-by: Bret Champion
Week of: October 24, 2011
This fall, Leander ISD’s Rouse and Vandegrift high schools welcomed the classes of 2012 back into their halls as the schools’ first seniors. This is a very exciting time for both of these young high schools. As you might expect, with an inaugural senior class comes a heightened sense of student-driven leadership, school pride and general excitement that can be readily felt. Over the next two weeks, I am going to focus on some of the ways RHS and VHS are celebrating seniors, while simultaneously getting them ready for opportunities after high school.
This week, I am going to focus on Vandegrift High School because their homecoming is Friday, October 28. Establishing traditions, especially those that focus around homecoming, is a unique part of being that first senior class as seniors are setting a precedent for the rest of the underclassmen.
This last week at VHS has been one filled with pep rallies, spirit days and parades. While homecoming festivities are standard at all LISD high schools, since the school opened in 2009, the entire VHS community has done a fantastic job of rallying together to support students and spreading school pride. The culture of the school is ripe with a tradition of honor and excellence.
It is this infectious atmosphere of enthusiasm, lead in large part by the senior class, that continues to be a driving force for student success at VHS. For example, using the new Naviance program — a comprehensive web portal available at every LISD high school that assists students in evaluating college and career options — some students at VHS have already completed the college application process and received letters of acceptance. Hanging proudly in the hallways are banners that proclaim the names of VHS students and the colleges they have been accepted to. These banners not only allow the school to celebrate those seniors and their accomplishments, but they also motivate other seniors to complete their applications and inspire the underclassmen to stay on a path of college-readiness.
Like all LISD high schools, VHS and RHS are centered around a college-going culture. Staff are readily available to help students prepare resumes, write essays and research financial aid. In the case of VHS, the school leadership has worked hard to create a unique learning environment called PIT.
Since the school opened its doors two years ago, Principal Charlie Little saw PIT as a great way to promote college- and career-readiness opportunities. The VHS PIT bell schedule carves out 40 minutes on Tuesdays and Fridays each week. Tuesday PIT time generally has an academic focus, encouraging students to engage in tutorials with peers or teachers, while Friday PIT is set aside for clubs.
While some students participate in extracurricular activities or class-based programs, the leadership at VHS believe that it is important to provide an opportunity during the regular school day for all students to participate in some sort of organized activity. So, on an almost weekly basis, all VHS students have time to participate in clubs during Friday PIT.
What’s interesting about the clubs, since they are founded and organized by students, is the variety of them. There’s a club for fantasy football, drama, music, Quidditch, mobile application development and even language creation. All clubs go through a vetting process and must have a clear and relevant focus. To create a club, students have to complete an application, submit a list of initial members, establish meeting dates, indentify a faculty sponsor and write organizational bylaws. As you might imagine, club participation gives VHS students invaluable experience in teamwork, leadership and organization. Some clubs also get involved in community service projects. Ultimately, clubs allow students to break down social barriers and come together with other students who share common interests. Students enjoy PIT time tremendously and are gaining valuable real-world experience while having fun. All of these skills will assist students later in life — whether it be at college or in the work force.
These processes are merely scratching the surface of the college- and career-readiness initiatives at VHS. I hope it’s given you a taste for how creative LISD schools can be in preparing students for post-secondary opportunities. I look forward to sharing with you next week how Rouse High School is preparing its first senior class for life after graduation.
For more information about Vandegrift High School or Leander ISD, visit www.leanderisd.org
Have a great week!
-by: Bret Champion
Week of: October 17, 2011
This week, I am excited to tell you about a fantastic learning opportunity Leander ISD is offering to help close the achievement gap among at-risk students. After researching similar effective services in other school districts, earlier this fall, LISD launched “Twilight High School,” an after-hours alternative program that allows students to earn their high school diploma.
Most of the students at Twilight High School were recruited because they had dropped out of school. Some left school because they are single parents and need to work or stay home to care for their children. However, other students involved in Twilight High School are currently at risk of dropping out because of issues such as poor attendance or incomplete credits. Regardless, all students enrolled in Twilight High School are self-motivated and want to be there. Many have been in the workforce for a while and now realize that a high school diploma is critically important for opening doors to future opportunities. In fact, after earning their diploma, a couple of students have goals to further their education by applying to automotive and technical schools.
Currently housed at New Hope High School, Twilight High School operates Tuesdays – Thursdays, from 6-9 p.m. Fifteen students, averaging between 18 and 19 years old, work through online curriculum, completing the credits they need to graduate from high school. Several teachers and administrators are on hand to provide direct support to students as they review the lesson material.
