When Dan Stephens took the reins as high school principal three years ago, he saw room for change at Woodland Hills.
At the time, a slew of Woodland Hills’ administrators were retiring and leaving for other jobs, including the superintendent. The school board decided not to hire any new administrators until they hired a superintendent, said Maria McCool, Director of Communications for the district, in an email to Patch.
The superintendent, then, would be able to pick their own administrators and leadership team, she said.
The new superintendent, Walter Calinger, hired 13 administrators his first year, including Stephens. The principal and his team came with a plan to change the high school.
They wanted to create a school within a school to keep students on long-term suspensions or expulsions inside the building and learning. And, they wanted high-performing students to have the opportunity to get college credit in high school.
“We are trying to give as many possibilities to as many students as possible,” Stephens said.
For the 2009 school year, high school students had two new options, the Wolverine Promise and the College Now programs.
The College Now program gives students a post-high school education while still in high school. The program works with Point Park University to offer college credit to students who interview and are accepted into the program.
Colin O’Grady, a career counselor and Promise counselor, said the program helps students explore different options, from trade schools to four-year colleges. He said his job is to help students find what is right for them through job shadowing, college fairs and resume building.
“It is my view that students need some kind of education and training after high school,” he said.
Right now, about 30 students participate in the program from sophomore to senior year. Although freshmen are not participating now, assistant principal Licia Lentz said she is hoping to have them in the program in the next couple of years. The high school pays for the college credit, transportation and books for the students, she said.
Students can go to Point Park for multiple semesters and choose between taking college classes in the morning or afternoon. Students spend the second half of the day back at the high school. Students also have the freedom to choose what courses they want to take. Point Park requires one humanities course and then offers a list of courses accepted by other universities.
So far, all of the students in the College Now program have gone onto higher education after graduation.
“We tell our students, if it is not the classes you want to take, go for the experience,” Stephens said.
The Promise of Education
Lentz walked into a ninth grade Promise classroom during the school day on Feb. 4 and asked the students if the program helped them raise their grades. Out of six students, four raised their hands and one added that he thought it was the “best program ever.”
Promise brings students serving suspensions or expulsions because of behavioral problems back to the school in individual classrooms where they can work their way into the regular school curriculum. The student must sign a form promising to follow the rules, to show up on time for class and to do the work they are given to get transitioned back into regular schooling.
“We try to bring them back into the general education program slowly with only one or two classes at a time,” Stephens said. “Before, there was no way to bring them back until they served their suspension or expulsion.”
The classes take place in the high school, either in a daytime program during regular school hours or an after school session from 2:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. The curriculum is the same as the other high school students and the building is the same, but the students work individually with teachers and behavior specialists.
Right now, the program hosts about 93 students in the morning and evening sessions. Each nine weeks the students are assessed on their grades and behavior, and then the teachers, parents and the student decide on whether to stay in the program or go back to regular schooling.
Last spring, 13 Promise students moved back into a regular classroom setting, Stephens said. O’Grady said all the students who have moved back are successful.
The ninth grade regular education students were ending their lunch break when Lentz walked in. Students get lunch at the cafeteria, but must eat it inside their room. The program operates on a point system, awarding students for good behavior or those who have worked hard. If a student receives enough points, they get rewards, like a day to eat lunch with the rest of the high school.
After lunch, a history teacher enters the classroom and starts setting up for his lesson. The students do not leave the classroom for their lessons during the daytime program - the teachers come to them.
Promise classes are a regular 42-minute lesson in math, English, science, social studies and an elective. The students also have a resource period, led by each room’s behavior specialist.
Lentz led the way to one of the special education classrooms, which is a mix of students from freshmen to seniors. The students were already finished with their math lesson, and it was five minutes before the end of period.
The math teacher, James Blaney, said the students are learning algebra on an individual basis. Students take a test to determine what they know in different subjects and the teachers start from there. If a student misses a day of class, the teacher knows exactly where they left off.
“Some students say ‘I can’t do this I’m stupid,’ and then five minutes later they are done with what I asked them to do,” Blaney said. “[The program] gets them working in a classroom setting and they do the work because they know they can.”
Before the Promise program, students serving an expulsion would receive home-bound tutoring from the school. The tutoring sessions were only for one hour a week in five subject areas. Five-hour schooling for one week is the bare minimum, Stephens said.
But even though the program was built to keep students in school, some behaviors like cussing or fighting gets students a day or two off of school, Lentz said. She said the students have to learn they cannot do whatever they want.
In the next classroom, a mix of regular education sophomores, juniors and seniors, were also taking lunch. One senior, Shantell Allen, excitedly shared how the Promise program changed her life.
“It helped me get my grades up,” she said. “I had all F’s and D’s, maybe one C in gym class but that doesn’t count. I am in good hands right now, thanks to the program.”
Lentz said Allen was a few credits short of graduating, and probably would not have done so on time without Promise.
The program was working for students in the last special education classroom as well. Out of 14 students, six of the students could attend regular classes throughout the day, said Joe Goldon, the behavior specialist for the room.
“If the students do what they need to do in a positive standard, me and the teachers recommend you to go out to the regular classes,” Goldon said.
And getting all of the students back into regular high school classes is the goal. O’Grady said the program offers support for the students, but also an extra bit of structure.
“It provides students with a more individualized setting, a smaller classroom and it sharpens their skills to transfer back into high school,” he said. “Having face-to-face contact with teachers, behavior specialists and a support system creates an environment for growth.”