Bellewood Public School is a junior-kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school in Windsor. This French Immersion school has grown dramatically over the past few years and currently has a population of 705 students. A variety of cultures are represented among the students. Parents are supportive of the school and share a belief in the value of education. They are also receptive to information concerning programming and the details of the school improvement plan highlighted in the school’s online newsletters and on teachers’ blogs.
Bellewood has experienced considerable success on all EQAO assessments over the years, as its scores are consistently well above the board and provincial averages. These successes can be attributed to sound decision making based on excellent data. For example, demographic information and teacher input indicated that many students from divergent backgrounds come prepared to learn and yet often do not start school with the necessary prior knowledge. So the staff provides experiences necessary for vocabulary acquisition and uses consistent instructional strategies throughout the grades to pre-teach vocabulary prior to learning.
EQAO results are important to the planning and decision- making process at Bellewood. The contextual, attitudinal and behavioural, and achievement data are thoroughly analyzed by the administration and brought to the attention of all staff, since the results have an impact on students at every level. The teachers believe that once they know how kids learn best, they can address learning styles and knowledge acquisition. An in-depth examination goes far beyond a study of scores. It is used to ascertain areas of strength and weakness, gaps in learning and the self-perceptions of students. EQAO provided the data that allowed staff to focus on the gender gap and assisted them in identifying Level 2 students, which led to specific and directed plans at the school level to move students forward. At Bellewood, Level 3 is an important benchmark but not the end. With a view to moving more children to Level 4 in reading, the staff decided on a variety of strategies to “bump up” student responses. They used anchor papers, exemplars and teacher- moderated marking of student work samples throughout their year-long emphasis on the “big idea” of social justice. Together with students, they developed success criteria in an effort to be explicit about what constitutes Level 4 thinking. Teachers used think-alouds to ask questions as they read aloud, and Q-charts were used to create questions that solicited more than yes or no responses. Bellewood’s percentage of students at Level 4 far surpassed the board and provincial averages in EQAO’s report.
“You can feel the culture of professionalism, curriculum and learning as soon as you walk into this building.”
—Joe Younan, Principal
The school administration and staff believe that effective student growth requires clear expectations and targeted strategies. They outlined good teaching strategies—well-researched best practices that all agree are non-negotiable and that are in place in every classroom—such as small-group instruction, “bump it up” and learning goals. Administrators ensured that each class had the resources necessary to support student needs and promote student engagement. A practical example of strategic planning was in response to the EQAO Student Questionnaires that indicated that, despite mathematics scores above the provincial average, students did not perceive themselves as good at math. The staff discovered that students had the skills to solve the questions but did not have the confidence in their math communication skills to explain their reasoning. Through a collaborative inquiry approach, students developed more skill and confidence in communicating their thinking. Teachers’ theory of action statements led to an investigation of strategies such as working backward from the answers to the problems, teaching steps in explaining thinking and using iPads to communicate.
“Without data, how can you place value in what you do and teach? Data tells me where to focus, how to learn and how to think. It allows for a road map to an appropriate end.”
—Todd Awender, Former Principal
Responsive professional development at Bellewood combines with thoughtful analysis of EQAO data, and internal assessment practices offer the information necessary to allow for accurate programming. Teachers set their professional development agenda within professional learning communities in the school, and a board-sponsored instructional coach is available to assist in classroom practices. Vice-Principal Andrea Fischer’s previous role was as an instructional coach, and her experience with teacher conversations has helped her in her current role. Principal Joe Younan comments: “You can feel the culture of professionalism, curriculum and learning as soon as you walk into this building.”
Bellewood Public School has proved to be a model of excellence. The staff has used accurate assessment data and plotted growth for the students using best practices. The EQAO assessments are the objective tool that indicates how successful the school improvement plan has been. Former principal Todd Awender is quick to acknowledge the role of data in this successful process. “Without data, how can you place value in what you do and teach? Data tells me where to focus, how to learn and how to think. It allows for a road map to an appropriate end.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient