St.Thomas Aquinas High School serves Grades 7–12 students in a large catchment area in Kenora. Although the school is small, it offers a variety of programs, including French Immersion. About 30% of its students are self-identified First Nation peoples. The majority of the population is bused.
The literacy team makes extensive use of data when planning and reviewing programs. The educators analyze report card, attendance, credit accumulation, homework completion and EQAO data, as well as the Grade 6 EQAO results for incoming students. These data shape the school improvement plan and guide the professional learning communities for the following year.
Principal Paul White states: “We use data to influence our classroom instruction and school improvement planning. Our goal is to have a consistent approach throughout all subject areas. We study Grades 6, 9 and 10 EQAO data, school climate surveys, attendance records and classroom marks. Our staff is then empowered to develop and implement the school improvement plan using a distributive leadership model. The distributive leadership model gives us the ability to share consistent information in report cards, parent-teacher nights, teacher communication and our Web page.”
After examining EQAO data, St.Thomas Aquinas teachers decided to make boys’ literacy their focus. They received guidance, training and effective resources from the school board. Their professional development on differentiated instruction and using best practices has had the serendipitous effect of achieving positive outcomes not only for the boys but for the girls as well.
“We use data to influence our classroom instruction and school improvement planning. Our goal is to have a consistent approach throughout all subject areas. We study Grades 6, 9 and 10 EQAO data, school climate surveys, attendance records and classroom marks.”—Paul White, Principal
Cross-panel dialogue is an important transition strategy. There are several transition strategies that integrate feeder school students into St. Thomas Aquinas, including a music program starting in Grades 5 and 6.This familiarizes the children with the school, making them more comfortable when they enter Grade 7. As the staff communicates well, early intervention and a smooth transition is the norm.
Collaboration is a key element of this school’s success. New teachers at St.Thomas Aquinas train with a mentor and are encouraged to participate in new initiatives. Everyone works consistently as a team to prepare the students to succeed on the OSSLT. For example, as paragraph writing is essential, students are taught to use the “hamburger” model starting in Grade 7. This model is used throughout the grades. In Grades 9 and 10, the literacy plan is more specific. Each department focuses on an explicit expectation using the format that best fits its curriculum. In history, students produce opinion pieces. During science, they practice the summary, and in geography and mathematics, they focus on reading graphic texts. In physical education, the students write news reports. The teachers are trained by the literacy team so that there is consistency throughout the school. Teachers of all subject areas in Grades 9 and 10 use multiple-choice and short-answer questions as well as questions in open-response formats on their tests. The entire school has adopted the RAISE technique for answering questions: Restate the question, Answer It and Support it with Evidence.
Full participation and successful completion of the OSSLT for all students is an important goal at St. Thomas Aquinas. Every June, Grade 9 teachers assess their students to identify any at risk. Students entering Grade 10 at Level 1 or 2 are placed together in English, which allows the teacher to pace the delivery of the curriculum and work closely with students where needed. Identified special education students are accommodated with assistive technology when necessary, and at-risk students are supported with differentiated instruction strategies. Grade 10 teachers and students make good use of EQAO resources, working with the rubrics from the EQAO Web site. Staff members engage in co-operative marking and use the results to inform instruction.
At the end of the first semester, teachers once again meet with the literacy team to identify at-risk students. Flagged students are given weekly small-group practice in literacy skills during option periods until the assessment. Students may attend study hall during lunch and before school to work, study or get assistance from the teacher on duty. By the assessment, the students are confident about their abilities and skills.
Students Allesen Alcock-Skead and Summer Baker state: “The school provides everyone with a lot of practice when it comes to reading and writing. If a student is struggling or needs help, all they have to do is ask and a teacher will be there to assist them. When preparing for the literacy test, we had to complete many reading and writing assignments to find out where our strengths and weaknesses were and to feel more confident in reading and writing.”
Parental involvement also contributes to the school’s success. St. Thomas Aquinas has an active school council, and parents attend many school activities and events. Teacher-parent communication is encouraged, not only when students are at risk, but also when students are successful.
“The school provides everyone with a lot of practice when it comes to reading and writing. If a student is struggling or needs help, all they have to do is ask and a teacher will be there to assist them. When preparing for the literacy test, we had to complete many reading and writing assignments to find out where our strengths and weaknesses were and to feel more confident in reading and writing.”
—Allesen Alcock-Skead and Summer Baker, Grade 11 Students
The experienced staff at St. Thomas Aquinas is open to new strategies and training. Initiatives are implemented based on research and evaluated using EQAO and school-report data. The school has a positive environment that promotes confidence and encourages pupils to take risks with their learning. Parents and staff are mutually supportive for the benefit of the students. Teachers are dedicated and collaborative. The communicative staff focuses on student achievement and takes shared responsibility for every student’s success.