ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL
As part of this ongoing research, one Alternative Application high school was selected to participate in an in-depth case study to learn more about the implementation of QEIA. The case study school, Academy High School7 was a large, urban high school in Central California with a diverse student population (majority Latino, 59%), 17% English Learners, and approximately 70% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs. On the decision to apply for the QEIA Alternative Application grant, the principal commented: “We knew what we wanted to do. When QEIA came along, it created an opportunity for us to do it faster, bigger, and more thoroughly.”
SCHOOL GOALS & KEY IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES/INITIATIVES
As previously mentioned, part of the Alternative Application process is crafting a local response to school reform. The five school goals for Academy High School focused uniquely on freshman matriculation, improving the reading levels of students, improving the credit completion rate of ninth grade students not promoted to sophomore status, credit recovery of seniors, and increasing A-G completion rates.
FRESHMAN MATRICULATION & FOCUS ON READING
At the start of the grant, with only 78% of incoming freshmen earning enough credit to matriculate to the sophomore year, the school leadership at Academy High School decided to develop a Freshman Academy with the incorporation of instructional coaches to support teachers. The academy’s focus is two-fold:
➊ Student reading levels. Students who pre-test at or below grade level are placed in the READ 180 Program and expected to improve their Grade Level Equivalent (GLE) proficiency with specific yearly targets.
➋ Student behavior. The school implemented a built-in academic performance class to help students transition into high school and learn how to deal with behavior/maturity issues.
According to the assistant principal, they’ve continuously made modifications to the program to better meet the needs of students. For instance, teachers realized students needed more intervention; hence, they eliminated their health period and replaced it with an intensive course on study-skills, note-taking, and responsibility.
NINE GR ACADEMY, 9TH GRADE REPEATER ACADEMY
For the freshmen who do not matriculate to the tenth grade, the Academy High School has developed a Nine GR Academy, 9th Grade Repeater Academy. Students are required to attend a study skills class every day in that second freshman year. Students learn in a more contained classroom environment where the teachers go to the students, instead of students traveling to different classes on campus. According to the assistant principal, “As we isolated more and more, [we learned] that’s the group of students who if they ever get out of class, they have a hard time of making it to the next class. And they need that extra motivation.” Teachers and staff working at the Academy also make calls home to try to track down students immediately if they are not in class and really provide “hard-line support” for the group.
For seniors who are behind in credits, there is a special retention program at Academy High School. Most of the students in the program tend to have earned 30 to 40 credits per quarter when they needed to earn 50 per quarter. To compensate for the lack of credits, during the school day, students are in mainstream classes only for the first and last periods of the day. The rest of the day they’re working in one room on individualized instruction. Additionally, online instruction and materials developed by the appropriate department (e.g., books, work study curriculum) are used to supplement and accelerate the credit recovery and completion process.
In support of increasing A-G completion rates, the school added an additional counselor to increase one-on-one time with students. A couple class periods were also added for students to repeat classes online. For example, many students meet most A-Gs and perhaps receive a “D” in one class. Academy High School makes use of the online course system, Apex, to allow students to make up a class or increase their grade in a class they’ve previously taken. Additionally, individualized tutoring before and after school by subject area is provided.
Stakeholders at Academy High School noted the following key challenges to implementing QEIA: initial staff buy-in; time constraints and staff workload; as well as garnering consensus over the best use of funds. The principal also explained that it was a challenge to recruit and find the most qualified staff for certain positions and “not just settle for anyone.” Other challenges included learning how to prioritize/balance responsibilities; meeting various accountability targets; and figuring out how to modify and tweak existing programs in light of decreased funding.
Despite the challenges experienced, the school has met each of its accountability targets every year and was one of the highest performing schools visited, moving up by two decile points in state rankings. According to the principal, the school’s success can largely be attributed to 5 core factors:
➊ The dedicated, highly qualified staff on campus;
➋ The allocation of QEIA funds to specifically support their academies (Freshman, Nine GR) and credit recovery program;
➌ A student incentive program, Think Gold, that motivated students to stay on track and encouraged an achievement culture at the school;
➍ A parent involvement initiative, the Parent Project, which informed parents about the academic challenges faced by students and taught them strategies they could use to help their child be successful in school and beyond; and
➎ An ongoing teacher collaboration initiative, Harvesting Brilliance, that encouraged common lesson planning, the analysis of student data from end-of-course exams, and the establishment of benchmarks for student performance.