Taking into account its character as a small school, St. Andrew has created a positive and inclusive culture of learning in a largely stable, English-speaking community. Of the 125 students, from junior kindergarten to Grade 6, most are bused from outlying areas. In partnership with the board, this exceptional school is constantly striving to enhance and intensify the special education programming required by 15% of its population. In recent years, a preponderance of males at the primary level occasioned the recruitment of more male teachers and an investment in boy-friendly reading materials and resources. Since a disproportionate number of these boys were struggling with the curriculum, an itinerant resource teacher was secured to assist teachers in identifying and supporting these students’ individual needs. Other demographic changes in this region, including new housing complexes, underline its economic and changing mobility patterns. Cognizant of the many needs of its community, St. Andrew has a history of assisting families by providing warm winter clothing, organizing snack programs and food drives, and introducing parents to supportive community agencies, which demonstrates that this school values parental engagement as a vehicle for student success.
In fact, for some time now, St. Andrew has been building and perfecting a multi-layered communication approach with parents at both the classroom and school levels. From PowerPoint presentations of EQAO and DRA data at school council meetings, to newsletters, calendars, agendas, letters and review sheets delineating curriculum expectations, to telephone calls and individual conferences, the lines of communication are always open. For example, the school council and staff collaborate on highly popular and successful math evenings at which teachers work through the math curriculum with parents and their children, demystifying mathematics learning and providing support packages for parents to use at home with their children. Given the school’s open-door policy and the constant informal collaboration that its small-school status allows, it is little wonder that students at St. Andrew are excelling in EQAO assessments.
Mindful that identifying student challenges and formulating appropriate action plans on a school-wide basis is key to St. Andrew’s success, Principal Carmela Pitman clarifies the process by presenting her staff with EQAO data using PowerPoint presentations complete with bar graphs to illustrate areas of need and trends over time. With the visuals as reference points, she then leads the staff through the Teacher-Learning Critical Pathways process, gathering, analyzing and incorporating the data into specific, focused school goals that complement board initiatives. Teachers are then directed to review and highlight particular areas of concern on the EQAO Item Information Report. Thereafter, the principal encapsulates all of this information into easily accessible packages, allowing teachers to use their students’ data and relate it to EQAO resources and previous assessments. From there, teachers collectively consolidate their data and program to strengthen specific student skills. Principal Pitman states: “Data is used to inform classroom instruction and to know the student. Data is reviewed on an ongoing basis and is part of our daily life at school. It allows us to identify the trends throughout our school and helps us focus on various points in the curriculum. But, most importantly, data allows us to put a plan in place and shows us how to action it for improved student achievement.”
Viewing data use as a school-wide process, staff members are amassing a substantial repository of large-scale assessments and in-school data that, together with EQAO materials, has helped produce a focused plan of action. Kindergarten teachers, for example, are able to monitor student progress closely by using the Web Based Teaching Tool, an early screening and intervention instrument, to establish a solid curriculum base, scaffolding student learning using terminology from EQAO and the curriculum. Likewise, individual classroom tracking boards, which use current DRA data and Running Records to highlight students who are struggling with the curriculum, enable teachers to stay well informed about their students and to focus on skill-based collaborative planning sessions. Highly professional, these dedicated teachers challenge their students to strive for excellence. Using rubrics, anchor charts and exemplars, they establish success criteria and adapt EQAO questioning and assessment techniques to individual student needs.
“Data is used to inform classroom instruction and to know the student. Data is reviewed on an ongoing basis and is part of our daily life at school. It allows us to identify the trends throughout our school and helps us focus on various points in the curriculum. But, most importantly, data allows us to put a plan in place and shows us how to action it for improved student achievement.”—Carmela Pitman, Principal
Principal Pitman adds: “The principal and teachers really need to communicate on a regular basis when a student is struggling. Improved student achievement is about the principal asking how she can support the teacher; it’s about the principal knowing the curriculum and making sure the teachers are able to deliver it.” Guided by a well-informed, reflective, hands-on leader who “takes the time to develop a rapport with every student,” staff share concerns, develop Individual Education Plans and act on them in a timely manner. Frequent, informal conversations are useful in bringing flexibility and immediacy to behavioural and academic concerns. Virtue assemblies and moral dialogues engender a positive communal spirit that is borne out in qualitative climate survey data, which indicate that staff and students enjoy a trusting and respectful relationship as “collaborative contributors” to the school environment.
Further factors in the many successes at St. Andrew stem from integrative board initiatives such as providing rich reading resources, maximizing class time with large literacy and numeracy blocks, placing resource personnel in the school and integrating assistive technology into daily classroom routines, which benefits students with special needs. Excellent professional development, release time for discussion and strategy setting, and direct intervention with any student in need have all contributed immeasurably to academic equity and excellence in this school.