Academic journal article High School Journal

Creating Positive Culture in a New Urban High School

Academic journal article High School Journal

Creating Positive Culture in a New Urban High School

Article excerpt

In August 2009, a new urban public high school featuring project-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education opened with a population of African-American, low-income, and special needs students. A planning team comprised of lead teachers and the school principal sought to create a positive school culture with a clear vision and core values that would engender relational trust, a strong sense of community, and principal and teacher co-leadership. The culture was to be supported by social structures instituted through teams, professional development, student orientations, venues for instructional innovation, and informal gathering places. This account, written by the principal, a teacher, and a university researcher, presents a first-hand narrative of how the school culture was created.

Introduction

In November 2007, the State of Ohio issued a Request for Proposals for seed grants to fund the establishment of five new public high schools with innovative programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The new schools were to be geared toward the development of intellectual, entrepreneurial, and technical talent, and do so in partnership with higher education institutions, industries, and businesses. A partnership was formed in Cincinnati between Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), the University of Cincinnati (UC), Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and STRIVE--a regional education, business, and municipal consortium. The partnership was awarded one of the grants in March 2008, and the school district decided to transform an existing public high school, Hughes High School, into a new STEM school.

The new school would operate as a choice-based high school with a first-come, first-serve open enrollment policy for children residing in the district. The student population would reflect the racial, ethnic and socio-economic makeup of the district. Grades 9-12 would be phased in one year at a time beginning with the 9th grade in 2009. When the school was opened, 86% of students were African-American, 28% had special needs, and 84% received free and reduced lunches. Ninth graders in the inaugural class came from 48 feeder schools. The plan was to offer programs that would develop students' interest in STEM careers and prepare them for college. The principal, teachers, university faculty members, and others involved in the planning process understood at the outset that the key to success was the creation of a positive school culture, an insight well supported by decades of research and planners' own prior experiences in public high schools (Cheong, 1993; Fullan, 2001, 2007; Joyce, Hersh, & McKibbon, 1983; Rutter et al., 1979; Sarason, 1996). A deliberate effort was made to create a positive school culture with a clear vision and core values that would engender relational trust, a strong sense of community, and principal and teacher leadership. Planners recognized that positive culture was not possible without the support of social structures instituted through collaborative team arrangements, professional development, student orientation programs and advisement, venues for innovative instruction and, also, as they found out after the school was opened, informal gathering places. This account, written by the school principal, Dr. Virginia Rhodes; a technology teacher, Douglas Stevens; and a university faculty member, Dr. Annette Hemmings, tells the story of this effort. It presents a firsthand narrative of what the principal and teachers did to create a positive school culture, the lessons they learned, and what they are facing as they look ahead to succeeding years.

Positive School Culture

Innovative, interdisciplinary STEM education is being lauded as an optimal means for providing k-12 students with opportunities to learn about the world through pedagogical approaches that couple rigorous academic curriculum with real-world lessons in contexts that connect schools, communities, and work and integrate young people into the new global economy (Kaufman, Moss, & Osborn 2003). …

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