LISD currently has 15 students at Twilight High School, but the program can accommodate as many as 28. The online curriculum format allows students to work through the material at their own pace, although the quicker students complete the work, the faster they’ll get finished. Many have taken this to heart. Since Twilight High School opened, one student has worked through an entire semester of math in two weeks! Ideally, as space frees up, vacant slots will be promptly filled with other at-risk students. We are working with our high school counselors to identify more students who we believe would greatly benefit from this program.
As you well know, LISD’s shared vision is that students will exit our system with the same passion for and joy in learning they had when they entered without economics determining success. If we believe this to be true and that it is imperative that students graduate with all options open, we must continue to open doors through such realistic alternative learning opportunities such as Twilight High School. It is a great example of LISD’s strategic intervention strategies that help keep students from falling through the cracks.
We are very excited about the success we’ve already seen at Twilight High School and are eager to expand the program to support more students. Although space is limited, if you know a student who might benefit from Twilight High School, please contact Lisa Holmes at 570-0000.
And while I am addressing graduation, I must reemphasize that the state’s new accountability system, the STAAR exam, will affect graduation requirements for our current ninth-grade students. In the coming days, parents will receive a letter emphasizing that the STAAR’s End of Course (EOC) exams will impact graduation requirements in three significant ways: The first is that all students must take and meet the performance standard developed by the state on each assessment to meet their graduation requirements; the second way is that EOC assessments will be worth 15 percent of a student’s final grade in that course; and the third is that ninth-grade students enrolled in EOC courses (Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English I, English II, English III, World Geography, World History and United States History) will also be required to take a district-developed semester exam during the fall semester.
As I have said in previous columns, the Texas accountability system is undergoing a major overhaul that will impact our students. In light of the new policy changes, LISD will continue to keep our community fully informed of the implications of STAAR and EOCs so that you understand how credits will be awarded to your son or daughter. To learn more about STAAR
, visit http://www.leanderisd.org.
-by: Bret Champion
Week of: October 10, 2011
This year, students across the state will take the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) exams, the state’s new, more rigorous and complex testing program. LISD has been preparing for the STAAR for many months, and through innovative learning tools such as our Learning Model, Graduate Profile and Seven Student Learning Behaviors, we are working to ensure that our students are prepared for these difficult tests. Even though students won’t take these exams until the spring, I want to give you an overview of some of the most important components of the STAAR assessments.
This year, students in third – ninth grades will take the STAAR exams, although it will eventually be administered to students in third – eleventh grades. The state-mandated curriculum, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), will be the sole source for the STAAR assessments. Questions will require students to apply ideas, and thus, the STAAR exams will give students a deeper understanding of core subject areas — reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. Each year, the content of the STAAR exams will build upon knowledge and skills gained in previous years.
The STAAR exams are designed to determine if a student is prepared for the current grade level and the next grade level. These tests will also focus on college- and career-readiness, a new measure in our state assessments and one that we are excited to use in LISD. Under the STAAR tests’ more complex structure, even students in elementary grades will be measured for college and career readiness standards. The exams will measure critical “readiness standards” and “supporting standards” necessary for building a solid foundation for college and life-long success.
As part of the state’s focus to see that all students are on track to be college- and career-ready, the STAAR will be more rigorous and will require a higher level of student
performance in order to meet certain benchmarks. At the same time, students will be assessed on more questions while demonstrating critical thinking and analysis.
Perhaps the most dramatic differences to the STAAR compared to other testing systems are the End of Course Exams (EOCs). At the high school level, a total of 12 EOC assessments will replace grade-specific tests. Students will be required to take and meet the performance standard developed by the state on each EOC assessment to meet their graduation requirements, an important difference between the STAAR and the previous TAKS exams. The EOC exams will be required for graduation and will count towards 15 percent of the course grade. Additionally, the EOC exams will have an impact on the awarding of credits for the courses tested.
Even though the STAAR is just a few months away, we still face many unknowns at this point. For example, the district is currently reviewing how to best implement the rule that EOCs must count as 15 percent of a student’s grade in the course. School districts are also waiting on clarification from the state about the special education accommodations policy. And we don’t yet know how STAAR will impact state and federal accountability ratings in coming years.
