: 9-12

Demographics:

 Ethnicity
  White                   46.2%
  Black                   35.6%
  Hispanic                12.0%
  Asian                    3.3%
  Multiracial              3.1%
  Native American          0.1%
Free/reduced-price lunch  38.7%

http://www.eths.k12.il.us/

By March, the group was ready to present its ideas to the superintendent. He reacted simply by saying, "Let's do as much of this as we can as soon as we can." Slightly stunned by the unexpected green light, the group prepared to present the concept to colleagues the next week during an all-staff meeting. …

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