Chantilly High began the school year with 42 new staff members, including 30 teachers — many, due to retirements. And it's offering a new course in Street Law, an elective in the social studies curriculum.
"Criminal justice is popular right now," said Principal Jim Kacur. "And this is designed to address kids with an interest in pre-law in college."
But the new element at the school that affects all the teachers and all 2,850 students is the new block schedule. It's a result of Chantilly's focus this year on implementing the Professional Learning Community program at the school.
"WE BEGAN to explore it last year," said Kacur. "And it's the vehicle that got us to change our schedule from a seven-period, rotating block to an eight-period, rotating block with an embedded, learning-seminar period on 'A' days."
"The kids and teachers have adapted to it pretty readily, and it's worked pretty well," he continued. "We did it so we could incorporate a learning-seminar period for the teachers."
Consequently, there's a teacher-collaboration time on Fridays when teachers may plan together for the good of the students. The first bell now rings at 7:50 a.m., instead of 7:20 a.m., and classes start at 8 a.m., instead of 7:25 a.m.
So, for example, all ninth-grade English teachers have the same period off before the school day begins. And they can use it to get together and look at student progress and then make any necessary adjustments to their teaching to improve student learning.
"We can also use this extra period for more flexibility to schedule things, such as pep rallies or special events — for instance, presentations on Student Rights and Responsibilities," said Kacur. "And it won't take time away from [academic] classes. But the primary focus will be on education — enriching instruction or helping kids not having success."
He said teaching doesn't necessarily equate to students learning. But, he added, "We can optimize learning around time and a focus on specific goals and instruction."
Every member of Chantilly's faculty now belongs to a sub-group of a curriculum team that meets regularly to discuss best practices and common assessments, examine test results, share information and identify students needing more help.
"IN THE NEXT three to five years, the No Child Left Behind requirements will severely impact every one of our schools — with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson," said Kacur. "In 2014, every kid in school will have to pass. It's really focused on learning and mastery for all, and we're going to have to meet that benchmark for performance."
At Chantilly, he said, "We can see by our [test] results that we're already getting it done, but we've got to stay the course. This is a great school, with great teachers, but we need to make sure all kids are learning at adequate levels."
With the new collaboration time for teachers, there'll be a constant flow of information to better enable instructors to make good decisions for their students. After all, said Kacur, "The world's a changing place. There's not a lot of options for kids who don't perform well in high school."