Monroe High School Principal John Lombardi presented to Monroe City Council and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas on Tuesday, Dec. 2, giving them a comprehensive overview of what student achievement currently looks like at the high school.
Monroe High School has a total population of 1,614 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
Lombardi shared a recent success story in regards to the new Washington State Public School Achievement Index, which rates the quality of over 2,212 schools across the state. The system includes six categories; exemplary, very good, good, fair, underperforming and lowest 5 percent.
Each category corresponds to a letter grade ranging from A to F and F-. The index rates not only how well the students do on certain assessments, but also how much growth is demonstrated over time.
Initially, when the school was first ranked via the new system, MHS was rated as a "fairGÇ¥ school, which was the equivalent of a "DGÇ¥ grade. By the 2012 GÇô 2013 school year, the school had improved dramatically.
"I'm proud to say that right now we are ranked as a very good school, and we are on the cusp of being an exemplary school.GÇ¥
One of the ways Lombardi has been able to facilitate school-wide improvement has been through the implementation of innovative strategies like the high school's algebra block program.
When Lombardi arrived at MHS in 2007, 1,036 F grades were given out to 470 students. This translated to 29 percent of the student body receiving one or more failing grades.
Math scores proved to be some of the most challenging at MHS, and so this is the area Lombardi zeroed in on. Each year, approximately 100 students with low math skills would fail pre-algebra at a rate of about 60 percent. On the state WASL test, the passing rate for math was less than 50 percent. Lombardi implemented various techniques seeking improvement GÇô none of which proved to be especially effective.
When math teacher Kathy Stilwell came to him with a new idea, he was ready to listen. Stilwell advocated for two-hour math periods, otherwise known as algebra blocks. The algebra block strategy, explained Lombardi, is what transformed math at MHS.
Stilwell worked with the 100 students who had low math skills. She changed the way she taught; she changed what she taught them and she focused on each student's individual level of understanding.
"She took those 100 kids and 98 percent passed algebra,GÇ¥ said Lombardi. "Out of that 98 percent, about 78 percent passed the math state assessments on the first try. We said something that doesn't happen very much in public education or in any part of our world, and that is, "That worked; let's do more of it.'GÇ¥
Eventually, the block classes evolved so that five instructors were all teaching identical block curriculum during first and second period. After six weeks, the students were given an assessment test, and then were redistributed based on their proficiency level. The high achieving students were placed in a class together; as were the mid-range students and the students who were struggling. This technique leveled the playing field for all the students GÇô and with curriculum better suited to each student's level of expertise GÇô the rate of student success continued to improve.
The program has continued to mature and shift based on student need. Initially, Lombardi said that it was difficult to convince parents to support the block algebra program, but this year, there were enough requests to fill eight block classes.
"The problem is different now,GÇ¥ said Lombardi. "Parents are now upset because their kids don't get in, so this year we've expanded it to seven blocks.GÇ¥
Additionally, the high school has worked to improve the overall experience for incoming freshman students. This is based on recent research in scholastics which has indicated that, contrary to the popular belief that 11th grade is the most important year for high school students; studies are actually showing that 9th grade is the most instrumental year in a student's high school career.
Through the Link Crew program, students are given the opportunity to work with incoming freshmen on an individual basis. The goals of the program are to meet the three fundamental freshman needs by helping them to feel safe, well-informed and better connected.
"No freshman walks into our building without having an upperclassman as a mentor,GÇ¥ said Lombardi.
This year, the school orchestrated a volunteer orientation "LinkGÇ¥ day which took place on Wednesday, Sept. 3. While freshman attendance was not mandatory, Lombardi said that 94 percent of MHS freshmen showed up on that day.
The school has also implemented two learning intervention programs which are helping to lower the rate of failing grades, not only in math, but in all classes. "Study Time Intervention,GÇ¥ is an intervention program which takes place Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Classes end 40 minutes early and students who need additional help are able to go back and see their teachers for additional instruction. They can also opt to seek tutoring from one of the student mentors.
"Students that need help can get a pass throughout the day to go back and see that teacher for help,GÇ¥ said Lombardi. "So if I'm in science and I didn't understand meiosis, I can go back and see my teacher and get extra help in meiosis.GÇ¥
Another intervention technique called "Helping to Organize,GÇ¥ otherwise known as H2O, is a program in which students who don't do their homework are given the opportunity to complete the assignments during their lunch period.
"One of the number one reasons kids don't succeed in school is they don't do the homework,GÇ¥ said Lombardi.
If a student comes to school on Monday without having completed their homework, they are asked to give up their lunch period on Tuesday to complete the assignments. Food is delivered to students while they are working through lunch on an H2O pass, so that they still get the chance to eat. If the student comes to school on Tuesday morning with the homework completed, they are then able to forego working through their lunch period.
In a side-by-side comparison of the grades in one of MHS's science classes both before and after the implementation of H2O, the results are favorable. The number of A grades increased, and even more significantly, the number of F grades decreased. In 2012, 13 percent of students received an F in the class. In 2013, with H2O, the number of students failing the class decreased to 4.55 percent.
School-wide numbers reflect a high level of positive change. The total number of F grades for both 9th grade and 10th grade students has decreased dramatically.
Lombardi is looking forward to continued improvement.
"What we're trying to do is create a climate where it's harder to fail than it is to succeed,GÇ¥ said Lombardi.