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“This is the first time in my 15 years at Evanston Township High School that we have tried to provide support for all students,” Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marilyn Madden told the District 202 School Board on May 27, prefacing a presentation that reviewed the accomplishments and challenges of System of Supports (SOS).
SOS began last fall, providing a “structure to assist all students in improving academically and becoming responsible, self-directed learners,” according to the ETHS SOS User’s Guide.
“We knew that the ideas we’ve had were going to take a lot of refinement and a lot of work to implement,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve come a long way. We’re already looking ahead. We have some pretty bold ideas about where we can go.”
System of Supports has two major components: AM (before school) support and study centers. AM support is intended for students who are deemed to be “in danger of failing,” that is, of receiving a grade lower than a C. Study centers in each core subject area have been established, and expanded opportunities are provided for students to seek teacher assistance to improve their class performance, even if they are not in danger of failing. A significant majority of the student body has used AM support, administrators say. SOS coordinator and science teacher Stephen Speight reported that, over the course of the year, an average of 1,366 students enrolled during each three-week cycle. In addition, 2,790 ETHS students, (85 percent of the total student body) were enrolled in AM support at some point during the year.
“I think that’s an amazing number,” said Board member Margaret Lurie. She asked if that meant that 85 percent of students received grades lower than a C minus.
Mr. Speight pointed out that the high percentage was due to the fact that teachers can require a student to attend AM support when they feel that a student is “on a trajectory … to be at risk of failing.” He said that the heavy usage indicates that “this is a school-wide program. If you’re an AP [Advanced Placement] student who’s struggling or falling behind, there is a system where you can get help with your teacher.”
Although the majority of students who are assigned to AM support attend, about 15 percent do not, he said. “AM support is not a one-size-fits-all intervention,” said Mr. Speight. He said the school needs to find other, more “personalized but systematic ways” to help students who are in danger of failing.
Study centers have seen a “steady increase in attendance over the course of the year,” he added. The math center sees 85 students per day; science, 65 students; English/history, 45; and world languages centers, 15, Mr. Speight said.
During the year, faculty, safety staff, parents and students were surveyed “to monitor how System of Supports is working,” he added.
Faculty members took part in two surveys twice, one early in the school year and another last December.
The first survey, which had a 63 percent response rate, found that, on the positive side, teachers felt that students were turning in more and higher quality work and that teacher-student relationships were improving. On the other hand, many teachers complained that some students were “not showing up;” that there was not enough time during AM support; that students were confused by the SOS process; and that some were not prepared for AM support sessions.
The second survey, which had a 75 percent response rate, asked teachers to report on their workload resulting from SOS. It found that teachers’ “workload is less manageable compared to last year and that workload was having an effect on their performance and emotional health.”
Parents were surveyed as part of the online parent-teacher conference sign-up process. Of the 374 parents who responded to the survey, 205 reported that their children had been assigned to AM support at some time during the year. Sixty-two percent of that group reported that AM support had been helpful.
Finally, 1,787 of 2,869 students surveyed this past March indicated that they would like more one-on-one time and more help from teachers. They said that they wanted AM-support-type assistance offered after school, during lunch or during a free period. Students were divided as to whether they felt AM support was helpful to them.
A steering committee composed of students, parents, staff, teachers and administrators has met regularly through the year to review information and make recommendations about improving SOS. A working group has been assembled and will hold three public sessions over the summer (see sidebar) to share and refine SOS with the community before it is implemented again in the fall.