Improvement continues at Williamsport
It has been a process for the Williamsport Area High School to continually improve. A process that saw the school go from the lowest status on the state System of School Assessments – for five straight years – to meeting standards this year.
But as Principal Michael Reed pointed out, it also is a process that is unfinished and continues to be worked on every day.
“We have a ways to go. No one’s satisfied,” Reed said.
Reed, who came to the school in 2010, said achievement wasn’t made overnight and as long as the school stays the course, it should sustain its recent successes.
That improvement includes overall proficiency on the PSSA jumping from 59 percent to 67 percent from 2010 to 2012 – economically disadvantaged rose 11 percent – and individualized education program, IEP, increased by 18 percent in reading.
Overall math scores rose from 49 percent to 61 percent. And Reed is happy to show that the school has “leapfrogged” 140 others in the state in academic performance this past year, according to schooldigger.com.
The school has produced over half of the county’s National Merit Finalists and earned a spot on the College Board Advanced Placement Honor Roll for two straight years.
And change isn’t only being seen on test scores, as Reed reported that behavior problems have gone down 70 percent. He credits it to the fact that students are more engaged in the classroom and focused on studies.
But according to Reed, the school wasn’t performing poorly previously because it was a bad school, it just needed to make “one-degree adjustments.”
“Honestly, it was making a lot of 1-degree shifts to maximize (potential),” said Reed on what changed. “This is much more doable than anyone thought.”
Reed was surprised when he first came to the school at how good the students and staff were. But Reed didn’t immediately implement a plan on how to get the school back on track. He listened.
“The administration team had to listen,” he explained. ” … Not one person is going to have the answer, it’s a collaborative effort.”
He said it was all about “confronting the realities of what was working and what needed to be modified.”
What came out of those meetings was adding 25 extra minutes of instruction time to each school day, creating focused goals and reassigning teachers.
For example, Reed explained that instead of having a math teacher teach several different levels of mathematics, they would be focused on a certain level and work in teams to collaborate.
“They were exciting changes,” said Patricia Miller, a math teacher. ” But I knew a lot of people were going to need to do a lot of work to make them good changes.”
One tool the district utilized was a school improvement grant, which allowed it to take a few teachers, such as Miller, out of the classroom and make them coaches. The coaches would lead walk-throughs with other teachers to see different styles of effective teaching.
“That’s helped me for sure, seeing teachers do things differently,” Miller said.
Marilouise Mazzante, who said she’s seen “a lot” of change in her 32 years in education, noted that teachers needed to change from the “old stand and deliver” approach to a more engaging experience for students.
“Everything we do in this building is to generate the best for our kids,” she said.
The school also is working on keeping students in school by easing the transition in the ninth grade. As Randy Zangara, ninth-grade principal, explained, students aren’t deciding to drop out as seniors, but earlier in their high school career. To combat that, the school holds a summer program for incoming freshman to introduce them to the building and teachers.
Freshman also are segregated in one part of the building during their core courses, which Zangara said creates a community among them.
“Once we get them in that mold, the next three years are so much easier,” he said.
And students appreciate the extra attention to transition.
“It helped us to get to know the building,” said Connor Pardoe, a ninth-grade student. “Before, I didn’t know what was B or C or Blue (pods of the building).”
“It was really different than what I thought,” said ninth grader Madison Zwisle of her initial thoughts on moving to the high school.
And according to students, it’s helped.
“It was just that first week being able to adjust, but now it’s easy,” said Christian Diggs, also a ninth-grade student.
Mazzante added that every change takes time for adjustment, but the school has worked together to be able to implement its new and altered programs.
And although Reed said the school takes time to celebrate small victories, it always is looking ahead to the new challenges that await, saying, “The higher you climb, the farther you can see.”