The Halfway Point: Progress at Belmont Continues
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 2 and Part 3, and view the videos on YouTube. Read and watch the videos in the entire story here.
Test scores get all the press when talking about how to measure the success of a school transformation.
Belmont High School in southeast Dayton is doing things a little differently. They’re taking it one step at a time. And halfway through a three-year school improvement plan, they’re seeing results.
First up was getting student discipline in order. The dramatic drop in violence at the school has been covered by the NEA Priority Schools Campaign and Dayton Daily News. Now the Belmont story continues with collaborative efforts to ramp up the school’s academic discipline.
“You can actually learn here now,” said Brooke Todd, a senior who vividly remembers the fight she witnessed her first day at Belmont as a freshman. “I probably wouldn’t be graduating if the school hadn’t changed.”
Quantitative achievements don’t fully demonstrate what’s happening at Belmont. It’s things like teachers requesting to transfer into the school after years of an ‘evacuation model.’ Students are not only working, they are working to improve. There are actually extracurricular activities now at Belmont.
And the numbers are here, too:
- Belmont has increased its Performance Index score by 3.5 percent from the 2009-2010 to 2010-2011 school years. The Performance Index is a weighted average that includes all tested subjects, grades and untested subjects. It is designed to reflect the achievement of every student enrolled in the school.
- Promotion rates have risen significantly. In 2008-2009, only 30 percent of ninth graders were promoted, while the next year, the figure went up to 63 percent. In 2010-2011, the number climbed even further—all the way up to 84 percent. A similar pattern emerged for tenth graders. In 2008-2009, 42 percent were promoted, in 2009-2010, 78 percent moved on to the next grade, and for the 2010-2011 school year, the figure stands at 80 percent.
- College-level test participation has risen dramatically. In 2008-2009, eight juniors took the ACT, and in 2009-2010, that number doubled to 17. In 2010-2011, 80 juniors took the test. 86 percent of Belmont students have been accepted to some form of post-secondary education.
“Everything’s on an upward trend,” said Michael Slightam, an American History teacher at Belmont. “Of course there’s always room for improvement. Anytime that you go through growth and change, you know you’re going to experience pain, which is fine. But we’re not afraid as a group or a team to discover what we did wrong and fix it rather than hide from it.”
Talk About Stressful
The start of the 2011-2012 school year brought 7th and 8th graders into the mix at Belmont. As if adding two grade levels with pretty much the same staff wasn’t stressful enough, they moved into a new building just after Thanksgiving.
“We got off to a pretty good start during the year, and then the move happened,” said Belmont Principal David White, whose bullhorn has been replaced by a microphone and speaker system. “The process literally took nine weeks, so second quarter was rough.”
But the stress associated with the move seems to be short-lived. The new Belmont building is one of, if not the, nicest and most state-of-the-art in the district. With bright windows, a nice cafeteria, and air-conditioning, the new environment is a vast improvement over the old. The gym induces jealousy from the other high schools in the district.
The physical setting adds to the sense of Belmont pride that is growing as the transformation proceeds. Many at the school associate moving with a literal shedding of the “old Belmont.”
“Once we got out of the old and into the new, the focus of the teachers and students switched more towards academics,” said Ken Kraemer, assistant principal. We see less behavior problems, more positive influence on grades.”
Along with excitement for the new space is respect and opportunity. At the old Belmont, students could not be trusted with toilet paper in the bathrooms. Instead, they had to check it out from staff. That’s no longer an issue as students work hard to maintain the cleanliness of their school.
“The students are ecstatic about being in the new building,” said Bobo Harmon, a paraprofessional who can always be found with a group of students, making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. “They like the space, the colors, the brightness. It’s a good feeling right now.”
But adding 7th and 8th graders and learning the ins and outs of a new building aren’t the only stresses at Belmont.
The school is in a district dealing with the requirements of the federal Race to the Top program. On top of that they have an additional set of requirements from the federal School Improvement Grant program. The district, Dayton Public Schools (DPS) is also beginning to transition curriculum, instruction and assessment processes to meet the new expectations of the Common Core Standards, which will be implemented in Ohio in 2015. All of this while the district faces an approximate $12 million deficit in the state budget.
“There’s a full-blown shift in the educational system in Ohio,” said White. “It’s been a huge challenge, and I just try to keep everybody up. I stay as transparent as I can and just say ‘this is what I know and I don’t know everything’ but as long as we’re working at this together, we should be okay.”
David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association, sees a lot of frustration and flux with the various federal, state and local requirements.
“There’s a lot of ‘what’s next?’ or ‘what else?’” said Romick. “Our teachers took 4,000 units of professional development last summer on their own time to gear up for transformation this school year… but the question hanging out there is how much of it, if any, is going to be required.”
Romick meets with DPS superintendent Lori L. Ward weekly to keep up to date on all the issues surrounding education reform. His relationship with Principal White remains close and collaborative as they work together to keep the staff at Belmont from becoming too overwhelmed.
The focus on reform is a shift from the traditional role of local association leader. “When I was new, I saw myself as a member advocate, working through issues with members,” said Romick. “Now it’s become much more of a reform management role.”
Next in the series: When Educators Get the Chance to Lead