Welcome 8th Grade Students and Families: Our Future Class of 2019!

Last night, our staff welcomed an auditorium filled with 8th grade students and their families, our future Class of 2019. Thank you to the teachers and the students who gave presentations on the Freshman Learning Community, and thank you to Assistant Principal Ann Hadwen for planning and facilitating the entire evening. If you were not able to attend the event, we did record a video of the presentation and we will be uploading it to our website once our Modern Media students can dig out from this storm and get back to school. Meanwhile, I wanted to share some initial thoughts and reflections with you from the evening.

In my brief remarks to the audience, I reminded everyone that being a student at Sanborn Regional High school looks very different today from the traditional high school model that we as parents remember from 1980 or 1990-something.  I was hired five years ago as principal under the premise that our school needed to make some major changes - changes that would allow us to better respond and adapt to the needs of all of our students. For years our school community lived with high percentages of course failures, high levels of discipline issues, and low student morale and a sense of pride for their school. We needed a major overhaul.

In 2009 our district engaged in a major strategic planning process, one that helped our community envision a high school where all students would be challenged in rigorous, integrated coursework that would prepare them for the demands of the twenty-first century. We imagined a school where students would receive a high degree of personalized learning and be provided with opportunities to connect their learning with real-world experiences. We dreamed of a school where all students would develop meaningful relationships with their peers and their teachers, and teachers would work collaboratively towards a common goal of ensuring that all students could excel. We committed to a vision of having a premiere high school, one that would be the pride and joy of our small New Hampshire communities. To get from where we were then to where we wanted to be, we built a redesign plan that would help us dramatically change the way we operate, the way we organize ourselves, and the way we connect with our students and or community.

Over the past six years, we have implemented various parts of the redesign plan. There are so many highlights that I could share with all of you, but here are five that I think incoming ninth grade students would be most excited about.

1. We have implemented a highly successful Freshman Learning Community model, a model that our School Board won a first place Magna Award for innovation by the National School Board Association in 2012.

2. We implemented small learning community models appropriate for grades 10, 11, and 12 that give students an opportunity to dive deep into their learning and explore various career interests.

3. We have overhauled our assessment system to a cutting-edge competency-based model that has gained the attention of high schools and colleges all over the country.

4. We have significantly increased the ways in which we communicate and integrate with our community. This included the establishment of a credit-earning internship program that a number of our seniors participate in each year.

5. We have added a number of college credit-earning opportunities, including unique partnerships with Northern Essex Community College and Great Bay Community College.

People often ask me, if we have made all these great changes, why aren't our standardized test scores much better than they were five years ago? The answer is simple: Changes take time to make their way to standardized test results. Some of the current test data out there is still reflective of students who went though either our old model or a hybrid version of our model that didn't contain all of the redesign components. We are very excited by our latest NWEA scores, data that is telling us that our students are making significant academic growth and are ahead of their peers, compared nationally.I am very hopeful that our patience will be rewarded in the long term, and the real winners will be our current students who are getting a far more rigorous and enriching education than those who attended our school just a few years ago. Parents who have kids in our system now and kids who graduated years ago remind me of this fact every day.

Change is never easy, and since our school is so different from a traditional school of twenty years ago, parents and students sometimes worry that change will mean that they will somehow be at a disadvantage later in life. I can tell you with certainty that this is not true. Here are some common myths that I have heard from prospective families that I would like to take a moment to address:

Myth #1: Our school no longer offers an honors program for high-performing students. 

This is simply not true! Last night we shared this handout with families to explain what our honors programming looks like in ninth grade and beyond:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8_zBPIKM6NFMVh6anlYVm5BVjQ/view?usp=sharing
Some people believe that we do our students a disservice by not segregating our honors students 100% of the time in English, Social Studies, and Science in grades 9 and 10 like we do for grades 11 and 12. We separate students when it is appropriate to do so in order for us to provide them with the most appropriate level of personalized instruction that challenges them at their level. The key is that we respond to what our kids need, and our model gives us the flexibility to sdapt throughout a given school year.

Myth #2: Our grading system is too subjective and does not stress the importance of good study habits.

For the past five years, I have written a variety of articles on this blog talking about the ways in which this is not true. Our PTO will be hosting a coffee hour discussion on this topic on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 from 6:00PM-7:00PM in the SRHS library. I hope you will consider coming out to this discussion to hear more from my administrative team and I on this issue.

Myth #3: Colleges are confused by our grading system and our transcript.

In the past five years, my staff has spent a great deal of time talking with college admissions representatives about our grading system and our transcript. We have talked to every single New Hampshire college, from Dartmouth down to the local community college. We have talked with a high percentage of New England colleges and universities. Furthermore, we have talked with a number of schools outside of New England. In all of our conversations we seem to reach the same consensus: Colleges are supportive of our efforts to connect our grades to student learning. They are supportive of our 4.0 scale, a scale that is very familiar to them. Finally, they are appreciative that we continue to provide them with data such as grade point average (GPA) on each of our students. Competency based grading has gained a lot of attention in the secondary education world, but it has becoming a major hot topic for colleges and universities who recognize the need to adopt this model to best prepare their students for the 21st century also. Next week, for example, I will be meeting with Northern Essex Community College's new Dean of Innovation, a position that was created specifically to help their school implement a competency education model. This is a trend that is happening all over our country.

I was very meet and talk with so many excited 8th grade students and parents last evening. To prospective 8th grade parents, I know you are going to love joining our Sanborn Regional High School community. Our school is your school.  I want to hear from you. What are we doing well? What could we do better? What could we add to enhance our school?

I look forward to working with you over the next four years! Welcome to YOUR school community!

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