Regardless of these challenges, as part of our continuous improvement culture, we are eager to begin this new testing system because we believe it will ultimately assist our district’s efforts to close the achievement gap and reinforce our college- and career-readiness culture. LISD has been doing everything we can to ensure that our staff will be ready for the STAAR. LISD curriculum specialists and teachers have thoroughly reviewed curriculum to ensure that standards assessed on STAAR will be taught prior to testing dates. And as more information is made available by the state, additional learning opportunities for teachers, students and parents will be planned.
While there are many details about the STAAR system that are still being finalized, we are confident that this new system will help improve the learning in classrooms, schools, districts and, ultimately, throughout the entire state. LISD will continue to communicate with families to help keep parents fully informed and aware of how the STAAR will impact our students.
To learn more about STAAR, visit www.leanderisd.org or www.tea.state.tx.us/index.aspx
-by: Bret Champion
Week of: October 3, 2011
Leander ISD is on a mission to ensure that students graduate from our system college- and career-ready with all options open to them. To accomplish this goal, we are opening doors for students by increasing their exposure to college entrance exams.
Taking a college entrance exam while in middle school helps put students on a path toward college readiness while there is still time to target academic subjects that may need attention. To that end, LISD will offer the ReadiStep exam to all eighth-grade students on Wednesday, Nov. 2. As an exam that measures the skills and knowledge students need to have to be on track for college, the ReadiStep assesses the same skills, covers the same subjects and uses the same question format as both the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Exam (PSAT/NMSQT) and SAT. LISD has a partnership with the College Board, the company that administers the ReadiStep, which allows LISD students to take the exam for free, thereby opening doors for students who might not otherwise take the test. The ReadiStep is a wonderful opportunity for young students to gain valuable testing experience and identify areas for improvement.
Once they enter high school, LISD students take the PSAT/NMSQT. This exam, also offered for free through the College Board, gives students an opportunity to preview the SAT, just as the ReadiStep exam prepares students for the PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT/NMSQT measures the critical reading, mathematics and writing skills students need to succeed in college. This year, freshmen, sophomores and juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT in just a few days on Wednesday, Oct.12.
If juniors score high enough on the PSAT/NMSQT, the College Board recognizes them as National Merit Semifinalists, one of the most prestigious academic honors a student can receive in high school. This year, six LISD students were named Semifinalists in the 2012 National Merit Scholarship Program. They are: Joshua Anderson, Alexander Huynh, Keri Lawrence, Jason Noeller, Matthew Szostak and Colin Walker. These students are among some 16,000 Semifinalists in the 57th annual National Merit Scholarship Program.
In addition, 32 LISD students were named Commended Scholars based on their stellar performance on the PSAT/NMSQT. These students are: Samuel Baldazo, Matthew Broussard, Cody Cox, Casey Cox, Lauren Daniels, Jenna Diven, Zachary Felice, Gregorio Flores, Sophie Grossman, Kelsey Hart, Leah Havens, Jessica Huebschiman, Alexander Huynh, David Jacobson, Christopher Jensen, Chan-Joong Kim, Anthony Martillotti, Jordan Ng, Jessie Ostrander, Nathaniel Pfeiffer, Cole Sawyer, Gretta Smith, Jessica Stauber, Ryan Stephenson, Aubrey Swilling, Kendall Turner, Oliver Uitz, Guillermo Vargas, Jeffrey Walker, Davis Wilkinson, Marshall Wilson and Manuel Zamora.
After taking the PSAT/NMSQT, we encourage students to take the SAT or ACT (another college entrance exam), a critical step required by most college and university admission applications.
Leander High School recently announced that senior Joshua Wills scored an astounding perfect composite score of 36 on the ACT, putting Joshua in an elite 0.0368 of one percent of the total students who took the ACT nationwide. LISD is extremely proud of Joshua, our National Merit Semifinalists and Commended Scholars, and we congratulate all of them on their outstanding academic achievements.
Each year we are pleased to see more of our students taking the SAT and ACT in preparation of higher education. Research has shown that students who meet college readiness benchmarks on these tests are more likely to be successful in college.
I believe that our college and career readiness initiatives are central to our efforts to open doors for the students of LISD. We believe in educating the whole student — students who exhibit knowledge, skills and character and graduate prepared to succeed in college or careers. Whether our students’ plans include enrolling in a community or technical college, attending a top university, enlisting in the armed services, or entering the workforce, we are committed to giving them the skills needed to embark on paths that have limitless potential.
For more information about all of the college-readiness exams, visit http://www.leanderisd.org
, select the Parents/Students tab, and then click College and Career.