Clarke High School is a small rural high school where staff, students and parents refer to one another as family. The school is passionate about student success and welcomes all students into a safe, inclusive learning environment.
Clarke is located on a major highway, so all 430 students must be bused. A daily bus for students in co-op placements, board-funded late buses and supportive parents provide transportation for the many extracurricular activities offered by the committed staff. The teachers, many of whom grew up in this rural community, know the students and parents well. Students are provided with emotional and social support, life skills and leadership training. There are opportunities for everyone.
Literacy skills are taught throughout the subject areas from the moment the students enter the school. Important skills required for success on the OSSLT, such as inferring and answering multiple-choice questions, are incorporated throughout the curriculum. Working with a Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board consultant, Clarke used resources from EQAO and produced a diagnostic assessment based on the OSSLT to be used at the beginning of Grade 10. Teachers from all subjects use moderated marking to identify areas requiring improvement in the current students. As the teachers rotate through the moderated marking process using the EQAO anchors, they become more knowledgeable about expectations for student success.
The location of the Pines Senior Public School on the same lot as Clarke provides easy access for transitional meetings and dialogue among the guidance, special education, student success and Grades 7 and 8 teachers. Cohort and individual data are collected from the Grades 3 and 6 EQAO results as well as assessment data from the students’ two years at the Pines.
At-risk students are identified so that strategies for success can be planned before they arrive at Clarke, and these students are paired with an adult who will identify, target and co-ordinate additional support, with accommodations as needed. Clarke students are well supported in and out of class. Students attribute their confidence and skill to their “amazing teachers.”
In September the trends identified on the Individual Item Reports for the OSSLT are cross-referenced with information about demographics and attitudes from the previous year. The resulting information is combined with the in-school achievement results from the current students to note areas needing improvement. These areas will become the focus for the new School Improvement Plan. Through a process of collaboration and discussion the staff develops a variety of strategies, and teachers choose those useful in their subject areas. For example, this year the data from EQAO indicated a need to focus on news reports, so teachers of every subject area had students practice organizing their writing in this form. After the strategies are implemented, there is a follow-up assessment.
“The EQAO data is important because it drives our decision-making process. The OSSLT helps our school team determine where the gaps are and in what areas we need to set priorities to improve student achievement and our instructional practices. We continually want to improve our practices as teachers and as school leaders so that we can serve our students.”
— Silvia Grdovic, Principal
The administration uses creative timetabling combinations to provide a variety of courses to serve the individual strengths, needs and interests of the students. Some courses are cycled and offered every other year. Grade 10 courses without prerequisites are open to Grade 9 students. Some classes are large enough to allow for smaller classes elsewhere, and many students are involved in the co-op program run through the collegial network of the school board and local businesses.
Reading is highly valued at Clarke, and the rate of participation in the White Pine Forest of Reading Program at the school is one of the highest in the area. Many of the staff read the novels and join in the student discussions. With the aim of encouraging reading among students taking applied English in Grade 10, the board consultant helped design a collaborative student literacy club based on linked adventure novels by seven Canadian authors. The students were engaged and improved their questioning and active listening skills through discussion groups that “opened their minds” to the opinions of others. This unit, which culminated in visits by two of the authors, was highly successful, with many students choosing to read more novels. Parents are informed about the OSSLT. The school created information packages that outline how the school provides supports and accommodations and how parents can help their child at home.
“Our OSSLT results have been maintained and sustained through the dedication and work of the teachers. I can set direction and provide leadership, but it is the teachers in the classroom and what happens in the classroom that directly affects the students and their progress. Teachers take on that leadership and I thank them for that. This staff has bent over backwards in terms of helping students with special needs and making them feel ready for the OSSLT. It is their work that ensures our success,” states Principal Grdovic.
At Clarke, nobody slips through the cracks. Students are welcomed and provided with a safe, healthy, inclusive environment, where they are treated as respected and valued partners in learning. The teachers know the students well and use evidence from a variety of sources to focus on areas for remediation when necessary. Students are offered many opportunities to improve their academic and life skills. The positive and close relationships at Clarke result in sustained success on the OSSLT and extremely high graduation rates.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient