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Aurora Institute

Breaking Ranks Showcase Schools: Nashua High School North and South

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Anna Fazekas

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

NSDThis spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR Newsletter.

While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”

The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content.

The NSD has prioritized collaborative time by scheduling a monthly early release day. Teams from across schools use this time to focus on student outcomes. Educators in Nashua use a variety of protocols to collaborate. Many of these protocols are adopted from different workshops through the i3 NETWORK, in particular the protocols used in the Performance Assessment Working Group (PAWG). Reynolds values the use of protocols because “they look at the work and the outcomes, not the people.”

The same spirit of collaboration uniting educators in Nashua, is engaging student voice and choice in the evolution of the two school communities. The student voice group in the NSD is made up of a diverse group of students who regularly engage with staff to promote student-friendly policies and practices. Two recent accomplishments include a new grading policy and changes to the master schedule.

The NSD is reorganizing their grading system to better reflect their competency-based learning progressions. Staff and students are working together to develop a grading system that truly reflects learning by splicing out feedback related to behavior and compliance. Educators have engaged students in conversations about shifting the grading policy – a policy that many students had learned to master, though they were quick to admit should focus more on what they can demonstrate they know, and less about bringing supplies in to school. Students played a pivotal role in developing the new reporting system by identifying the headings for the four reporting categories, and working together with staff to develop the language within those categories.

Students were also the motivating force behind a master schedule change that created E-block (engagement, extra help & enhancement). E-block allows students an opportunity to join a club/activity or seek opportunities for extra help during the school day, without conflicting with athletic, employment or other responsibilities after the school day. E-block time is facilitated by an advisor and gives students the opportunity to flexibly structure their own time to meet their personal needs.

For Reynolds the sharing of ideas is powerful, she wants Nashua teachers to know they’re not in this alone. “Creating, nurturing and expecting partnership between the two schools has been liberating in many ways – if an educator has a question, the first place to turn is their counterpart on the other campus.” Fostering student voice is a focus for the two learning communities moving forward – trying to find ways to gather more student voice in conversations about school change and make adults available to respond to these conversations. One thing’s for certain – the learning community in Nashua doesn’t shy away from the power of collaboration.

Learn more about the Nashua School District here.

Anna Fazekas is a school change coach with The Center for Secondary School Redesign. Ms. Fazekas began her career in education as a high school science teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. She is the co-author of: First Response: A Guide to Designing and Delivering Classroom Interventions (2013) and Building a Pathway to the Future: Maximizing High School Guidance and Advisory Support (2011). Ms. Fazekas also edited CSSR’s i3 New England Network Technical Assistance Platform, an interactive online resource that tells the five-year story of school transformation in thirteen schools in the i3 New England Network for Personalization and Performance. Anna can be contacted at [email protected]