The only high school in a vast geographical region, Parry Sound High School delivers an exceptional mathematics program to a largely English-speaking, socio-economically diverse community. Of the 850 students in Grades 9 to 12, 33% require special education services, which, in keeping with the school’s student- centred model, are usually provided in the regular classroom. At Parry Sound, where student needs are complex, a cohesive, committed team of professionals are constantly endeavouring to enrich the school’s learning environment.
The effective use of data, school wide, is key to the development of this learning environment. Teachers use data extensively to identify and prioritize academic as well as social concerns, and to develop strategies to address them. Involvement in the board’s Student Success Initiative, for example, allows staff to dig deeper into EQAO results to identify trends. The staff views the use of data as a continuous process. Moreover, EQAO data help teachers better allocate time, meet the objectives of the various strands of the math curriculum and refine teaching strategies to address specific student needs. For example, data showing a strong correlation between students in applied programs and low math performance led the staff to focus particularly on this group. Aided by board personnel, the teachers gained confidence and competency in using student tracker data programs and assistive technology to differentiate learning and motivate students to strive for excellence. Principal Andy Gagné states: “Data identifies trends, clusters and individuals. You can’t make changes in your school if you are not informed. The data informs you. It tells you where your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s that simple.”
Through creative timetabling, reflective collaborative programming, extensive support systems and tremendous teamwork, the school enjoys a positive and inclusive culture built on strong relationships. The Student Support Hub, for example, is a key contributor to student success. A multi-faceted resource centre, it allows students bused from outlying regions equal access to academic assistance in all subject areas. Here, math teachers are always accessible and students can seek help to complete assignments or tests, use a computer or just have a quiet place to work at any time of day, including before school and during lunch. Principal Gagné explains: “It’s a culture of inclusion because every single person in our math department is an extracurricular coach, building relationships and rapport with kids. It’s the building of these relationships and the strong extracurricular program that has contributed to our overall success.”
“Data identifies trends, clusters and individuals. You can’t make changes in your school if you are not informed. The data informs you. It tells you where your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s that simple .”
—Andy Gagné, Principal
Relationships are being built outside the school as well. A new alternative, off-campus program for 60 students is functioning well because of them. Additionally, cross-panel dialogue with three of Parry Sound’s seven feeder schools is a new strategy that will be expanded in the future. Data shared centrally by the board allow cross-panel teams to engage in informed dialogue centring on programming and teaching practices to address the specific needs of incoming students. Grade 9 math teachers anticipate that this dialogue will lead to increased accuracy in determining student placement next September.
To maximize appropriate course selection and placement, the school schedules Grade 9 math classes simultaneously and places them in close physical proximity. Both strategies provide opportunities for informal communication and collaborative teamwork. Intentional in their approach to team teaching, math teachers develop common practices through sharing responsibilities and taking ownership of the success of every student, at each grade level. Consistency and continuity in the delivery of the curriculum are hallmarks of this team. Valuing the expertise within the department, its members meet in small groups to conduct in-service training. They make good use of sample EQAO assessments to establish benchmarks for moderated marking and create common final exams and tests for all grades. Every piece of classroom practice is shared. Seamless transitions for students switching instructional levels are further positive consequences of thorough planning and monitoring of student progress.
Monitoring progress is key. Typically, teachers begin new semesters and course units with introductory reviews of basic numeracy skills followed by diagnostic tests that establish each student’s level of preparedness. These assessments help teachers to group students according to acquired skills and help determine individual instructional levels. Frequent quizzes throughout each unit gauge individual progress. Using a school-wide, cross- curricular approach, the Student Success Team coordinates with classroom teachers in identifying students scoring less than 55% or exhibiting drastic academic or behavioural changes. A phone team then contacts parents as part of a comprehensive individual progress review. Similarly, students deemed to be at risk of not earning their credits are monitored closely and interventions are immediately made.
A strong supportive leader, Principal Gagné respects and values the expertise, organization and creativity that teachers at Parry Sound exhibit. Routinely consulting them, he views it as his mission to “remove obstacles and send resources their way” so teachers can do their job. Principal Gagné also values a well-informed and involved parent community. Parents appreciate the phone team’s timely follow-up and the Internet marks program accessible to parents and students alike. These encourage increased student and parent engagement. The school community at large shares the administration’s high regard for a staff whose passion and positivity inspire students to be successful. They agree that the teachers’ high expectations for students have no doubt been a significant contributing factor to the mathematical triumphs of Parry Sound High School.