By Jamie Wiggan
As the Sto-Rox upper elementary and high schools move into their second year in state-mandated improvement plans, educators have laid down steps for upping attendance, while improving academics and overall school culture.
“I like that it’s more rigorous. It’s planned out meticulously and it’s challenging… I’m curious to see how it goes,” said Board President Samantha Levitzki-Wright in response to presentations given by school administrators June 18.
The board approved the plans during their subsequent legislative session June 25.
The schools were flagged as low-performing and marked out for improvement plans by Pennsylvania’s rollout of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2018. Replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act — known for its emphasis on standardized testing — ESSA assesses school success through a broader rubric that accounts for factors such as attendance and career readiness in addition to academics.
Representing grades one through three, the primary center is enrolled in the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) plan, designated for the lowest-performing five percent of public schools throughout the state.
A tier below CSI, the Sto-Rox High School is enlisted in the state’s Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (A-TSI) plan, marked out for schools where one or more student groups are at or below the level of CSI schools. According to PDE metrics, Sto-Rox high school students grouped as “black,” “white,” “economically disadvantaged” and “with disabilities” are all flagged as underperforming populations.
The upper elementary school is not currently enrolled in a state plan but still underperforms on attendance and English language, math and science proficiency scores, according to state data.
All three district schools are marked by problematic attendance rates.
PDE data from 2018-19 list regular attendance levels for the high school at 48.8% – little over half the statewide average of 85.8%.
According to the same data, regular attendance at the primary center and upper elementary schools was at 65% and 67.8%, respectively.
A regular attending student is defined by the PDE as one recorded present 90% of the time, without taking into account excused absences.
During presentations delivered to the school board June 18, educators discussed low attendance as part of a larger issue with student morale and engagement.
“We want to improve relationships with kids, faculty and the community,” said Michael Amick, district curriculum director. According to the information presented, both schools will adopt Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs in an effort to transform the school environment next year.
PBIS is a rewards-based framework to incentivize good behavior.
The high school will also adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying program, OLWEUS Bullying Prevention.
Complaints of rampant bullying have been raised by parents across school levels during recent school board meetings.
In an effort to build trust between students and teachers, administrators said the high school will adopt a system of mandatory student advisory sessions, where they will check in with an assigned teacher on a regular basis.
“Students will do better with teachers who they have a relationship with,” said Chris Captline, high school assistant principal. “We need to change the school culture.”
Taken in combination, high school administrators expect to see these approaches raise attendance by 4% throughout the upcoming year, while the primary center plan sets a target of 5%.
Academic plans for both the high school and primary center outlined overhauls to math and English curriculums, with the high school also making changes to its social science programming.
Primary center administrators intend to bring in a new technology-based program for math instruction and will train all teachers to use literacy programming based on scientific principles.
At the high school, administrators emphasized the importance of individualized learning and curriculum alignment — a process of regularly and methodically reviewing curricula to root out weak areas or gaps in student learning.
Regular professional development to ensure all teachers stay up to date with changing methods and programs also weighs heavily in the planning.
Through these changes, primary center administrators expect to improve math and English proficiency levels by 12% over the next 12 months. High school administrators expect to see overall student performance improvements of 4% in English, math and science.
“The expectations next year are gonna be much higher,” said Captline.