St. Mary’s College, located in Sault Ste. Marie, serves 670 students in Grades 9–12. In 2015 St. Mary’s and St. Basil Secondary School will amalgamate, and the new St. Mary’s will be the only secondary school in the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board. Board personnel, department heads and lead teachers from both schools are working together through Catholic professional learning communities, using a collaborative inquiry model to ensure a smooth and successful transition. Shared instructional leadership has engendered a collegial spirit at St. Mary’s that has staff taking responsibility for all students. This has resulted in improved credit accumulation.
“The board has made a commitment to support shared leadership and instructional leadership. There has been a shift for the lead teacher of a department from that of a manager to that of an instructional leader. Our lead teachers now offer support at the instructional level,” says Principal Larry Pezzutto.
Each year, the EQAO data are analyzed by board staff and Principal Larry Pezzutto, who reviews the results with his department leads and their respective teachers. At St. Mary’s, the EQAO data are examined along with a large board database and in-school records. This copious amount of information is unpacked to identify the needs of the students, and the department goals are aligned to meet those needs. There has been a significant increase in data awareness and use of data to inform school improvement, and now all decisions and goals are based on the use of data.
The staff members at St. Mary’s have high expectations for the students and work on improving student achievement through their professional learning communities. They develop and implement effective teaching methods using specific learning goals, success criteria and descriptive feedback. Seeing a need for the review of fundamental skills in mathematics, teachers have implemented daily reviews of concepts pertinent to the material being covered. This “minds on” strategy has spread throughout the grades. For example, standard mathematics vocabulary is now embedded in the curriculum so that students are familiar with the language in their daily work and on EQAO assessments.
St. Mary’s College has an extensive transition program with its seven partner schools. The Grades 7, 8 and 9 teachers review the EQAO data and plan strategies for success for the mathematics assessment and for the OSSLT. This year the board has given the EQAO cohort results from Grades 9 and 10 back to the intermediate teachers and is planning a resource booklet scaffolding the Grades 8 and 9 questions.
Our collective work to improve student achievement in Grade 9 mathematics has been based on using the collaborative inquiry model in all of our elementary schools and in our secondary departments to determine the greatest student need and to implement specific, measurable strategies to address that need. The use of evidence from EQAO assessments and a common language of learning goals, success criteria and descriptive feedback has assisted both teachers and students in this process,” says Principal Larry Pezzutto.
— Larry Pezzutto, Principal
During the transition, some students are flagged for social, emotional or academic support. Self-identification is a great tool, and St. Mary’s uses the “Tell Them from Me” survey to get to know the students. Acting on needs evident from the survey, the St. Mary’s transition team has initiated the Link Crew program to give newcomers a sense of community. Small groups of Grade 9 students are linked with two or three trained senior students. The older students help acclimatize the new arrivals in September and also act as mentors, or big brothers or sisters, throughout the year, wearing group T-shirts to be easily identified. Crew members also plan information sessions for the Grade 9 students and their parents. These sessions on drugs, how to talk to teens, study skills and the use of Smart Boards are very well attended.
Student success teams and early intervention are a part of the culture of St. Mary’s College. The Student Success teacher meets with teachers on a regular basis. When any student’s marks fall under 60%, his or her parents are contacted, and the student is connected to a caring staff member. Parents are informed of support mechanisms so that remediation can take place before the term marks are calculated. Individual help for students is available from teachers, university students acting as tutors in the classroom and Grade 12 students earning an interdisciplinary credit for peer tutoring. This initiative started with the Grade 9s but has been phased in through the grades and has resulted in a noteworthy increase in credit accumulation.
Skills required for the EQAO Grade 9 math assessment are embedded daily. Teachers encourage the use of “Math Games.” Sample questions from past EQAO assessments are provided for each teacher through the Catholic curriculum department, and the teachers post the anchors so that the students understand the requirements of a Level 3 or 4 solution. Finally, flexible scheduling throughout the test allows for students to feel that they are taking part in something special and to work in familiar surroundings without feeling rushed or interrupted.
There is an infrastructure supporting academic success at St. Mary’s College. It is based on the use of data to inform decision making, the instructional support and leadership of the board and the effective teaching methods of the staff. Add to this the collegial atmosphere engendered through a collaborative inquiry model for delivering instruction, the “Tell Them from Me Survey,” the support of the Link Crew, the intervention for students at risk and the individual help available from dedicated teachers, and one can see why St. Mary’s College students are successful. This school is run not as an institution, but as a community.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient