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Springfield High School students to get new options with academies

From October through March, members of the Springfield community met weekly at Springfield High School to reach consensus on how to improve student academic achievement, behavior and school climate at the school.

We learned that the community likes the ideas behind small schools. The community also expressed a strong desire to see us provide students with more opportunities to customize or personalize their education.

The community asked for improved two-way communications, including better communication to middle school students and families.

I would like to thank each and every person who participated in these community meetings. We are very pleased that the students, staff, parents and other community members helped guide our work in improving the high school. Their recommendations are invaluable as we design a high school that reflects the needs and desires of the community.

We listened to the community and have responded, in part, by creating five new academies at Springfield High School to allow students to better customize their high school education.

We have also responded by creating informative brochures, holding meetings, and making phone calls to support students and families as they choose among these new academies.

The Springfield City School District’s Board of Education accepted the recommendations from the community consensus process on March 25. Since then, the Springfield High School staff has been moving “full steam ahead” to make major changes so the guiding recommendations become reality at Springfield High. We’re moving fast because improving our students’ achievement is not something we can afford to delay.

During the last week of March and the first week of April, school administrators, teachers, students, and community leaders helped refine a more meaningful structure for Springfield High School.

On April 15 we met with students in the gym and explained the five new Academies that students may select for next school year. The new academies are called Preparatory, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), Health and Human Services, International Arts and Communications, and Exploratory.

During the presentation, students asked thoughtful questions and showed great interest in the new academies. Each student was given a packet of information and asked to take the information home to share with family members.

After the first meeting with all students, we met parents and students at locations across the city to answer questions about the redesign of Springfield High School. Students are telling us that the academies make sense to them, and many of them are making thoughtful choices between two or three academies which really interest them.

Students truly seem excited about the new opportunities they will have once they select their academy. Students and parents have told us they are very happy that we will respect their choice of academy and that they are glad they will have the opportunity to change academies at the end of each year.

Students are also grateful that they will still be able to “cross over” between academies, as needed, to take specific courses as they customize their own educational pathways.

The need to build a smooth transition program for our middle-school students was also strongly recommended by the community. We’re moving forward quickly on this, too.

This year, all Springfield eighth- grade students were invited to the high school for a first orientation and tour of the high school. The eighth-graders had an opportunity to hear from me, counselors, other staff members, and current high school students talk about the many exciting programs and classes awaiting them next year.

The orientation ended with a tour of the high school led by senior students.

On April 23, eighth-graders received personalized packets of information to help them and their parents make a good selection of an academy for their ninth-grade year.

We’ve worked with our middle school principals and eighth-grade teachers so that they are able to help advise the eighth-grade students, and parents, too.

We’ve asked our eighth-graders to return their Academy Selection Card to their middle -school principal by April 29. We’re working individually with students and families who are new to our district, and we’ll continue to do this.

Teachers, administrators, and other staff have also had the chance to indicate their academy preferences, and once we have the student selections in hand, we will move forward to assign them to the new academies.

We’re all curious to see how student choice determines the enrollment — and staffing requirements — of each academy. We hope to honor teacher requests, but our first priority is to provide the staffing needed to meet the student needs.

Once the academy selections are in and staff assignments are made, we will work closely with each and every student as they select courses for next year. Parents and students will learn more about this next step in early May.

After school is out this year, the former four small schools will no longer exist. The five new academies will focus student learning in ways which make sense for the world as it is today — and as it will be tomorrow.

The community’s guidance has been very helpful as we’ve begun to make changes to improve Springfield High School. The community will be invited to provide feedback to us next fall and also in the spring.

We will conduct two community forums to help us determine if the new academies and the many other new high school initiatives are meeting the recommendations and expectations of the community.

Please look for these opportunities next year and plan to participate.

Chris Shaffer is campus director of Springfield High School.

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