O’Gorman High School has a population of 450 students in Grades 9–12, of whom approximately 10% are Aboriginal. The school has a positive and supportive relationship with its various Aboriginal community partners and regularly accesses an Aboriginal liaison working through the Northeastern Catholic School Board. O’Gorman serves a large geographical area, with many students bused long distances and some students boarding in the city. To better serve the community, the school has created an Alternate Education program to help adults returning to complete their high school education and improve their employment prospects in a local economy that has experienced fluctuations due to changes in the forestry and mining industries. This program provides an opportunity for its participants to complete the requirements for their graduation diploma.
O’Gorman provides a collaborative approach to learning. Success for all students is of utmost importance, and everyone believes that all students can learn with appropriate and effective supports. Principal Darren Berthier states: “I believe it is extremely important that all teachers have the opportunity to engage in dialogue about our data so that it becomes a whole-school, collective responsibility.” The school success team and the literacy team meet with the principal and vice-principal to examine a variety of data on student achievement and to make informed decisions about areas for growth. Resources such as Reading Ahead and the Ontario Comprehension Assessment are used, and the results are analyzed by teachers and administrators. Teachers use EQAO data to determine areas for further improvement and to identify the students who need assistance in specific areas. They use EQAO’s Summary of Results and Strategies for Educators to identify appropriate and effective strategies to address these needs.
Over the last few years, the O’Gorman team has implemented many effective strategies to support student learning and to provide purposeful preparation for the OSSLT. According to Principal Berthier, one successful strategy is to “create a school community where everyone takes ownership and understands that it is not the responsibility of only the English department.” With the same skills and strategies taught consistently in many classes, students realize that literacy is important in all subject areas, not just in English. All teachers are aware of the school’s literacy needs, and all disciplines must include one literacy question on each exam.
By examining the achievement data, as well as through the moderated marking of student assignments, teachers are able to identify students who are at risk and to provide ongoing support.
Intermediate teachers from feeder schools are invited to O’Gorman to participate in a moderated marking activity, which provides an excellent opportunity for them to see the growth of their former students. The school has a good working relationship with its feeder schools and promotes dialogue between the two panels to track and improve student achievement.
“I believe it is extremely important that all teachers have the opportunity to engage in dialogue about our data so that it becomes a whole-school, collective responsibility.”—Darren Berthier, Principal
In January, struggling students are invited to participate in lunchtime and/or after-school sessions to receive assistance related to the different aspects of the OSSLT. By the time they take the test, these students are confident about their skills and their abilities.
A Grade 12 student indicated that the students are very well prepared for the literacy test and appreciated the clear explanation of assessment-day procedure she received. She states: “The teachers are very supportive. They make you feel comfortable and they encourage you. In the end, with all the support, it was a good experience.” Principal Berthier and his team believe that the more confident the students feel, the better the opportunity for student success.
The school purposefully uses technology to engage students and to remind them of school goals. A strategy that has been successful is to use the electronic display boards in the front foyer and in the cafeteria to display tips and reminders about a specific skill or strategy related to the school literacy goal as well as to the OSSLT. Teachers post and regularly refer to EQAO vocabulary in the classrooms as a daily reminder to students.
Teachers are committed to differentiated instruction as a powerful means of ensuring that students receive the instruction they require. Most teachers have received training on differentiated instruction, and the school offers staff relevant and useful resources. Diagnostic assessments, flexible groupings during regular classes, small-group instruction and co-teaching allow teachers to focus on specific skills and strategies and to provide sufficient practice opportunities and feedback for the students.
One of the school’s goals is to maintain effective communication with families. With respect to the OSSLT, parents are informed about the sample items, strategies and suggestions on the EQAO Web site through school newsletters and an automatic messaging system. Parents are also made aware of the lunchtime and after-school assistance available. They are very supportive of a new initiative in which Grade 9 students have the opportunity to take mathematics and English for the full school year.
O’Gorman High School is a learning community in which students are encouraged to do their best always and are supported by caring individuals who collect and analyze data from various sources in order to deliver programs that meet all students’ needs. Student engagement is the focus, and every effort is made to provide meaningful learning experiences for all.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient