Finding our Focus – South Hills High School - Our Focus (Part 3)
Despite all of the structural changes, we weren’t done yet. The Professional Development Program acknowledged a need for change in the behavioral and social aspect of many students at South Hills. Additional data confirmed that attendance rates were down and suspension rates were up. Freshmen were underprepared and were falling behind. In return, our entire staff engaged in deep work to develop non-negotiable tenets that would serve as the catalyst for improvement. Clearly displayed in every classroom, South Hills students are expected to demonstrate respect, integrity, accountability, responsibility and determination. Our district added an LCAP goal focused on the very concerns we addressed with our program. C-VUSD’s goal is to “create a school-wide program of engagement that fosters innovative, positive environments within and outside of the classroom to connect students to school and learning.” Strategically developed Saturday Academic School was started to help restore chronic absenteeism and give instructional minutes back to students who needed it most. On top of that, a decision was collectively made to start Link Crew, a transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience. Upperclassmen serve as positive role models, mentors, and student leaders who guide the freshmen to discover what it takes to be successful during the transition to high school.
Fundamentally, the Professional Development Program also acknowledged the need for increased courses, pathways, and opportunities for students. As a result, over the course of the past year, South Hills has dramatically increased partnerships and course offerings. With a new emphasis on curriculum, the South Hills Professional Development program also recognized the need to create a school-wide instructional focus. Using the research of John Hattie and his work on Visible Learning, the ILT spent several months examining the effect size of relevant teacher practices and the associated impact on student development over one year’s growth. Hattie’s meta-analyses on the influences on achievement provided a strong starting point for why our school needed a focus. Under the guidance of Focused Schools, departments led the whole staff through consensus on the development of “communication” as the instructional focus.
An instructional focus statement was then drafted and used as the basis to align several areas, including the mission and vision statement, WASC goals, SPSA goals, department goals, and individual goals: At South Hills High School, we are exemplary communicators who show what we know through critical writing, discussion, performing, listening and speaking. This will be measured by a greater percentage of students fulfilling or exceeding the A-G requirements and increased proficiency on the CAASPP and department benchmarks.
To make this theme more applicable, the ILT also worked to find consensus on two best practices connected to our instructional focus that would be implemented in every class, every day. The team chose the strategies of feedback and checking for understanding.
As part of the process, the ILT collaboratively wrote common definitions for each practice and listed various ways that they could be observed. Posters were created and placed in every room. The focus is also accompanied by our motto, “Show what you know!”
The staff agreed that a motto would help students connect the purpose back to the practice. Collectively, our staff came together to write and produce a music video, showcasing our motto and helping launch it to the public. The intent behind our motto has always been to consistently advertise our focus and the intent behind our purpose. We want the entire community to know what we do best. We want students to know exactly what we expect. It is printed on our stationery, letterhead, posted on the website and marquee, on the quad flags, printed on shirts, and a part of every conversation.