St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, in Barrie, serves 743 students in Grades 9–12, with about 50% bused. Although enrolment is declining, there has been an increase in the number of students enrolling from non-feeder schools. The school has developed an excellent working relationship with its feeder schools to ensure their students and parents are informed about St. Joseph’s programs and opportunities.
St. Joseph’s has demonstrated continued success on the applied version of the EQAO Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics. Examining the over-time EQAO data in conjunction with board and school data, the school team determines the students’ strengths and weaknesses and uses the data to formulate an action plan to improve their success rates. Math teachers analyze the EQAO Item Information Report to find areas of strength and weakness, and they develop strategies to move students to the next level. They have developed a bank of hands-on activities involving manipulatives, and they encourage discussion to solve problems.
Richard Gallant, mathematics department chair, stresses that the use of EQAO-type questions is part of daily practice: “Students need to be familiar with the question structure, format and language of the test. We create our own block of questions that model the exemplars provided by EQAO, incorporating Targeted Improvement Strategies to enhance our programs, so students have no surprises when they write the test. We also access these resources to create lessons for the Smart Board, because we believe that technology is an integral part of the math department.”
The administration provides the budget and release time necessary for professional learning in board-led workshops. The school invited EQAO’s mathematics content lead to do presentations on how the questions are developed, written and scored. The staff also participated in moderated marking activities and attended a presentation by Marian Small addressing issues such as good questions, math talk, problem solving and hands-on investigations. Angela Deason, mathematics and special education resource teacher, reflects: “Teachers are committed to students’ well-being and success and are open to new ideas. They work as a team, sharing best practices, drawing from their strengths to create effective teaching strategies to improve student learning. They readily incorporate change into their classroom practice to ensure a more positive learning environment for their students.”
“Having our students engaged and participating is the key to their success. The teachers utilize their strengths and expertise to provide every student with the opportunity to experience success.”
—Carolyn Healy, Principal
To ensure a seamless transition for students from Grade 8 to Grade 9, St. Joseph’s Grade 9 math teachers, student success team and guidance counsellors meet with the Grades 7 and 8 teachers in the feeder schools throughout the year. To better prepare students to make decisions about the applied or academic courses, lessons at both levels are demonstrated. Many sessions focus on numeracy, and students are exposed to manipulatives and technology such as Geometer’s Sketchpad, Gizmos, Logger Pro and iPads. The Grade 9 teachers also stress the importance of knowing the language of math, especially key words, so students are more familiar with the expectations in Grade 9. Timetables are created so that the academic and applied math courses run simultaneously to facilitate any necessary transitions from one level to another.
St. Joseph’s also hosts a Grade 8 information night, where parents are invited into the school and the differences between academic and applied, as well as the different pathways for their children, are explained. They discuss the mentorship program, in which a Grade 9 student is paired with a student in Grade 10. Students also spend a day at the high school and meet their mentors, which gives them a connection to facilitate their transition. The school uses these mentors to lead the students through the various departments. To engage the parents, the school uses its Web site and e-mails parents regularly. Each parent receives a grade-specific message with information about the various activities throughout the year. Because of this communication, the parent group is very active and supportive.
“The EQAO data is a critical tool that reveals what needs to be done and shapes our next steps. It not only gives us the information needed to direct and change our programs as necessary but guides our decisions about course sections, time-tabling and budgeting.”
St. Joseph’s has created a Student Achievement Centre, which brings together the special education, English, mathematics and science departments to welcome all students and provide assistance as necessary. The centre is staffed by experienced teachers from all four departments who are dedicated to working with struggling Grade 9 students. Critical to the centre’s success is the communication and commitment among the teachers, who are encouraged to be proactive and identify struggling students early. Teachers regularly meet with administration, guidance and student success staff to discuss students at risk. There is no stigma attached to being in the centre, and students view it as a comfortable, accepting and warm place. The centre also runs a homework club staffed by teachers and educational assistants who volunteer to help.
The administration and staff of St. Joseph’s High School are proud of the success of their students. “Having our students engaged and participating is the key to their success. The teachers utilize their strengths and expertise to provide every student with the opportunity to experience success,” states Principal Carolyn Healy. “The EQAO data is a critical tool that reveals what needs to be done and shapes our next steps. It not only gives us the information needed to direct and change our programs as necessary but guides our decisions about course sections, time-tabling and budgeting. Our staff is very caring and believes that making connections and building trust with students enable them to be successful.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient