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After its first year of implementation, the System of Supports (SOS) initiative at Evanston Township High School has undergone some changes, and more enhancements are planned for its future.

“That’s the Evanston way,” said Marilyn Madden, Assistant Superintendent/Principal. “We don’t just sit on our laurels. We take a look at everything we do, we examine it and then we improve it.” Ms. Madden told the District 202 School Board that input for improvements had been obtained as a result of the work of a steering committee comprised of “students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators.”

Changes and Enhancements

David Wartowski, ETHS math teacher and SOS coordinator, outlined the changes for the Board at a September meeting. He described a tiered system with three different levels of support:

• Level One – The Fundamental Support System, which might consist of a meeting with a teacher outside of class, contact with a parent or a parent/teacher conference.

• Level Two – Supplementary Supports, including support in the morning before classes (AM support), study centers, the homework center, one-on-one tutoring, an organizational skills seminar, or assistance from a counselor.

• Level Three – School-wide Collaborative Supports, such as academic contracts, the Academic Intervention Team, coordination with coaches/sponsors, student/parent conferences, contact with outside agencies or other personalized actions.

“I think there’s even more excitement than (last year) as we go forward,” he said. He described four changes and enhancements to the program.

First, teachers will now have the option of assigning struggling students to a range of supports, whereas before they could only assign students to attend AM support. These supports include AM support, study centers, the homework center, one-on-one tutoring provided by INVEST and an organizational seminar (to be piloted in the 2008-9 school year).

“AM support is not a one-size-fits-all,” Mr. Wartowski continued. “This (new approach) would allow support that might be more helpful in that particular situation. (It also) allows AM support time to be more personalized.”

Second, teachers will now have the flexibility to enroll and un-enroll students on a rolling basis in required supports rather than only once every three weeks, as was the case last year. “The idea of having cycles was a bit artificial. We wanted enrollment to be timely,” he added.

Third, students will no longer receive a detention (known as MIT, an acronym for Missed Instructional Time) for missing AM Support. “(Students) are here to learn. That was the whole original point of MIT’s,” explained Mr. Wartowski. “The sense that is not lost is persistence … the relationship we build with our students. We have high expectations . . . to grow academically.”

Fourth, when a teacher has made his or her best effort to help a student succeed academically and the student is continuing to fail, the teacher will have the option of referring the student to the Academic Intervention Team. This team will, with the teacher’s involvement, coordinate more intensive collaborative academic support for the most struggling students.

“This is new to our school. We need to wrap around this child, with everything we’ve got, to achieve those goals,” Mr. Wartowski said.

Teachers can enroll students to receive additional support via the computer system. The Academic Support Team, which is composed of Mr. Wartowski; Althea Brown, SOS specialist; and Michael Burzawa, ETHS varsity football coach, reviews the information the teacher enters into the system and determines if there is already some resource in place for that student.

“If there is, we connect with that resource, let the teacher know of the resource and put the student even more on the radar,” said Mr. Wartowski. He further explained that if there was not an appropriate resource to help the student, “then we (the Academic Intervention Team) would take on this student and do such things as academic contracting, or meeting with the parent and the student.”

Additional improvements to the initiative include computer software that “can handle more data and is slicker and quicker,” an expanded homework center coordinated by Ellen Morgan, who runs the INVEST tutoring program, as well as standardized study center hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for each subject area.

Mr. Wartowski also outlined plans for the future. “The one thing I can tell you for sure is that we will be listening,” he said. “That’s been our guiding light … doing a good job with having the right conversations.”

He added that the increased intensive support offered by the Academic Intervention Team is “something new … and we’re going to keep our eyes on what we’re doing.” In addition, he said that “staff development is something we want to focus on,” as well as “timeliness of scheduling support.” Finally, he said, “we need to build more of a link with District 65 and identify students (who may need support) before they enroll (at ETHS).”

Board Comments

School Board Vice President Rachel Hayman asked how parents would be informed about their child’s assignment to supports.

“Anytime a student is enrolled in any kind of support or anything about the support changes, a letter will be sent home,” said Mr. Wartowski. “We are also building the capacity for parents to see this kind of thing online.”

Ms. Hayman said that although she thought that E-School (the online access) was “very exciting … I don’t think that online access should be seen as a substitute for teacher contact.”

Several Board members were concerned about consequences for students who did not attend their support assignments.

“I am curious about the administration’s philosophy about punishment,” said student representative Adam Newman. “What I would hate to happen is that students think there is no punishment and would exploit the system.”

“I’m concerned about accountability on the part of the students, the parents, the administrators, the teachers and the Board,” remarked Board member Mary Wilkerson. “It sounds like we’re kind of walking away from holding the students accountable for their own learning.” But Ms. Wilkerson also commented, “This is the first time since I’ve been on the Board that I am really, really excited about what I see here, so I’m willing to wait and see.”

“I don’t think we’re in the business of punishing people here,” said Ms. Madden. “Our goal is to make students self-directed learners and that it’s okay to ask your teacher for help. You always have people who don’t follow rules, but it’s a small number, and I think we’ve turned the corner on that.”

“Punishment is a horrible driver to success,” added Mr. Wartowski. “It’s really about encouragement.”

They both cited the new Academic Intervention Team as being a critical part of addressing the needs of recalcitrant students. Ms. Madden estimated that about 100 students would be involved in this level of effort.

“You’re not alone,” Mr. Wartowski added. “That’s a concern a lot of people have, and I think we need to keep asking that question and keep an eye on ourselves.”