Envisioning the Future of Somerville High School

In addition to the new building, SHS is more than one year into a grant funded planning effort with staff, students and community members to envision the future of Somerville High School. The scope of the work includes subcommittees focused on out-of-school learning, personalization of the student experience, performance-based assessments that may include multiple flexible pathways to graduation and reconsidering scheduling to make these ideas possible. SHS leadership presented some of the initial thinking to the School Committee, which included a proposal for a new schedule creating more flexibility for internships or other off campus training (subject to collective bargaining.)

During the April 3rd Educational Programs Subcommittee of the School Committee, the SHS School Improvement Council shared the work to date of the SHS subcommittees. Below I have included an exerpt from the minutes from this meeting, drafted by Chair Paula O'Sullivan. This provides detail about the possible future experience of students at Somerville High School - more personalized, more flexible and better preparing our students for success after high school. 

Minutes for the 4/3 Educational Programs Subcommittee by Chair Dan Paula O'Sullivan:

"High School staff presented their school improvement plan, starting with information on areas of success, such as the graduation rate and dropout rate, as well as areas to address, including the chronic absenteeism rate (22.2%) and the in-school and out-of-school suspension rates (6.1% and 3.2% respectively). The disproportionate rates for particular subgroups of students were also noted. It was shared that most suspensions are due to cutting class, which can lead to class/school avoidance.

Staff noted the rising importance of particular skills for students, e.g. critical thinking, and then shared areas of challenge within the current high school practices and structures to support the development of these skills, including the lack of real-world opportunities, a rigid schedule and not enough time for teachers to collaborate with each other. This has lead to a focus on three key areas: 1) student choice, 2) personalization, and 3) scheduling flexibility. This planning work, supported by a $300,000 Barr Foundation Grant awarded in October 2017, includes a planning team, four subcommittees, focus groups, professional development, and community events to gather stakeholder input and explore new ideas (for more details on this process from prior EP meeting, see March 19, 2018 meeting minutes).

Each subcommittee researched a particular focus area, including visiting at least one other school, and identified recommended action steps. The subcommittee focused on out-of-school learning (OSL) recommends a four phase process for every student, leading to a significant OSL experience. The performance-based assessment subcommittee recommends a multi-year implementation process leading to interdisciplinary PBAs in all grades, and projects in junior and senior connecting to their OSL experience and a newly developed Habits of the SHS Graduate schema. The personalization subcommittee recommends a daily 30-minute block of Highlander Community Time that would be required, credit-bearing, and supported by all SHS faculty. A sample schedule was provided, with potential activities. This is different from and would replace the current advisory in that it would be much more frequent and much more structured. Finally, the scheduling subcommittee is exploring the idea of moving from a semester model to a trimester model, to increase flexibility for students and better meet student and teacher needs. For example, this would reduce the number of classes a student has from seven to five, per trimester, and would create a free block once per year. This shift would also allow a student to restart a course sooner, if necessary, than the current schedule allows. Teachers would teach three out of five classes, allowing for more planning time.

Next steps for this work include using stakeholder feedback to finalize the proposed recommendations. Final recommendations are subject to addressing any contractual issues and School Committee approval. A $500,000 implementation planning grant was submitted to the Barr Foundation in April to support this continued work."

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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