Ninth grade academy is first step on new ‘Pathway’ at MHS

The creation of a ninth grade academy at Meadowbrook High School next fall will serve as the school’s springboard to the implementation of a new educational structure.

At its Feb. 9 meeting, the School Board unanimously approved the September 2010 start-up of the ninth-grade academy component of the small learning communities, or Pathways, concept at Meadowbrook. The Pathways concept is “a new structure for scheduling students into areas of interest during their high school career,” said Ed Pruden, assistant superintendent for instructional administration.

The structure gives students the opportunity to pick and stay on an educational path, Meadowbrook Principal Thomas E. Ferrell Jr. said Monday.

“We feel like students will be more engaged in high school … and want to come to school everyday because they’ll see where the pathway is taking them,” Ferrell said. School administrators feel the structure will improve test scores across the board and allow more active preparation for work or two or four years in college, he said.

“I just think this is something that’s very positive and will put our school on the cutting edge,” he said.

The concept was introduced in May 2009, according to a memo Pruden read at the Feb. 9 meeting, and school-based teams explored the scheduling structure further. In November, school staff presented the concept, their plan of action and their desire to have some form of the plan in place for the next school year, the memo says.

In December, the school administration announced the four broad areas of study that would be available to students: information technology, health/human services, arts and humanities and business/legal services, the memo says.

To determine those study areas, the school surveyed parents and students, gathered information from teachers and worked with Mike Rose at the Chesterfield Technical Center to identify up and coming careers, Ferrell said.

“I think this is a win-win for students and parents,” he said, because students can try out a potential college path in high school without the expenses of college classes.

Students would enter one of the four broad study areas in 10th grade, and freshmen would enter a ninth grade academy that would “allow for a more structured transition to the school,” the memo says.

Most programs to help students transition from middle to high school happen over one or two days and 100 percent student participation isn’t a given, Ferrell said. In the ninth grade academy, students will have structure and support through the teams they will be in, he said, and they’ll get to explore the different careers and pathways available to them.

“We’re looking to have students kind of put together a six-year plan, rather than a four-year plan,” he said.

Generally speaking, implementing the structure is a “revenue-neutral endeavor,” as the school will be using and redirecting its own resources, the memo says. It will also receive support from several community partners, including Center Stage, local hospitals, Title II grants for teacher training and support from other CCPS departments, it says.

“We understand what the financial situation is,” Ferrell said Monday. The school doesn’t need more money than other schools; it just wants to use its funding differently, he said.

Though some are a little hesitant because “it’s a new program,” Meadowbrook’s faculty is in favor of implementing the Pathways concept, Ferrell said.

“Most folks agree with the fact we need to specialize high school more for students and come up with a way to make high schools smaller,” he said.

The goal is to have the Pathways structure fully implemented for the 2011-2012 school year, he said.

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