Situated in the town of Deep River, St. Mary’s Catholic School serves 210 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, with 75% bused. The population has remained fairly stable over the past five years but has experienced an increase in the number of military families. The school has a rich cultural heritage, with many students speaking a number of languages, as many families from other countries have moved into the area to work at the Atomic Energy plant.
Deep River has a wide variety of recreational and cultural events that the students participate in throughout the year. The school has a strong partnership with Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, as the parish finances and runs the school’s breakfast club and supports and promotes academic excellence. The parents demonstrate their support for the school through their willingness to volunteer where needed and participate in career days to share their expertise with the staff and students. Staff and parents set high expectations for students and themselves, creating a positive climate at the school.
The teachers are a cohesive, committed, hard-working team who view school improvement as a shared responsibility and believe that EQAO data are foundational to their success. They meet early in September to plan for improvement: they analyze the EQAO results, identify areas of strength and determine which need improvement. This year, Principal Cheryl St-Elier and the teachers used the EQAO Reporting application to examine the intersection between data relating to students’ attitudes and behaviours and achievement. They noted that there was a decline in mathematics achievement in the junior division, and after examining the Student Questionnaire results, they realized that many students did not feel they were good at mathematics or that they could solve difficult math problems. Adopting a collaborative inquiry approach, the staff examined in depth the attitudes of students, administered a board survey and developed a plan to move forward. They used the EQAO Summary of Results and Strategies for Teachers and discovered the reciprocal teaching strategy. Using this strategy in the math program has helped teachers to deepen students’ understanding of math problems. Regularly planned surveys, exit cards and immediate student feedback provide data to monitor the attitudes and progress of the students. The teachers also examined the learning skills identified in the provincial report card and developed strategies to highlight each skill so that students would become more aware of the expectations. Teachers instil an awareness in students of the importance of persevering when they don’t succeed right away.
“Using parallel tasks in my classroom ensures there is less down time and all students can participate in the activities. With activities in place to meet the varying needs of the students, we can celebrate the success of every student as they share their work and contribute to the conversation.”
— Kevin Walsh, Grades 6 and 7 teacher
While reviewing the EQAO data, the staff realized they needed to go back to the curriculum to understand the intention behind each expectation so that they could be more precise in their teaching and so that students could better understand the expectations. Using the curriculum to create common strategies and language that students would recognize as they moved from grade to grade, teachers created and implemented common anchor charts, terminology and graphic organizers with accommodations in place for students with special needs. As the teachers gained confidence, they realized that they did not need to rely on textbooks to provide rich tasks. The staff also recognized that to be more effective, they would have to be more precise when choosing resources, giving students feedback and allocating blocks of time. As a result, they developed strategies to integrate the curriculum in all grades in order to maximize time on task.
St. Mary’s staff believe that building classroom community and engaging students fully are important to student success, so they take the time to teach students how to interact, ask appropriate questions and take an active role in class discussions. Students learn how to be good listeners and how to build on ideas to extend and enhance discussion. The teachers use Big Ideas and parallel tasks in their classrooms to ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate. Kevin Walsh, Grades 6 and 7 teacher, states: “Using parallel tasks in my classroom ensures there is less down time and all students can participate in the activities. With activities in place to meet the varying needs of the students, we can celebrate the success of every student as they share their work and contribute to the conversation.”
Teachers use real-life examples that the students can relate to and understand in order to emphasize the importance of working hard to achieve success. Teachers set high expectations and use sports as examples to illustrate why athletes train hard to prepare for their games, which motivates the students to work harder. Success criteria are created, and the students refer to them to complete their assignments and to meet expectations. Reviewing the information provided by EQAO, as well as their school and classroom data, the teachers observed that making language and expectations consistent throughout the divisions had a positive effect not only on the academic success of their students, but also on the climate of the school. The students were more focused and thus experienced academic success using the strategies and tools they were given.
During Collaborative Inquiry Days, a board- and school-supported initiative, teachers meet together in their regional hubs to share strategies and practices. They also have the opportunity to visit classrooms and talk to the students. The principal supports job-embedded learning through the school budget, and the teachers meet at school as often as possible to share strategies and ideas and to monitor progress.
Principal St-Elier states: “My beliefs in the past 13 years have changed 180 degrees. I have seen how effective use of EQAO and classroom data can be very beneficial to the success of our students. This data motivates not only myself but the staff to work and learn together to ensure all of our students meet with success. It is a powerful instrument for positive change in student achievement.”
“My beliefs in the past 13 years have changed 180 degrees. I have seen how effective use of EQAO and classroom data can be very beneficial to the success of our students. This data motivates not only myself but the staff to work and learn together to ensure all of our students meet with success. It is a powerful instrument for positive change in student achievement.”
— Cheryl St-Elier, Principal
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient