Thursday, January 22, 2004 Written by Mary Simpson
G.D.H.S.: A Caring, Learning Community
Smaller, smarter, stronger.
“This school is smaller and with smaller, it is easy to build a caring, learning community. In the morning, the Vice Principal and I stand at each intersection in the H for the opening exercises: Oh Canada and announcements. We are there, connected with the students. They know we care and we get to feel the pulse of the school at the beginning of every day.”
The principal has an open door policy. Nowadays, principals play a tricky role when it comes to promoting their schools. The School Board frowns upon principals comparing schools and openly soliciting students to their schools. Principal Chris Anger is an eloquent and passionate champion for her school but must be careful that she isn’t perceived to be promoting her school at the expense of another. That’s where the alumni association comes in. An alumnus can be an unabashed promoter.
“Our mission is to improve student learning and we base our teaching and work with the students on a set of principles: quality learning, integrity, problem-solving, decision-making, job-specific skills, mentoring, teamwork, and communication.”
Ms Anger believes that school discipline must be fair. The code of conduct is not buried in a policy book somewhere. The rules are posted in the hall, there for all to see. If students break the rules, it is a choice they make and they are held accountable for that choice. There is no arbitrary discipline meted out. They choose.
Parents and tax payers have been asking for years for a return to the 3Rs and better measurement of results. The system has been changing and now we are starting to see what that means. There are advantages and disadvantages to a system based on measurement. On the positive side, a small school like Glencoe scores well on the provincial EQAO tests. We have students that are good at academics. On the negative side, the reason that we are doing well on academic scores is because some students that are not academically inclined are going to other secondary schools. Their poorer marks are not pulling down the school average. Now, G.D.H.S. has the new Work Internship Program (WIP) and Glencoe has something to offer students whose career aspirations do not include university at the age of 17. Students whose focus is skill development rather than literature will no doubt pull down the school’s averages. We all know how statistics do not tell the whole story, so we must be very careful when we rely on measures to indicate success.
G.D.H.S. has a School Growth Plan for 2003-2004. The goal is to build teacher capacity for continuous improvement. The benefit is improved literacy and numeracy knowledge and skills and a high school actively demonstrating the principles of a caring learning community.
What they are looking for is a 5% increase in successful credits, i.e. 5% fewer failing grades. They want to reduce suspensions by 10% and increase studuent leadership activities by 10%. Expecting an increase of students coming to enrolling into the WIP program, the school hopes to maintain the EQAO Math and Literacy scores. Teachers aim to enhance their performance through the use of technology.
The pressure is on the teachers to make this happen, and G.D.H.S. teachers are on board. Teachers are trying new instructional strategies. They volunteer their lunch hours for regular Lunch and Share professional development hours. Students with less than 60% in any course are reviewed by the Subject Department and Guidance to insure appopriate course placement. Good behaviour is acknowledged and consquences for inappropratie are reinforced. And finally, the school looks for opportunity for parents and community to get involved.
The school is getting away from blaming the kids for failures. Poor attendance and late projects tend to bring students’ marks down. Teachers are encouraged to figure out the causes and help students overcome the obstacles. “I believe the teachers here are a professional learning community.
Academic planning is an issue for students attending small schools. Students need 30 credits to graduate. The maximum number of courses that a student can take is 32, where as it used to be 40 (5 years X 8 courses). Previously, students often graduated with 34-36 courses after five years. Now that the school hosts students for four years instead of five, the pressure to offer a wide range of courses has eased. Students need a multi-year plan and a yearly plan to ensure they won’t miss the courses they need.
The school is still learning about the impact of going from a five-year to four-year program. The school is definitely younger!