by Perrin Stein
For the last six years, the faculty has focused on lowering the achievement gap for black and low income students, and their work contributed to the reduction in MCAS failure rates among these students, according to principal Jennifer Price.
Now, Price, said she wants the school to take this project further by lowering the achievement gap in terms of college by using a tracking software to look at alumni’s postgraduate success, creating a college resource handbook and looking at other schools’ approaches to the college process.
Price said, “I am excited because we’ve been trying to provide equal access for all of our students to the college process, and this will allow us to focus our efforts on this issue.”
In order to improve postgraduate success and placement, Price, School Council co-chair, plans to enlist the help of the rest of the School Council, which is a state-mandated body of elected parents, faculty, students and community members that is spending this academic year enhancing this school’s approach to the college process.
All accredited public schools in Massachusetts must have a School Council that works on a school improvement plan. At this school, the School Council works on one project, which the members chose together, each academic year in order to strengthen the school.
With this year’s project, Price said the School Council plans to work closely with the counseling department to implement a four-part plan that addresses this school’s community members’ concern about the college process, which was revealed in last year’s strengths and needs survey. Each step is being coordinated by a different subcommittee.
First, the School Council plans to use a tracking software purchased this year by the Newton Public Schools to track students’ postgraduate activities.
According to Price, the tracking software will tell the School Council how long students stay in college and how long it takes them to graduate, among other statistics. This data will help this school find out how to better prepare its students for college by better helping them through the college process.
In addition to using the tracking software, the School Council will look at the senior survey, a questionnaire each senior must fill out prior to graduation.
According to School Council student representative sophomore Irene Golden, this survey asks students questions like “did you get into at least one of your top three choices of college” in order to see how successful the college process was for each student.
Thirdly, a group of School Council members is reviewing and revising the current college process documents provided by the counseling department.
By the end of the year, this group hopes to compile all college and career documents into a resource handbook, which will be available on the school website, according to student representative sophomore Sonya Jampel. This resource handbook will include a more detailed and accurate college timeline and will be translated into several different languages.
In creating this handbook, the School Council hopes that students whose parents do not attend Junior Parent Night, Senior Parent Night or College and Career Night will still have the resources they need for postgraduate success, Jampel said.
“We want everyone to be on the same level, receiving the same information because currently, the school is not reaching everyone,” she said.
Along with looking at in-school data, the School Council is researching the college planning process at other local high schools in order to find innovative and successful approaches that this school could implement.
For example, at Codman Academy, a charter school for at-risk students, faculty take students on college visits, and there is a career evening in which alumni talk about their jobs in order to help students understand the options they have, according to School Council co-chair Jo Doherty.
Finally, after looking at these three aspects of the college process, Price said the School Council hopes to create a pilot program that uses revised college planning documents, addresses the weaknesses identified through the senior survey and tracking software and incorporates the successful college process methods of other schools.
This pilot program will include a focus group of families, including those with students in English Language Learners or METCO, according to Price.
“Through the pilot program, we will be able to see how successful the School Council’s work has been, and we will be able to identify areas of weakness, so we can improve the process we create before implementing it on a larger scale,” she said.
Because of the complexity of this agenda, the School Council will likely be unable to run the pilot program until next school year, according to Price.
In the end, Doherty said, “we are very enthusiastic and positive that we can make a difference.”