Emma, my beautiful 2 year old daughter loves the Seneca Park Zoo. My wife, Jenny, and I bought a membership to the zoo this year and have spent many afternoons watching the elephants, the rhinos and the alligators. My daughter is like a sponge, soaking up what she sees and learns every time we visit. Between visits she recounts her experience by reminding us about the zoo and that the lion cubs like to play and that she likes the monkeys. Watching my daughter continually grow and learn new things has been invigorating. It has reminded me that humans, by nature, are fundamentally learners. We are most alive when we are growing, improving and learning new things. For some reason, as we progress through adulthood, our culture tends to downplay or diminish the need to truly be life long learners. We tend to develop a fixed mindset towards life. At times we can act as though we have learned all we need to learn. Emma is reminding me that humans are designed with a growth mindset. We have the capacity for continual and ongoing growth. And more importantly, like Emma at the zoo, we are most alive when we are learning and growing. This year, we will continue, as a school community, to grow, learn and progress forward together.
We are currently wrapping up the scheduling process and rosters and the master schedule will be posted on the blog next week. An email will be sent out notifying you when they are available.
The past few years have been an incredible journey for us at Athena. We have accomplished much and should be extremely proud of the direction we are headed. Athena is a fantastic place for students and staff to continually be growing and learning. Although these past few years have brought numerous changes and new initiatives as a part of the NYSED Reform Agenda, we have come together to face the challenges that have come across our path. I am tremendously proud of the work we have done and am excited about what lies ahead as we continue to move forward together.
Bright Spots: We have accomplished a lot over the past few years. Here are just a few of the bright spots of which we can be tremendously proud.
- We Are Off the State List – Two years ago we were identified by New York State as a School in Need of Improvement. Through the SQR and QIP processes we collaborated around three major growth areas for our school to address our achievement gaps. We developed a common writing framework, committed to consistent differentiated instruction and implemented a Response to Intervention (RtI) system to address the needs of students who struggle to learn. As a result, we closed the achievement gaps for which we were identified as needing improvement.
- Graduation Rates Continue to Rise – Our Total Cohort Graduation Rate (every students who spends at least one day with us) increased by 4% to 90% last year and by 5% over the past four years.
- Credit Accrual Rates Increased – We improved from 94% to 95% in total number of credits earned by our students. Additionally, we saw an increase of 2% for the 9th and 10th graders who have earned 6 and 12 credits respectively (a major “on-track for graduation” indicator).
- Dropout Rate Declined – The number of students who chose to drop out decreased this year from 3% to 2%. This is an incredibly exciting statistic as each percentage point represents 3-4 young people who will enter the workforce or college with a diploma. Their likelihood of being able to provide for themselves, find gainful employment and contribute to society is astronomically higher as a result of graduating rather than dropping out.
- SAT Participation is on the Rise – The percentage of seniors who have taken the SAT has gone up by 8% over the past two years to 64%. This gateway test to college is a major step towards our students ability to plan for and succeed in college. We need to see this trend continue to improve.
- School Improvement Plan Goals – We met two out of three improvement plan goals for last year. Moving forward we will continue to focus on the same three areas and refine our practices to ensure continued growth.
- CCSS Implementation – Last year we began the implementation of the new CCLS across all content areas. Each PLC team developed units and lessons based on the Odell Modules adopted by New York State to support the the new CCSS. This will continue to be a major focus for our PLC Teams and staff development moving forward.
- PLC Progression Continued – All PLC teams continued to align the curriculum and ultimately agree on the Essential Learning Standards for each unit. This foundational work allows us to progress to the third check point on the PLC Progression of Common Assessment. This year we will spend PLC time continuing the work of developing CFA’s that align to the Essential Learning Standards and the CCSS. This research based practice will continue to help us grow and improve our practice.
- One Year of the New APPR Under our Belt – We survived the first year of the new APPR system. We will continue to grow and refine our ability to improve within this new framework of frequent professional feedback and interaction.
