Finding our Focus – South Hills High School - Getting Started (Part 2)
Go slow to go fast has always been my philosophy, but with all the required changes that had to take place, it couldn’t happen soon enough. However, change is both difficult and slow. Through an initial assessment of the original bell schedule, courses, pathways, programs offered, achievement levels on multiple modes of assessments, and time allotted for effective professional learning communities, it was clear that major operational and cultural elements had to be adjusted.
Priority one was realigning and increasing instructional minutes. The school was running at the minimum state requirements for total minutes. The staff bought into our vision and helped to vote in a seven-period day allowing for increased course completion, more electives, and most importantly, common planning periods and professional learning community (PLC) time for all departments. In addition to improving our A-G rate and increasing overall instructional time, every teacher was given a daily individual planning period and an additional common planning period, allowing them to collaborate with colleagues on a regular basis. This major shift added more time to the workday in two ways. First, it gave teachers uninterrupted time to finish class prep and, secondly, it has created more accountability for teachers to meet during their scheduled collaborative period within their department team. In addition, we built in late-start Tuesdays twice a month to give South Hills teachers and employees an additional two hours embedded into the work day designed for targeted professional development.
The administration team began the process of developing a professional development program that would lead to immediate systemic change intended to far outlast any one person or position. The commitment was made to create an instructionally relevant school culture as a result of a newly formed strategic and comprehensive professional development program. With help and support from the district, South Hills was able to renovate an existing area that was not consistently used throughout the day into a brand new professional development room. The room serves as the hub for everything we do. It consists of two linked projectors for optimal viewing, Apple TV, and whiteboards along the entire sidewalls representing every department. It is big enough to host the entire faculty, and now all meetings have a home that is conducive to effective and collaborative work.
The foundation of our change and the main purpose behind our vision is framed by our instructional leadership team (ILT) and led by school leaders who are committed to making data-driven decisions within a full professional learning community. Intentionally driven to challenge the status quo of past achievement levels and to continue to battle the uphill drive towards greater success on the California Assessment of Student Performance & Progress (CAASPP), our ILT has begun a challenging process that is changing the entire culture. The team is comprised of administrators, department coordinators, the lead counselor, an International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator, our English Language Coordinator, technology support, and a program specialist.
Another change was the addition of a “Staff Summit” that moved all business-related items off ILT agendas and gave a bigger voice for more staff members who might not be part of the ILT. This shift allowed for department coordinators to move away from managing business items. It empowered new teacher leaders to begin overseeing and analyzing the curricular developments of their departments. Primarily, by adding this new teacher group, it endorsed the need to create agreed upon ILT norms that solely related to curriculum and instruction. Furthermore, the ILT now agreed to meet at least twice a month, rotate jobs for each meeting (facilitator, recorder, process observer, and timekeeper), and make all notes and agendas public for the staff.
We had done a lot. But there was still more to do.