The staff and students at Mt. Harrison’s Jr.-Sr. Alternative High School are finally realizing “mission-determined results” after three years of relentless work that has included a rigorous school improvement process, long nights of grant writing, and daily conversations in the teacher’s lounge that have dealt with some tough issues.
Researchers who study this kind of improvement process call Mt. Harrison’s success “The Big Yes,” because it’s a time when a school’s staff can sit back and enjoy the results of their efforts.
“We’ve got the forward momentum and we don’t want to lose it now,” explained Shanna Lindsay, who is the 2015-16 principal at Mt. Harrison.
When Lindsay first walked the halls at Mt. Harrison Jr-Sr Alternative High School as the school counselor, she walked softly, and tried hard not to distract students from their classroom learning. “I never dared go into a classroom during instruction. It caused too much disruption,” Lindsay stated. “Teachers didn’t have consistent expectations for all classrooms, and so the kids pushed the boundaries whenever they saw an opportunity.”
But that’s when Mt. Harrison was a one-star rated school undergoing a Turnaround Model of school improvement. No one imagined that Mt. Harrison’s staff and students would be performing at the levels they are today. Now, three years later, the school has the key components of the Turnaround Model, with highly trained and effective teachers, a curriculum based on high expectations and frequent assessments, and a culture of intellectual curiosity and personal respect.
Lindsay doesn’t tiptoe through the hallways anymore. “Because of our collaborative efforts, kids never notice me when I walk in and out of classrooms. We (teachers) can do it all day long and the kids are used to seeing us collaborate and work together. It’s all of us raising our expectations for the work that we do.”
Lindsay attributes this improvement in student focus to the teachers’ success in their own collaborative process. “It has made such a tremendous difference for the staff and kids. That has changed the school culture.”
When Mt. Harrison was pressed to transform itself using the Turnaround Model for school improvement, Dan Rogers was the principal at Minico High School. He enjoyed tremendous success for 15 years there, but instead of keeping his secure position at Minico High, he volunteered to transfer to Mt. Harrison when the principal position was posted.
“Dan took a leap of faith. He took us where we were, which was not very good, and he brought us to where we are, which is very good,” explained Candace Hurst, who has taught English, reading, and speech at Mt. Harrison for 20 years.
“When Dan first came there was a stack of referrals on his desk this high,” Lindsay explained with her hands wide apart showing the size of the stack, “but even in the second year, the stack was cut into a quarter of the size. He brought leadership with boundaries and expectations. That has pulled us all together.”
Hurst, who exudes a passion and sense of urgency when she describes her students, pressed the issue that they are not settling for simply maintaining their current level of student success. “We want to put a polish on our kids and teach them a ‘cultural intuition.’ That is so important for their future. We want our kids to have options and never be stuck because we didn’t teach them how to be successful.”
Mt. Harrison Jr. – Sr. Alternative High School puts alternative education on the map for its commitment to student success.