- District Strategic Plan Clearly Defines Expectations – The Board of Education has approved the “Envision Greece 2017”, a five year plan with clearly laid out set of benchmarks and goals defining what is expected along on journey to ensure that every student learns at high levels and graduates from our district, college and career ready.
Continuing to Focus on the Same Things: Although we have new things to learn and next steps to take, we are not undertaking any new initiatives at the start of this year. Instead I have worked closely with the Administrative Team, Teacher Leaders, GTA reps and many others to ensure that we have developed a plan that helps us dig deeply into the areas that we have been working on and continue to be the key levers in moving our system forward together.
- Professional Learning Communities (PLC) – We will continue to prioritize our PLC teams as the way in which we do our work. We are committed to fact that we are groups of professionals focused on learning and committed to doing what ever it takes to ensure that all students learn at high levels. This year we will be tackling Check Point 3 and focusing on common formative assessments every 5 weeks based on the essential learning standards for each unit.
- Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – The curriculum requirements are shifting. The skills and content has been clearly defined for us, and we will continue to implement the CCSS across all content areas. We will use our PLC teams, staff and department meetings to focus on the implementation of the CCSS and the impact it has on student learning.
- Response to Intervention (RtI) – We will continue to refine and expand the efficacy of our RtI systems and supports. We will continue to seek to ensure that all students learn at high levels.
- Positive Based Intervention Systems (PBIS) – The PBIS committee has been developing a matrix and behavioral curriculum that we can use to teach appropriate behaviors to our students in advisement and in our classes. We continue to seek to streamline our efforts in this regard across the entire campus and will be aligning with the Middle School to ensure that our expectations support one another.
- Teacher Leader Support – The district has invested heavily in the teacher leaders over the past year. Administrators and teacher leaders spent 5 days collaborating and refining the expectations around their roles and impact. All teachers are expected to work with and learn together with the teacher leaders this year. This will take the place of classroom visits, instructional discussions and professional development. More information to come.
- Building Safety Committee – Last year the middle and high school safety team merged, in order to ensure that we have a campus wide focus on safety and wellness. This year we will continue to collaborate with the Middle School and local safety agencies to ensure that safety is our top priority.
School Wide Improvement Focus Moving Forward: The Athena Improvement Team has met for many hours over the summer to dig deeply into a wide range of data, the District Strategic Plan and the NYS Reform Agenda to ensure our school improvement plan aligns and is the guiding focus of our long term growth and improvement. After a long process of analysis, we determined that all factors indicate that our three target areas are the right areas of focus. We are in the process of using the Cycle of Inquiry (a research based process for ensuring school improvement planning success) to guide the development of meaningful monitoring measures, benchmarks and accountability measures.
- Graduation Rates – Although we have seen our graduation rate increase over the past few years, our sub groups continue to lag severely behind our general population. In particular, Black students, students with disabilities and students from economically disadvantaged homes graduation rates are lower as compared to both our building rates and the sub group rates in other Greece schools. This will be a major focus area moving forward.
- College and Career Readiness – The District Strategic Plan clearly defines College and Career Readiness as the goal of our school system. This document outlines key indicators and benchmarks at 9th, 10th and 11th grades in terms of credit accrual and exam completion. It also delineates college and career readiness thresholds for ELA, Math, SAT scores and college credit attainment for graduating seniors. We will begin setting goals and monitoring these metrics so that we make college and career readiness the standard expected of all students at Athena, rather than just focusing on graduation rates alone.
- Safety and Wellness – Obviously, all school improvement hinges on the ability of a school to ensure a safe, enjoyable and productive environment for students and staff to learn and staff to grow. We will continue to focus on improving the culture and climate here at Athena.
As the last days of summer wrap up, I want to encourage each of you to invest deeply in friends and family. Take time to enjoy the long peaceful evenings and the fact that we are not waking up before the daylight. If you are headed to the zoo… keep an eye out for Emma, Jenny and I.
Forward Together, Jason