Monday, October 7, 2013

All in for Day 1! Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

On Tuesday, October 1st, I was invited to visit three high-performing schools in Newark, NJ. These schools are regionally and nationally known for the success their scholars are having on state assessments, AP exams, the SAT, and in college. Below are some key takeaways from the visits, as well as some thoughts on how we can bring this same level of success to BVP High School.

My first stop on the Newark trip was Rise Academy. When you enter the front door you are greeted by posters and banners celebrating great achievements, just like you might see in any middle school. Unlike most middle schools, though, there are more banners celebrating academics than sports! This is not because Rise Academy doesn’t like sports; on the contrary, scholars can participate in over 30 different clubs and teams. Scholars at Rise play hard, but they work even harder.  When compared to their Newark counterparts on the MAP assessment, Rise scholars score at least 10 percentage points higher in Reading and 15 percentage points higher in Math in every grade! The lesson learned is that as we look to expose our high school scholars to new opportunities, we must never forget the core of our work: preparing every scholar for success in college and the world beyond.

I was also lucky enough to visit two great high schools. Newark Collegiate Prep scholars have access to AP courses in English, History, World Languages, and Math. Scholars can also participate in a diverse portfolio of clubs and sports. The student ambassadors who guided me around the school were particularly involved. In addition to their responsibilities as ambassadors, they were co-captains of the Step Team, school store interns, and Supreme Court Justices (overseeing student discipline) in the Student Government. In addition to extracurricular activities, NCA college counselors host several college representatives for informational visits each week. At NCA, we learned that college prep doesn’t stop at providing students access to opportunities. Success in college and beyond begins with helping our students develop the prioritization and time management skills necessary to make strong decisions, especially when no one is watching.

The second high school I visited was North Star Academy College Preparatory High School. The most striking part of this visit was the joy in many of the classrooms. As we moved around the school we observed scholars practicing scenes from Death of a Salesman, debating the success of organized labor movements during the late 1800s, and joking about Calculus. Scholars did not need to be redirected for behavioral issues because they were engaged in learning that was rigorous, relevant, and fun. At North Star High, they do not leave great teaching to chance. Teachers use data analysis and regular feedback to improve instruction on a daily and weekly basis. This data-driven instruction has helped students achieve an AP pass-rate (scoring 3, 4, o5 5) of 80%!  This focus on constantly improving instruction underscores the belief that it takes a coachable mindset on the part of the teacher, a regular observation/feedback cycle, and responsive professional development to build a great academic program.

We have 330 days until Day 1 at BVP High School. On Day 1, we must be ready to welcome scholars into a school with a strong academic program that is aligned to AP and college-level rigor. On Day 1, we need to provide scholars with access to the enrichment opportunities needed to thrive in and beyond college. And on Day 1, we have to engage in the work of continuously increasing our effectiveness as scholars, teachers, and educational leaders. 

The biggest takeaway from my trip to Newark is that great schools don’t happen by accident. Rise, NCA, and North Star are successful thanks to the vision, hard work, and collaboration of scholars, families, community members, and educators. I am confident that we will build a world-class high school because we have each of those components within our network, but it will have to be a collective effort. Who’s with me?

All in for Day 1!

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