SOARing to New Heights
A school’s commitment to (high expectations for all) leads to award-winning achievement.
By Matthew J.Perini
Reynoldsburg, Ohio is a community in transition. Over the last decade, Reynoldsburg has witnessed a population explosion as more and more families from the city move to suburban Reynoldsburg. In that time, the student population has nearly doubled, with sharp increases in English Language Learners and students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. One sign of this rapid growth is the 18 modular classrooms set up outside Reynoldsburg High School- a school of roughly 2300 students in a building designed to accommodate only 1300. Faced with this kind of community-wide change, schools often struggle to maintain academic performance. But in Reynoldsburg Junior High School, student achievement is doing more than holding steady - it is increasing dramatically.
On November 12, 2007, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Batelle for Kids recognized Reynoldsburg's achievement by presenting the school with the prestigious SOAR Award. SOAR (Schools Online Assessment Reports) recognizes exceptional improvement in schools. To give you a sense of how difficult it is to receive a SOAR Award, consider this: Out of 435 eligible Ohio schools, only 15 schools received SOAR Awards in 2007. That puts Reynoldsburg Junior High in the top 3.5% of Ohio schools making exceptional growth.
Take the change in seventh-graders' math scores as an example of this growth. Between 2006 and 2007, math scores rose dramatically and in two distinct ways - horizontally (comparing seventh-graders' scores in 2006 and 2007) and vertically (following the same class of seventh-graders and examining their scores again as eighth-graders). Horizontally, seventh-graders' scores jumped almost 20 percentile points, from 59% proficient in 2006 to 78% proficient in 2007. Vertically, scores went from 59% proficient to 76%.
While experiencing great gains in student academic achievement, Reynoldsburg Junior High School has also gone through a significant organizational transformation. As a result of the increased population, Reynoldsburg Junior High split into two schools for the 2007-2008 school year - Baldwin Junior High School and Waggoner Road Junior High School.
Tyrone Olverson, former principal of Reynoldsburg Junior High School and current principal of Waggoner Road Junior High School, relates the school's commitment to achievement and the high expectations for all students in this way: "A's and B's are expected, along with the occasional C. If you get a D, you have to talk to me." For the 20 or so students who are failing, Tyrone meets with them every Friday morning during first period. Tyrone also selects five individual students to monitor throughout the day to make sure they are performing well in each of their classes. While taking an active and personal approach to school administration is second nature to Tyrone, he credits his faculty for the school's resurgence: "Our teachers do a great job here. The gains were not made by administrators; they were made by teachers working with children in the classroom."
At Reynoldsburg Junior High, teachers and administrators work together to improve learning for all students. To assist their efforts, the school began implementing The Thoughtful Classroom Professional Development in 2005. Teams of teachers meet with administrators and teacher-leaders in Thoughtful Classroom Learning Clubs on a regular basis to discuss and refine research-based strategies, design assessments, and analyze student work. For their first round of Learning Club meetings at Reynoldsburg, educators selected The Thoughtful Classroom Vocabulary's CODE model as their instructional focus. Using vocabulary strategies such as Association Triangles, Vocabulary Organizers, and Word Walls in their classrooms, Reynoldsburg teachers helped students master key academic vocabulary and raise academic achievement.
Also in 2006, as a way to help reach a diverse population of students, Reynoldsburg Junior High School administered the Learning Style Inventory for Students (LSIS) to every student. The LSIS provides teachers and administrators with deep insight into the learning styles and motivational patterns of all students. With this information, teachers are able to differentiate instruction, design more powerful lessons and units, and work with the administration to organize courses. The wealth of information obtained from the LSIS has inspired the school to start a program of administering the LSIS to all incoming students at the end of their sixth-grade school year.
It is not only the faculty that's committed to academic success. Reynoldsburg students are also getting into the act. Students run a Peer Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to faculty on behalf of all students. More recently, students developed a program called REACH (Receiving Extra Academic Classroom Help), which provides after-school tutoring to interested students. Students have also been challenging themselves by enrolling in more advanced classes. In 2006, only 5 out of 1120 Reynoldsburg Junior High students took high-school level Geometry; but in 2007, that number jumped to 31 out of 600 students at Waggoner Road alone. A similar attendance surge occurred in Algebra and especially Spanish, with 220 students enrolled versus just 40 in 2006.
Growing population, shifting demographics, significant increases in English Language Learners and students receiving free or reduced lunch. Changes like these do not need to signal a downturn in academic achievement for schools. In fact, sometimes just the opposite happens. Just ask the administrators, teachers, and junior high students in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.