Belmont: When Educators Get the Chance to Lead
This story is part of a series about Belmont High School, located in Dayton, Ohio. Through the dedication of hardworking educators, a local association leader committed to the success of both members and students, and an energetic administration that works collaboratively with the staff, the school is in the middle of a dramatic transformation. The series examines work in an atmosphere partially dictated by numerous federal programs with different requirements, where educators have a strong say in leading their profession and student success is measured beyond test scores. Read Part 1 and Part 3, and view the videos on YouTube. Read and watch the videos in the entire story here.
While dealing with the stresses that come along with education reform, the morale remains high at Belmont. That’s what happens when educators are considered equal partners in the school’s transformation.
In the summer of 2010, Belmont Principal David White gathered all the teachers, handed out the district pacing guide and told them to write their own curriculum to align with the district requirements. Last summer, staff came in with their subject area teams and adjusted the curriculum.
As Marjorie Punter, a literature teacher at Belmont explains: “You had to take the curriculum you were working under, and project where you wanted it to go. At the end of the year we wrote a crosswalk on where we thought things should be changed. For some of mine I had to adjust timeframes; didn’t spend enough time on this, too much time on that. Then we reworked the curriculum based on the crosswalks.”
Ultimately the students benefit most from their teachers leading the education program. “Our curriculum is designed around the learning needs of the students that we have, you know, our kids,” said Michael Slightam, an American History teacher at Belmont.
The collective input on the curriculum has enabled everyone to be on the same page; who is teaching what and when. With a strong curriculum in place, attention has shifted to classroom learning.
The learning is structured around three measurable units: bell work, the very beginning of a class period where previously taught material is reviewed; classwork, the teaching and student participation of new material; and homework, assignments that reinforce what was learned in class.
“We started out on bell work, classwork and homework. It was an attendance thing, like how many students are doing it?” said John Seebock, Dean of Students. “Now we’ve moved on to the next level with how well are they doing it? By finding out how well they are doing on bell work, classwork and homework, you can decide how well you’re teaching that subject matter.”
The teachers and students set weekly performance goals together. “It’s a nice way to start each week with your students,” said Katherine Schaaf, a 7th and 8th grade math teacher. To say ‘this is where we were last week. This is what we achieved. Now how do we bring everybody up in the class?’”
Teachers then measure how well their students performed on the bell work, classwork and homework assignments. The data is shared in weekly grade-level team meetings with administrators and decorate the classroom walls. In fact, you can’t turn a corner in the school without seeing progress charts in the halls. Even during lunch, the Ohio Graduation Test results are shining from a projector as students eat, constantly drilling in the importance of their academic success.
“The nice thing about what we do here at Belmont is that everybody is consistent with the type of data that they track,” said Schaaf. “We are truly using it to make decisions about what we’re doing.”
There is a lot of hope that the school’s focus on academics and use of data can get the 7th and 8th graders on the Belmont track a lot earlier.
The 7th and 8th graders have their own wing of the school, slightly isolated from the older students. This year there are fewer than 40 students; next year there will more than 100. What happens at Belmont will determine if other high schools in the district adopt the same model.
“I like the idea of getting the 7th and 8th graders sooner because our 7th graders are so far behind,” said White, who has personally taken to monitoring their wing during class changes. “We’re trying to track down why, it didn’t happen here, but it terms of curriculum and instruction, we’ve realized now that it’s better to have them in the building so we can get them to where they need to be.”
For example, the 7th, 8th and 9th grade teachers are all on the same team that meets twice a week. They can discuss the problem areas they see in the transition to high school. In addition, teachers meet with their subject area peers where the higher-grade teachers can identify weaknesses they are seeing and the lower grade teachers can work on strengthening those skills and better preparing the students for the higher levels.
“We are setting up a curriculum that will fit the 7th and 8th graders so when they transition into the high school level, they will be able to succeed,” explained Kim Norsworthy, a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Belmont. “They will know what’s expected by their teachers, and the teachers will know what’s expected by the students.”
Next in the series: The Proof is in School Spirit