STILLMAN VALLEY – Stillman Valley High School is one of only 20 schools from across the country to receive recognition as a “School of Opportunity,” a coveted national designation honoring excellent public high schools that engage in practices that build on students’ strengths and create supported learning opportunities for all students.
“Stillman’s impressive array of academic and elective courses as well as activities and experiences that broaden and enrich their students’ learning and opportunities particularly stood out to the national team of reviewers,” said Carol Burris, School of Opportunity project co-director.
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), based at the University of Colorado Boulder, sponsors the Schools of Opportunity project, which identifies excellent public high schools that actively strive to close opportunity gaps – the differences in opportunities and resources that drive the well-known achievement gaps.
“Schools play a key role in a student’s life and learning, and we should hold up excellent schools as exemplars,” said Kevin Welner, NEPC director and project co-director.
Students’ learning arises from more than just what happens in school. Research suggests that about one-third of variance among students’ test scores can be attributed to schools, with the remainder likely due to poverty-related factors. Because schools play this important but not controlling role in measured learning, the Schools of Opportunity project rejects the idea that test scores identify the nation’s best schools.
“We instead offer an alternative way of assessing school quality – one that focuses on the day-to-day practices that schools choose to use,” Welner said. “We call attention to research-based practices to support all students and their teachers, thereby creating engaged and successful learning environments.”
Applications went through four levels of screening by review teams comprised of researchers, teachers, policy makers and administrators, who looked at school practices that fell into categories, such as create and maintain healthy school culture; broaden and enrich school curriculum; use a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs; and support teachers as professionals.
Stillman Valley’s academic and career-based classes meet the needs of learners with diverse goals without compromising rigor or quality of academic performance, an important value of Schools of Opportunity. With a range of career-focused and academic courses such as agricultural business management, landscape/turf management, web design, entrepreneurship, film and literature, statistics, sociology, conceptual physics, symphonic band, and strength and conditioning, Stillman Valley’s course guide reads like a much larger high school.
Also the school does not systematically exclude students from taking challenging classes, participating in the arts, or other enrichment experiences. With no “gatekeeping” policies to restrict access for students, Stillman Valley incentivizes students to take rigorous courses. The result? Forty-three percent of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses last year.
The stated goal of the school and the district is to have each student leave college or career ready. While this terminology is common in schools today, Stillman Valley High School is doing it – and quite effectively – by providing clear career pathways and programs of study for students to receive a workplace credential or earn college credit.
Despite the small size and severe budget cuts in recent years, the school prioritized its commitment to preserve a curriculum designed, as the superintendent describes it, “ to help all students reach their next level.”
For more information about the Schools of Opportunity project, including descriptions of all recognized schools, visit opportunitygap.org.
For the complete article see the 09-26-2016 issue.