July 18, 2013With the new quick intervention programs and school-wide initiatives put in place at Grosse Pointe South High School this past year, principal Matt Outlaw said the administration and staff now has its "eyes on the right spot" to continue maximizing success for all students and narrowing the school's existing achievement gap.
"For me, I'm super excited about this," Outlaw said about the success of the South Success Teams and Academic Lunch, intervention programs designed to improve academic performances of students deemed "off track for success" based on poor test scores on the Michigan Merit Examination and having at least two Ds or Es on their report cards the previous year and assist those struggling with completing homework.
Of the 212 students referred to a success team, which essentially is an extra support group of teachers who performed grade checks and helped students through the lessons, Outlaw said 105 finished the first semester without a single D or E.
Similarly, 87 students were referred to Academic Lunch, a homework club in which students failing to turn in homework on time ate lunch at school and completed their homework at the same time. Of the 87, 85 percent passed the class or classes they struggled in.
"We made anybody who's not on track a huge priority," Outlaw said. "It was all utilizing what we had here. We got ourselves on the same page, we made (reducing failure) a focus, we built it into things we already had, and we just put it at the forefront of what we did."
In addition to success teams and Academic Lunch, South implemented a school-wide literacy initiative — a team approach to teaching writing in which teachers in science, social studies and English increased the amount students wrote — resulting in a 5-percent improvement on the MME, the statewide assessment for juniors and eligible seniors.
South also redesigned its Learning Resource Center learning model for special education. It shifted its focus toward skill development and emphasizing reading, writing and math versus homework completion and using more collaborative classes in which "we had teachers going into the classes, helping the students in their science classes, helping in their math classes."
The change allowed for quicker interventions and led to the largest performance increase of any demographic at South on the MME, helping to narrow the achievement gap.
"Nobody's ever been able to get into this and make this impact, and we're doing it this year," Outlaw said about the special education results, which included an 8-percent increase in math, 13 percent in reading, 22 percent in writing, 2 percent in science and 27 percent in social studies.
African-American students showed increases in math (14 percent), reading (5 percent), no change in writing and decreases in science (5 percent) and social studies (5 percent), while economically disadvantaged students increased performance in math (4 percent), writing (14 percent), science (4 percent) and social studies (5 percent). Reading declined 8 percent.
Overall, South students showed increases in math (3 percent), writing, science (2 percent) and social studies (6 percent).
And it's just the beginning. In 2013-2014, administration plans on expanding the success teams and academic lunch programs, while maintaining a focus on quick intervention and reducing failure. With their "eyes on the right spot," South students and staff are ready to "take it to the next level."
"That's our school-wide theme (for next year)," Outlaw said. "It's obviously academics, but it's for everything. It's like, if you're an honors student, how do you take it to the next level? If you're in the middle, how do you take it to the next level? And it should apply to everybody."