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In its third year of implementation, System of Supports (SOS), the school-wide initiative at Evanston Township High School aimed at improving academic achievement for all students, is experiencing some growing pains, administrators told the District 202 School Board on March 23.
“We’re in the terrible twos,” said Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marilyn Madden.
AM Support Attendance
The biggest problem is with attendance at AM Support, said David Wartowski, SOS coordinator.
“Getting students to attend AM Support is the primary issue that we are working to resolve,” reported Mr. Wartowski. “Daily attendance at AM Support is about 34 percent, down about 10 percent from the end of last year.”
Administrators said this is particularly unfortunate because, according to the report presented at the meeting, “Data shows that students rarely fail a course if they go to AM Support. Of students who attend AM Support regularly, only 8 percent earned a D or F in the course. Conversely, of students assigned to AM support but who never went, 41 percent earned a D or an F in the course.”
Lack of Consequences
“Is there any consequence any more for them not to show up?” asked Board member Margaret Lurie.
Mr. Wartowski explained that when SOS was first established, students who did not attend AM Support were assigned to a session of Missed Instructional Time (MIT).
“We got rid of MITs because we didn’t like the feel of them,” Mr. Wartowski said. “We didn’t like that fact that it was driving students away from school. Now we are faced with the tough question of what other types of consequences would be appropriate.”
“What are you thinking about for consequences?” asked Board member Jane Colleton.
“We’re in a brainstorming mode right now,” replied Mr. Wartowski. “The consequence has to be immediate, it has to be meaningful and it has to be truly supported . . . and something we can follow through with. It’s a top priority.”
Ms. Colleton asked why MITs were “unworkable.”
Mr. Wartowksi explained the process was “unmanageable” because the deans had too many MITs to follow up on, so they were not implemented in a timely fashion. In addition, he said that although MITs were not originally meant to be punitive, “it ended up feeling like a detention.”
During public comment later at the board meeting, special education teacher Richard Weiland cited the lack of consequences for non-attendance at AM Support and the abolition of the Tardy Center as significant problems.
Mr.Weiland, a 35-year veteran teacher, said in his 18 years of teaching reading, students in his classroom had averaged “two years worth of growth” in their reading skills in a year’s time, but this year only one-third of his students had made any progress at all.
“I have a disaster on my hands,” he said. “Freedom without responsibility is not freedom, that’s license. . .many of (my students) come from backgrounds where they cannot distinguish kindness from weakness . . . they take full advantage of that.”
He suggested that teachers could help with the processing of paperwork on minor infractions and that AM Support could be held at a different time of day for some kids.
Enrollment for Support
AM Support is not the only option for teachers to assist struggling students.
“One size does not fit all,” said Ms. Madden. “For some kids, the personalization is really important. We need to look at the profile of the student and figure out what is the best type of intervention and what is the best type of consequence.”
The number of students enrolled in different supports has risen over the semester, according to the report. By the middle of second quarter, 1,465 were enrolled in AM Support, 231 were enrolled in the Homework Center and 273 were assigned to Study Centers.
The progress of two efforts started this year, the Academic Intervention Team (AIT) and the Organizational Seminar, was also reviewed by staff.
Academic Intervention Team
According to the 2008-09 SOS Educators’ Guide, the AIT gets involved “when a teacher has made his/her best effort to help a student succeed academically and the student is continuing to fail. . . This team will, with the teacher’s involvement, coordinate more intensive collaborative academic support for our most struggling students.”
Mr. Wartowski said AIT members Althea Brown and Michael Burzawa have met with 73 students this year. He reported that “their work is personalized and (uses) a problem-solving process . . . with students to achieve their own academic goals.” Sixty-five percent of students working with the AIT have reduced the number of D’s and F’s they received by 40 percent at the end of the first semester. The team has also added five additional staff members who have volunteered to help with the effort.
A pilot of the Organizational Seminar based on AVID principles was initiated this past year. Students are assigned to the Organization Seminar by teachers. Mr. Wartowski said there were some “logistical problems” in the first semester, but in the second semester, “we improved the structure with the help of a small team of tutors and staff members.” By the end of the first four weeks of second semester, staff had met with 70 students, about half of whom returned for follow-up meetings and “show progress on their organizational skills.”
Mr. Wartowski presented three recommendations for future implementation:
Expand the efforts of the AIT to meet the needs of more students;
Increase the use of data-based progress-monitoring of each student school-wide through the expanded use of E-School (the computer software and database which documents student progress);
Adjust the consequences for missing support with the goal of increasing student attendance to assigned supports.