Mr. Stack's Comments To the School Community Regarding the Magna Award
The following address was made to the staff and students of Sanborn Regional High School yesterday:
As your building principal, it is not often that I have the opportunity to address all of you at once. Today, I am honored to share some very exciting news with all of you. Recognizing Dr. Blake’s vision for our school district to achieve the status of “top ten percent”, I am proud to say that today, Sanborn Regional High School has taken a major step forward in realizing that vision.
You might be wondering to yourself, what is this big news? What could we possibly be doing at Sanborn that is so successful? Having worked in this school for the last six years but still as an outsider myself to the communities of Kingston, Newton, and Fremont, I must admit, I have often wondered why students and parents from Sanborn have long felt a sense of mediocrity and a lack of pride for their school. Yes, I get it, we are not as big as Exeter. We are not as loud as Timberlane. We are not as prestigious as PEA, Windham, or Bedford. But we have some things that make us unique, and quite frankly, should make us really proud to call Sanborn our home. Today I want to share with you just one story of how we are working to change that image, and it is starting to pay off in a major way. But in order for me to do this, I need Ms. Hadwen to come stand by my side. You see, some of you know Ms. Hadwen as your former Global Studies teacher, some of you know her as your assistant principal, some of you know her as your colleague or friend. The story I am about to tell you is the brainchild and the hard work and dedication of this amazing woman. In addition, I would ask that all teachers who work on the FLC to join me by her side. Without these dedicated folks, all of this would not be possible.
To understand the magnitude of this story, it is helpful to take a step back and look at how we got to where we are today. Back in the 2007-2008 school year, all of you sitting in front of me were in elementary school or middle school. At best, our current seniors were in eighth grade. That year, we as a school came to realize we had a major problem on our hands. That year, our freshman class was typical of a freshman class from any other year. They came into our school from either Sanborn Middle or Ellis, they were dropped into a high school schedule in a big building, and we had high hopes that as a class, they would take advantage of the educational opportunities they had available to them as Sanborn students. If we found they weren’t successful, we tried a different approach and hoped for better results. That year, like most years with freshman, we recognized that freshman year was filled with a high failure rate and lots of discipline referrals, two obvious signs that we were not meeting the needs of freshman. By the end of that year, our mission was clear. If we were going to make major long-lasting changes for our school, we need to find a better way to meet the needs of freshman. We knew that statistically, students who are not successful in their freshman year are much more likely to not be successful in the rest of their high school career. We knew that the answer was in making freshman year a success for everyone.
We started this work on a very small scale. Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, we asked the four Citizens in a Global Society teachers to work as a team. The team operated under two major assumptions: 1. All students can and want to learn and be successful in school. 2. Failure is not an option. The team began to meet regularly to plan their lessons, to integrate their curriculum, to develop common grading practices and assignments, and to talk about student learning. Over the next three years, we watched this team produce results. In that first year, the team reported a major drop in the number of course failures in Global Studies, from 53 students, to 19, to 4, and finally, to 2 students as of last year. The number of discipline referrals for freshman also decreased in this time period, from 295 that first year to 190 the next year and to just 129 last year. The team model was working. The time was right to go big or go home, so we “went big”.
For the start of this school year, the Freshman Learning Community, better known as the FLC, was born. The FLC has a single vision: Preparing freshman for academic and personal success through encouragement, support, and self-advocacy. The team of teachers expanded from 4 to 22. The number of courses included in the team model expanded from 2 to almost fifteen. The FLC started to operate on a completely different bell schedule, passing from class to class at different times than the rest of the school. Very quickly, staff and students noticed the change, and the initial reviews weren’t favorable. To an upperclassmen, it seemed that overnight, we made an entire grade disappear from our school. The FLC had become almost like a secret society. What was happening there? What were they working on? Did they feel connected to the school? Was this a good idea? The freshman class made their big debut to the school at the pep rally at homecoming. In this very gymnasium, we all watched as their entire class, with their teachers, came out onto the floor to perform in their class skit and dance routine. No class, in the history of Sanborn that I am aware of, has ever gotten such a high participation for a Homecoming class skit and dance. This class has been making other waves in our building too. In terms of discipline referrals, this class has produced by far the fewest of any freshman class in our history. In terms of reduced course failures, this class is on pace to shatter that record as well. In fact, based on some of our NWEA data, this class is already performing higher than some of the upperclassmen grades in math and reading.
So what are we doing that makes us so special, you ask? Over the last four years, using our freshman as a model, our teachers have committed to working as a team to ensure learning for all. They have recognized that as a team they can better meet the needs of all students. It is hard work. They meet almost daily as a team, or at least a partial team, to talk about student learning. They recognize that sometimes they may not personally agree with the decisions of the team, but they stay committed to the model. Their efforts are inspiring the rest of the faculty to start thinking about what this approach might look like if we expand it to start including other grades. Today, I am very proud to announce that the work of this dedicated group of teachers is now paying off.
Today, I am proud to announce to you that Sanborn Regional High School has won a very prestigious national award from the National School Board Association. Each year, this association looks for innovative school programs that show promise in taking our educational system in America to the next level. This year, they identified fifteen programs around the country that they believe do just that. Our FLC model is one of those programs. Today, I announce to you that our school is the recipient of a first place Magna Award for school excellence. This Saturday, we will be honored by this association at their national conference, where our School Board chairperson Nancy Ross will accept the Magna award on behalf of our school community. Our story will be featured in the American School Board Journal, a publication that is sent to every school board member and superintendent of schools in the country. Perhaps we at Sanborn will inspire other schools to travel down a similar path. We may not be as large as Exeter, we may not be as loud as Timberlane, but according to a lot of folks in our state and around the country, we are more innovative. On behalf of the administration, I would like to offer a round of applause for all of the educators in this room who have helped make this possible. CONGRATULATIONS!