Corpus Christi Separate School in Thunder Bay serves 305 students in kindergarten to Grade 6. The school population is drawn from a large area that includes many English language learners who come from places like Colombia, China, Burma and Thailand. First Nation students account for 18% of the school’s population. Although students come from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and many speak a different language at home, the staff works collaboratively to provide meaningful learning opportunities for all students at all times. Describing the staff’s approach, Principal Prochilo states that “all students are treated the same, and everyone is important. We do not concentrate on highlighting the differences or barriers but rather on meeting the students where they are and meeting their needs.” Corpus Christi is the first school in the board to host a kindergarten program that includes students from other catchment areas.
Under the leadership of the administration, the staff examines and analyzes the EQAO data to identify trends over time and make informed decisions about areas for focus and improvement. At the beginning of the school year, EQAO data serve as a springboard for the development of the school improvement plan. The school team takes into consideration data over time, specific information found in the EQAO Item Information Report as well as responses from the EQAO Student Questionnaire. Teachers also consider data gathered from classroom assessments, report cards, and attitude and behaviour surveys developed by teachers and completed by students and parents. Data are an integral part of all decision making at Corpus Christi, and the teachers begin collecting information on student achievement in junior kindergarten. Students who attend the full-day kindergarten program receive a battery of tests at the end of junior and senior kindergarten. Cognizant that early intervention is crucial to future learning, teachers respond promptly to the results of the assessments and provide the necessary supports. The data provide a benchmark for classroom teachers to choose specific interventions and serve as the basis for professional conversations focused on student achievement. The data gathered during the kindergarten years are shared with teachers in the primary division to ensure a seamless transition for students. The data collected through the various assessments support the school’s requests for extra assistance from the board. The school has been very successful in acquiring additional personnel. “Success by Seven,” an intervention program available to students during Grade 2, is based on early assessment data in reading. Students who do not meet the benchmark receive targeted intervention. During the second half of the school year, the same support is offered to students in Grade 1.
Key to Corpus Christi’s continued success is the willingness of teachers to participate in professional learning. The school has been involved in two projects through the Teaching Learning and Leadership program funded by the Ministry of Education. The first focused on poetry through a cross-curricular approach that included the arts, literacy and technology. The teachers wanted to offer various avenues for students to find and share their voice, and for all students to build their confidence and to think of themselves as writers. Activities were developed around the idea “what I think I can say, and what I can say I can write.” The poetry project’s culminating activity was a celebration evening, where parents, family and the media were invited to share in the students’ success.
“Data will reveal your challenges. It is then up to us to realize our strengths to meet those challenges. EQAO data provides us with surprises sometimes, and it makes us reflect on our practice and where we need to go next.”
— Peter Prochilo, Principal
The second project addressed communications in mathematics. EQAO’s Item Information Report indicated that many students had difficulty explaining their thinking about mathematics and were not scoring well on open-response questions. Principal Prochilo describes the action research project as “an opportunity for teachers to take control of their own learning and to look at how teaching practices need to evolve to improve student learning.” Through the collaborative process, teachers developed a consistent approach to teaching mathematics at all grade levels. Students are now provided daily with rich problems, and lessons are structured around them. Using the math problem chart as a guide, the students work through problems, always keeping three steps in mind: 1) plan how to solve the problem, 2) solve the problem and 3) make a solution statement. Students work with the Explain Everything App on an iPad to take a picture of their work, to record their voice to describe their thinking and then to post their work on the school blog. Student work becomes the focus of professional conversations. During professional learning community sessions, teachers discuss samples of student work, the choices the students make to solve a problem, the strategies they use and their ability to communicate their thinking. This process allows teachers to learn from one another, receive support and work collaboratively to improve student learning.
Communication with parents is open and ongoing. They are encouraged to become active participants in their child’s learning by participating in the Home Reading Program, which includes a reading log. The Math Blog is also available to parents and includes Ministry of Education documents, research pertaining to mathematics as well as games that parents can play with their children to practise mathematical skills. Parents are often invited to share the successes, as was the case during the culminating celebration for the poetry project.
Corpus Christi is a vibrant school where “every student who comes through the doors is afforded the same opportunities.” The teachers know their students and use specific goals and success criteria to move all forward. Strong curriculum leadership, a commitment to professional learning and instructional practices based on data are integral to student success and to improved EQAO scores. “Data will reveal your challenges. It is then up to us to realize our strengths to meet those challenges. EQAO data provides us with surprises sometimes, and it makes us reflect on our practice and where we need to go next,” states Principal Prochilo.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient