With a unanimous vote, the School Board recently cleared the way for the implementation of small learning communities at Meadowbrook High School.
A couple years ago, the school’s leaders set out to find ways to positively impact the culture at Meadowbrook and improve student achievement, Principal Thomas Ferrell told the School Board at its Nov. 9 work session. The discussions kept going back to school size, he said.
“We looked at how we could restructure our school so we could have that small school feeling for all students,” he said.
The Smaller Learning Communities program is designed to provide a small school environment with a focus on career readiness and preparation for continuing education, according to information presented at the meeting. A ninth-grade academy, one element of the school restructuring, was implemented at the start of the current school year, Ferrell said.
The next step is the implementation of the four Schools of Study for students in grades 10-12. The schools of study are Arts and Communications, Business and Legal, Health and Human Services and Information Technology.
Assistant Principal Colleen Bryant said one of the first things administrators did last year was survey Meadowbrook High students “to see what careers they were interested in.” Those results factored into which schools of study were chosen, she said. Administrators also considered research on what careers would be in high demand in the next 10 years, and the cost and feasibility of potential school of study, she said.
Ferrell said the overarching goal of the school restructuring is to increase the number of graduates. The goal is that by 2015, 85 percent of students will graduate prepared for a two- or four-year post-secondary program and/or the military, or with some industry certification.
Ferrell shared stories of two students, one of whom came into high school with no intention of going to college. The student ultimately joined the JROTC program and various organizations and decided to go to college, Ferrell said, but he didn’t have the foreign language credits required to get into the college of his choice. If educators were able to work with students on individual plans, the young man would not have been in a position to not go to the school of his choice, he said.
Along with increasing the number of graduates, the program will provide the opportunity for intensive guidance and adviser services. School administrators also hope student attendance and enrollment in upper-level courses will rise.
“We feel like our school is a very good school. … But we want to be great. We want to be better than good,” Ferrell said. “We believe that all students have a skill, have a passion for something, and it’s up to us to bring that out.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, the schools of study will be implemented for 10th grade students; traditional course offerings will still be provided for juniors and seniors. By the 2013-2014 school year, all of the school’s students will have transitioned to the small learning communities.
Meadowbrook High has received a grant of almost $2 million to implement the Small Learning Communities over five years, Ferrell said. Administrators also hope to receive Perkins funding for a medical assistant lab and an information technology course.
Ideally, students will be divided equally among the four schools of study, Ferrell said, but student interest will also drive the size of the schools. If students don’t get their first choice school, they will get their second choice, he said; if a spot opened up in a student’s first choice school, he or she could transfer in their junior year and still earn the school’s certification.
When developing the plan, administrators “tried to make the cost as minimal as possible,” he said, because they know the grant money won’t last forever.
“We sort of made our decisions based on what we can sustain,” he said. School administrators have “the need and desire to train our own folks to teach these courses,” he said.
“We don’t want to push people out to bring other folks in,” Ferrell said. The grant “does cover pretty much all of our training and professional development,” he said.
School Board Chairman Davis Wyman said school administrators had matured the plan by many thousand percent in the last two years. Clover Hill School Board Member Diane Pettit commended the Meadowbrook staff for its courage.
“This is a huge endeavor,” she said.
Later, at its business meeting on Nov. 9, the School Board approved the grant and the implementation of the Small Learning Communities at Meadowbrook High.