Wednesday, June 8, 2011


As I begin preparing to leave Sparta Schools I would like to take the time to share my hopes and aspirations for Englishville Alternative High School. Below is a document that I began to put together earlier this school year.


A True Alternative School

How do we become a true alternative school rather than a small traditional high school? How do we go beyond are strength of building relationships to developing young adults who are resourceful; demonstrating the ability to gather& comprehend, perform critical consumption (discernment), communicate, and act upon (do something) information.

Englishville should set a goal to produce students who;

· Are prepared for post secondary studies and demonstrate these 21st Century skills;

· Reading for comprehension

· Writing for comprehension/communication

· Understanding of how to create a niche

· Work Collaboratively

· Critically think

· Are prepared to enter a sustainable job and demonstrate these 21st Century skills;

· Create a niche for themselves

· Stay informed and critically think

· Problem Solve

· Demonstrate a elf directed work ethic

· Work Collaboratively – communication verbally and written

· Use technology effectively

· Are ready to participate within their community and demonstrate these 21st Century skills;

· How to market yourself – build a niche

· Desire to serve/understanding of the importance to serve

· Knowledge of Community Activities, Government, Resources

· Work Collaboratively

The following is a proposal to address the needs mentioned above with support for the reasoning. In short, Englishville Alternative High School can become a true alternative by focusing on integrating reading and writing across the content areas, using strategies that purposely develop leadership and team skills, and creating a culture of caring and service to others.

Reading and Writing

The ability to read recreational and content technical material must be a focus of Englishville Alternative High School. Studies show that individuals who read are more likely to be successful in college.

· “What differentiates students who are ready for college from the rest, the research shows, is an ability to comprehend sophisticated texts that may have several layers of meaning.” -


· “That held true regardless of a student’s gender, race, ethnicity or family income. The ACT has spelled out the elements of complex tests in hopes states will start adopting them.” -

As part of Sparta School District, Englishville is poised to take the next step to produce students who will be classified as those that are ready for college. This is because of the work that has been and is continuing to be done in the areas of Common Strategies for Reading to Learn. Englishville’s population is largely characterized as free or reduced lunch. Thisstatistic would suggest that the students , as a whole, may also be coming from an environment in which reading is below average. If the ability to read at a high level will increase the students’ opportunities then it should be a targeted building wide goal.

Gathering and comprehension is only one piece of the puzzle. The students also need to be able to discern the material and communicate it. Sparta’s implementation of common strategies for Writing to Learn and its use of Collaborative Groups provides the tools to build these skills. The growth of a students’ reading skills and writing skills are interdependent :

· Reading and writing are interdependent processes that are essential to each other and mutually beneficial (Holt & Vacca, 1984). As writing improves through daily communicative use, reading is enhanced (Goodman & Goodman, 1983). -

· Reading Next (2004) and Writing Next (2007) have documented the importance of the reading-writing connection. Both reports affirm that students’ reading and writing abilities are complimentary and growth in one skill inevitably leads to growth in the other (i.e., students become better readers by strengthening their writing

skills and vice-versa). -

The Writing to Learn Strategies provide all content area teachers the tools necessary to create opportunities for the student to work on their writing skills while at the same time allowing for meta cognition, analysis of the material, and a chance to communicate. All of these aspects can be emphasized even further with the use of a structured collaborative activity.

Better readers and writers are not only more prepared for college but they also have better skills to find a sustainable job and to invest into the community in which they live.

Collaborative Group Work

Employers want individuals who can work with others to complete a common task in a timely manner. Individuals must have the ability to plan and organize, to identify roles and to delegate, the know how to complete the task, and the understanding of the importance of self and group reflection.

GRR is a framework that allows for modeling, guidance, and practice time for all of these skills to be developed. If Englishville implements this practice building wide on a daily basis, then it will provide for up to 1080 hours of practice a year. This would set Englishville apart from other alternative programs and give graduates the background necessary to become leaders in post secondary education, the work force, and the community.

The GRR will provide the opportunity for Englishville students to learn, practice, and demonstrate the skills mentioned above. Collaborative group instruction has also been shown to increase learning and retention (Fisher and Frey, 2008,, based upon studies; of Beckman 1990; McInnerney & Roberts 2005; Slavin 1980, 1983; Totten, Sills, Disgby & Russ, 1991) and improve students’ attitude towards school (Fisher and Frey, 2008; Johnson & Johnson, 1999; Summers, 2006).

It is the collaborative group work process where students can demonstrate the understanding of not only content but also the communication process, the discernment of ideas, and the ability to plan and delegate with the intent of accomplishing a task. Teachers can build into their lessons objectives (purposes) and assessments that intentionally strengthen individuals abilities to work in a team and to take a leadership role.

Through reciprocal teaching, a collaborative activity, students learn language that assists them in communicating with one another. By having this dialogue students begin to build the capacity and confidence to challenge one another, to challenge ideas and concepts presented by experts, and to develop further questions. This is the foundation of discerning information and acting upon it, as well as growing the individual skills necessary to becoming a integral part of a successful team.

Creating an Environment of Caring and Service

Capturing Kids Hearts provides a framework that can intertwine with the GRR Framework and the content being taught. When done correctly, it should it not be another thing a teacher must do but instead it will support and add to the curriculum. CKH, like reciprocal teaching, provides language that is important to individuals when they are dealing with others. It also provides tools that students can use to confront others that are acting inappropriately. The engagement and exploration stages build the desire to reach out and listen, a skill that is important when becoming involved in the community.

Attacking Attendance

There is a strong correlation between attendance and success in the classroom. Currently Englishville is suffering from a lack of consistent attendance. That is, there are a large number of students who do not see the benefit or are not inspired by the education that we are offering. We must ask ourselves how can we create emotion and meaning to a level that will attract the students.

I would like to offer several possibilities:

Option 1: Continue doing what we are with an increase focus and effort to improve instruction and delivery based upon the pedagogy practices supported by the district.

Option 2: Improve our instruction and delivery and add relevance to our classes with the use of a building wide essential question.

Option 3: Same as Option Two but add several building wide thematic units that last from one day to a week in length.

Option 4: Same as Option Two but add thematic year long courses.

If students are finding the classes interesting (emotion), if students are understanding the content (meaning), if there is relevance to the content (emotion and meaning) then they are more likely to want to be at school. If the students are at school then we have a better chance to impact their knowledge, the way they think, and the way they interact.

Where Do We Go From Here

Complete a needs analysis, gather info from staff, admin, and students

Set individual smart goals based upon the needs analysis and using district supported initiatives as means to accomplishing the goals.

Gradual release a multi-year plan that includes specific student outcomes, staff outcomes, and building vision.