Burlington Central High School has enjoyed great success on the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. Its students have equalled the results of their high-scoring board (Halton District School Board) and have exceeded the provincial average for several years. This success story tells of a school that has considered its unique demographic profile and implemented strategies that allow students to succeed.
The school is in downtown Burlington. Its student body is diverse and faces some economic challenges. Burlington Central is home to 685 students in Grades 9–12 and 278 Grades 7 and 8 pupils. The school serves as the English as a second language centre for Burlington, and all international language students are registered at it. There are food baskets, a breakfast club and clothing assistance for students needing these resources.
It is apparent that the barriers between elementary and secondary school are fading at Burlington Central, which reflects the philosophy of the principal. Principal Jonathan Shoss states: “While our 7s and 8s have their own wing and their own organization and timetables, we are one school, one community, one vision”
To the benefit of all students, Burlington Central has taken advantage of its unique organizational structure by instituting a strong vertical alignment between the Grades 7 and 8 and high school sections. This facilitates communication and sharing between the elementary and secondary teams. Discussions are held about students’ transition into high school, and EQAO scores, reading assessment scores and report cards are reviewed. This scrutiny of the relevant data drives instruction and influences course selection. Staff from the two panels meet to discuss common content, areas of difficulty and subject terminology, so that there is a logical skill and content flow, with all teachers “speaking the same language.” With a clear view of the students’ academic history, secondary teachers are able to plan for appropriate placement and progression, especially in the areas of literacy and mathematics.
“While our 7s and 8s have their own wing and their own organization and timetables, we are one school, one community, one vision.”—Jonathan Shoss, Principal
These connections and interactions have benefitted boys’ literacy. The DRA has been modified for the secondary level. Teachers attend to curriculum, and local Rotarians volunteer to read with students. Teachers and librarians spend much of their summers reading library books, so that appropriate novels are selected for Grades 7–12 literature circles.
Not all ventures are purely academic. The vertical alignment allows some Grades 7 and 8 students to develop their interests and woodworking skills in the shop areas. The total child is addressed through social components as well. Grades 7–12 students participate in pep rallies, assemblies and clubs, and there is a Grades 7–12 student senate. Grades 11 and 12 students are also available to answer younger students’ questions about testing and exams. All of this contributes to a seamless transition to high school and virtually eliminates stress and anxiety for incoming Grade 9s. These activities also encourage inclusion and discourage bullying.
Burlington Central has employed a variety of sound strategies that are paying dividends in OSSLT results. The school has accessed board funding and personnel to provide practical workshops on specific strategies to develop students’ reading and writing skills, and to hold summer writing sessions in which course-specific lesson plans are produced. School board funding allows for literacy coaches, release time for planning and additional teaching resources. At Burlington Central, all teachers are literacy teachers regardless of their discipline. Parts of the EQAO sample test (newspaper article, opinion writing) are worked on in science and social studies classes. There is a movement in the classes to emphasize skill development rather than simply content knowledge. Teachers use exemplars, word walls, graphic organizers, journals and strategies associated with the writing process. Cross-curricular teams share strategies and engage in moderated marking, and students use exemplars so that they might be more informed about and involved in the evaluation process. The school Success Centre is open all day to assist students by providing extra help. Students are encouraged to attend lunch or after-school sessions.
The OSSLT is much more than an event at Burlington Central High School. It is the culmination of a long process. What makes this process so dynamic is that it is constantly being examined and refined. Student surveys, verbal feedback, teacher opinions and a careful examination of reports and questionnaires from EQAO bring about positive changes. An excellent case in point was the realization that every student who was unsuccessful on the test failed the multiple-choice section. This was immediately brought to the attention of all teachers, and multiple-choice strategies are now being addressed across the curriculum.
Burlington Central has enjoyed great success on the OSSLT. This is a result of every staff member using and improving current practices and working to become even more effective and more successful. Under the skilled leadership of the principal, the staff has effectively addressed the school’s unique structure. The students’ excellent OSSLT results are a testament to the team’s hard work.
Principal Jonathan Shoss states: “The role of the principal is to provide the latitude and resources that will enable teachers to utilize their expertise and focus on learning strategies that contribute to improved student achievement and overall student success.”
“The role of the principal is to provide the latitude and resources that will enable teachers to utilize their expertise and focus on learning strategies that contribute to improved student achievement and overall student success.”
—Jonathan Shoss, Principal
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2012 School Recipient