St. Columban Catholic School shares Principal Heather Marcy and several staff members with its early-years counterpart, St. Patrick. Most of the students in the rural Ontario community are bused.
St. Columban’s focus within the board improvement plan emerges from a review of student EQAO data. The school also uses data from report cards, DRA and diagnostic mathematics assessments as well as teacher observations. The staff has team meetings to identify and plan for students at risk. Staff members use EQAO and school data as a guide throughout the year. In May, they meet to reflect and to discuss next steps. The current school improvement plan focuses on the following: reading for meaning, the correlation between student engagement and the school climate and problem-solving in mathematics.
To address the plan’s mathematics focus, St. Columban is working with several other schools on a Collaborative Inquiry for Learning in Mathematics (CIL-M) in communication and problem solving. Teachers have multiple opportunities to meet and develop high-yield strategies, co-plan and co-teach. They have focused conversations based on observations and student achievement leading to the next steps. Student engagement is promoted through special events such as having two schools come together to solve mathematical problems. The principals are heavily involved in the CIL model. They are knowledgeable about classroom activities and have meaningful conversations with their teachers about mathematics. They attend and contribute during meetings, supporting the teachers’ efforts and enthusiasm.
Using a collaborative literacy inquiry model, students learn the characteristics of fiction and non-fiction. Teachers use the Leaps and Bounds program to close the gaps for at-risk children. The strategies that help Level 2 students reach Level 3 can help all students improve. In addition, the Grade 3 teacher collaborates and discusses curriculum needs with the early-years teachers at St. Patrick’s.
Principal Heather Marcy states: “The staff of St. Columban have been instrumental to our success over time. They genuinely care about the students, and they want to move every child forward. They are engaged and active. They work well together on the collaborative inquiry. At St. Columban, we know that the EQAO is not only a Grade 3, 6 and 9 event. It is a primary, junior and intermediate event. We know that improvement does not happen overnight, so we choose one thing to be our focus.”
Criteria for success are displayed on classroom walls; students know and understand the language and can articulate the learning process in other areas. The students’ integration of this learning came home to teachers when, as part of the focus on school climate, the students were asked to set up rules to play soccer fairly. The students responded that if playing soccer fairly was the “learning goal,” they would list the “success criteria.”
St. Columban stresses the values of a Catholic community: respect, caring, responsibility, trust and a sense of community. Parents, grandparents and local businesses support St. Columban in many ways. The parents are knowledgeable and involved in their children’s education.
Cathy Rops, a parent, states: “We need to let our children know that their education is important to us. The most effective way to do that is to show them by being informed. Read and be attentive to the school and classroom newsletter.
“The staff of St. Columban have been instrumental to our success over time. They genuinely care about the students, and they want to move every child forward. They are engaged and active. They work well together on the collaborative inquiry. At St. Columban, we know that the EQAO is not only a Grade 3, 6 and 9 event. It is a primary, junior and intermediate event. We know that improvement does not happen overnight, so we choose one thing to be our focus.”
—Heather Marcy, Principal
Do the activities that are suggested to support learning at home with your children. Make reading a regular part of the day and make it intimate with your child so that the snuggle-up time is enjoyable for both of you.”
The use of technology is a key strategy at both St. Columban and St. Patrick, where staff, students and parents are able to collaborate and communicate with one another and throughout the board. For example, through e-Learning Ontario, teachers are being trained on the use of social media. St. Columban has a “moodle,” a secure Web page that allows teachers, parents and students to communicate. The school newsletter and calendar are online. Teachers also use technology when searching for resources to help deliver the curriculum.
Tracy Klaver, a teacher, states: “The EQAO Web site has helped me as a teacher. I access it to help prepare my students. I often go through the exemplars from past assessments with the students to help them understand how they can move from Level 2 to 3, and from Level 3 to 4. It has been a very valuable resource.”
Many factors have contributed to St. Columban’s success over time. The teachers focus on high-yield strategies to promote student achievement based on individual needs. They use an analysis of EQAO data along with school-level information to develop their goals. Teachers employ collaborative inquiry to implement the curriculum, using observation and internal data when reflecting on their students’ progress. The teachers are comfortable using technology for communication, collaboration and information. Parents and the community support the school by volunteering, fundraising and playing an active role in the education of their children. Faith-based values are a strong part of the St. Columban school climate.