Westlane Secondary School is located in the city of Niagara Falls and has an enrolment of 640 students. The school houses an English as a Second Language Centre, which is the home school for 200 English language learners and international students. Students come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, and there is a significantly high mobility rate. This success story will focus on mathematics and how Westlane staff members unite to plan and implement programs that support all learning needs in light of the school’s unique demographic profile.
Principal Carol Purcer says: “In this school we are always looking for different and creative ways to help out students and facilitate learning.” An interesting strategy that has paid huge dividends is the Multi-Subject Instructional Program (MSIP). It responds to the needs of the large number of students who had been unable to attend to homework assignments because of after-school family and job commitments. Fifteen minutes was removed from each of the four daily 75-minute periods to create a scheduled one-hour supervised study period for each student. Completing work, attending extra classes and accessing individual teacher help became possible daily. This program allows students to receive instruction and the opportunity to practise time management when solving math problems, various problem-solving strategies and test taking using sample EQAO mathematics items. MSIP allows students an opportunity to get individualized assistance, catch up and complete assignments and take cumulative tests to demonstrate learning, especially before the end of the semester.
As well, the school established a breakfast program focused on language-based skills and provided graphic organizers to promote successful learning for all students.
“In this school we are always looking for different and creative ways to help out students and facilitate learning.”
— Carol Purcer, Principa
Westlane Secondary believes strongly in using all available data to influence programming. Data walls track individual student performance over time through information from Grades 3 and 6 EQAO reports and Grades 7 and 8 math report card marks. Many trends emerge from this process and are addressed through specific programming. For example, when the data showed a general weakness in multi-step multiple- choice questions, the entire staff addressed this challenge in the respective disciplines. Now the students are learning the strategies needed to deal with open-response questions in all subject areas.
Communication is a major theme in the Westlane success story. It begins with an amazing school Web site on which are posted morning announcements, information about school and school board events and parent council information. Each department has a page where homework assignments are posted with links enabling students to contact individual teachers for assistance. Westlane School engages in transition planning for students coming from feeder schools. Math teachers visit Grades 7 and 8 classes and offer sample lessons to acquaint students with the format they will see in high school. Both the elementary and secondary teachers quickly recognized the value of these visits, so a more sophisticated interaction was instituted. Board funding allows math teachers to partner with those in feeder schools to develop specific lessons for students. Through these partnerships, gaps in math learning can be addressed, terminology can be aligned and high-risk students can be identified. An open house for feeder school students and parents features thorough explanations of the academic and applied streams to ensure proper course selection. Every effort is made to bring about a smooth transition from elementary to secondary school. All Grade 9 students are surveyed each year to discover what their personal attitudes and perceived abilities are in the area of mathematics. Teachers from all disciplines highlight the relevance and importance of mathematics in daily life, and as a result, the students develop a respect and appreciation for the discipline. Just as the staff is involved in enriching the school experience, so is the principal, who interacts with feeder school principals monthly to plan and to apply for the funding necessary for many of the initiatives that are already in place and others that are being developed.
“Time is necessary for sustainable change, and while we recognize that everyone is at a different stage, we are all growing. Out of occasional frustrations, leaders emerge and teachers take the ball and run. They have strong voices and offer strong leadership. Students’ learning and growth is the focus of leadership. Teachers want to be here and a part of this.”
— Carol Purcer, Principa
At Westlane Secondary, all Grade 9 classes take place in classrooms with Smart Boards to assist visual learners, and Netbook Software allows for dynamism and portability. In addition, supervised lunch- hour mathematics clinics provide necessary support for students with math challenges. Any teacher new to the mathematics department receives a course binder with lessons laid out. This allows for a smooth transition for the teacher and guarantees a consistent standard of delivery for students.
These initiatives are working. Westlane Secondary School has scored above the board average in both the applied and the academic courses. This success reflects the focus of the teachers of all disciplines working creatively and collaboratively to reach each and every student. Everyone is on board and, while they delight in their successes, they are continually searching for ways to improve in the coming years. Principal Purcer states: “Time is necessary for sustainable change, and while we recognize that everyone is at a different stage, we are all growing. Out of occasional frustrations, leaders emerge and teachers take the ball and run. They have strong voices and offer strong leadership. Students’ learning and growth is the focus of leadership. Teachers want to be here and a part of this.”