Three Key Processes that lead to Success for ALL Students: Principal examines the key processes that earned national recognition for his campus
By Bryan Wright, Principal, Greeley West High School
In the winter of 2010, AVID Executive Director Jim Nelson wrote in relation to rigor: “rigor is a method to be applied rather than a set of specific coursework materials; it is how students learn, not just what they learn, that is emphasized.”
At Greeley West High School in Colorado, the AVID Site Team has always applied that mentality; students take the most rigorous coursework for their individual pursuit of success. West is a minority-majority high school with a diverse population that includes over 15 languages and high rates of poverty. This change has occurred rapidly during the four years of my tenure as principal. West HS is also Weld County School District 6’s accredited magnet school for the International Baccalaureate® (IB) program. Having both extremes within the school presented the AVID Site Team with quite a “middle” from which to pick its students.
The team recruits heavily from all parts of the population. As a result, GWHS’s AVID program consists of English language learners (ELL), refugees, immigrants, first-generation college students, low-income students and students who challenge themselves by enrolling in the Middle Years Program (MYP) and IB programs. How each student experiences rigor, however, is unique to the individual:
- In many cases, ELL students accelerate their growth (with support from their peers and tutors) in a regular English class. In addition, many ELLs excel in classes where language plays a lesser roll and have enrolled in Honors Geometry and Algebra 2 classes.
- Students with a solid academic background who find themselves in the middle for other reasons (organization, for example) enroll in Honors and Pre-IB classes. Those who find success quickly are advised to enroll in the MYP with the ultimate goal of earning an IB diploma.
- Students who excel in one or two specific contents but struggle in others are not advised to take or enroll in IB. As a result, most AVID juniors and seniors enroll in Advanced Placement® (AP) classes.
- Finally, Greeley West is home to dual-enrollment classes that, while being offered at the high school, earn students college credit at the University of Northern Colorado. In many cases, this has helped AVID students save money from their first year at UNC.
In each instance, AVID students at Greeley West are experiencing individual, self-selected rigor complete with support from their AVID teachers and their college tutors. With Mr. Nelson’s quote as a backdrop, Greeley West students are learning in classes that are best suited to their opportunity to achieve success. With so many opportunities, square students do not need to fit into a circular hole. In fact, students have achieved at high levels and have been accepted into four-year universities in astounding numbers.
How has Greeley West been able to balance successfully all of these programs and all of these rigorous classes? The process has been three-fold.
- The belief that all students can go to college and that all students have the right to enroll in courses that make them college-ready. Faculty members at Greeley West believe there are multiple ways for students to achieve their college dreams. In each instance, that means meeting the state university requirements in coursework: four years of math, English, etc. However, within those constraints are opportunities for increased rigor. Our student-centered mentality allows students to challenge themselves in AP courses – without many of the prerequisites and entrance requirements other schools possess. We also have a staff that proudly works with all students – not one faculty member tries to “chase” students out of their classes by loading on homework. West’s faculty prides itself on seeing rigor in thoughts and questions – not just on reading assignments and test scores. Students are also recruited from the AP/IB courses as teachers see their potential and weaknesses. In addition, AVID teachers are imbedded in our AP/IB programs. Seven of West’s eight AVID elective teachers instruct an AP or IB class.
- Communication in the master-scheduling process. West’s master schedule is student-centered. A tight-knit group of faculty members work on the next year’s master schedule ensuring that students are able to participate in many of the rigorous classes offered by the school. The first classes placed on the master schedule are the IB and AVID classes so that students can be parts of both programs. IB Coordinator Amy Tuttle works diligently to ensure that AVID students need not give up their support system to be a part of the IB’s mandated schedule of classes. West has offered its Theory of Knowledge class in the evenings so that AVID students (in addition to those in band and other one-section classes) can still graduate with their diploma on time. The next classes placed on the master schedule are AP and dual-enrollment classes. In some instances, AP and IB classes are combined because of similar curriculums. The difference, of course, is the test students take at the end of the year. Again, careful consideration is placed on the idea that students will want to take multiple AP/dual enrollment classes. As the AVID program has grown at West, so have AP sections. AP sections and offerings have doubled in the last five years and have added more opportunities. Master-schedulers are afforded more windows with which to provide access to these classes to the majority of students.
- Advocating for students, not for classes. In many schools, teachers recruit for their electives in order to ensure their inclusion in the master schedule. Often times, this is done without the students’ welfare in mind. Departments within West, however, communicate with one another and with students to provide the best option for each student’s individual pathway to college readiness. Within Social Studies, for example, Greeley West offers AP U.S. History, AP Human Geography, AP Psychology and AP U.S. Government. It also offers IB and MYP curriculum. Each class has “made” each year because there is little competition between the faculty members. In fact, our Social Studies department works together to provide pathways for individual students to make their way through as many accelerated courses as possible, if they so desire.
In addition to these three processes, Greeley West’s AVID site team has been fortunate to depend upon communication with departments via the Site Team members. This has led to open and honest communication about student placement and engagement within various programs. In addition, the site team has had consistent leadership from its core. In fact, there have been no defections or turnover in the seven years of running AVID. We like to think that AVID is helping keep our best teachers in leadership positions in our building.
Greeley West’s AVID program has made deep and meaningful impacts on our diverse school. Our most rigorous courses are not just taken by select elite. Our programs are seen as being equal levels – an IB student, for instance, is not considered “higher” than an AP student. Each of the programs are seen as equal partners in achieving our faculty’s most basic goal – providing rigorous coursework to make sure students are college ready. And while we do guide and advise, the choice is ultimately the students’ to choose rigorous coursework that best suits their long-term goals.
Bryan Wright is the proud principal of Greeley West High School in Greeley, Colorado, a newly named AVID National Demonstration school. Bryan has been a principal at GWHS since 2008, and prior to that position he was a principal in Chicago, IL, Colorado Springs, CO, and Racine, Wisconsin.