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Aurora Institute

Spaulding High: Creating a Comprehensive System of Supports

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

Paul Newell
Paul Newell

CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network includes a Comprehensive System of Supports as one of the six attributes of a next generation education system. In the working definition of competency education, the fourth element refers to “timely and differentiated support.” Spaulding High School provides a window into what this really means for schools and districts as they build a competency education system.

As Spaulding High moved forward in implementing competency education, they knew  that students would need time for extra help. In addition to teachers providing extra help, they created E-Block to provide after-school tutoring, and expanded the “Plato room” to provide-credit recovery programming.

What they didn’t plan for is how many students  didn’t complete all the competencies needed to transition to tenth grade status. The number of students needing credit recovery or competency recovery exceeded what Spaulding had planned on. They had approximately 500 NYC (Not Yet Competent) students — approximately 10 percent of the courses in the first quarter. Therefore, resources are being reassigned in order to help those students complete their competencies and move on to the next level.  This is requiring the teachers to stay after school to work with students or volunteer for E-Block.

Paul Newell, assistant principal and a thoughtful alternative education practitioner, discussed how students value different qualities of the education system. “For students at the top of the ranks, a perception of fairness and consistency in applying the rules is very important. For students at the other end of the spectrum, personalization and relevance are the more powerful drivers.” So Spaulding is investigating how to ensure that the supplemental instruction can be most effective. Paul described the effort as “raising the bar so that kids can’t get off the hook by offering a less rigorous way to earn credits.”

Principal Rob Seaward explained that Spaulding is trying to change the language from recovery to course completion. Some of their explorations include:

  • Building in supports to students early on in the course so they don’t fall behind
    • Teachers call parents as an early intervention, rather than shifting that responsibility to guidance counselors.
    • Individual plans are developed to help students use supplemental instruction effectively to master the competencies.
    • Multiple opportunities to receive extra support are provided to students who live in rural areas of the district if their buses leave right after school
    • Schedules are revisited to provide extra time and extra help at the end of a course.
    • The student hall was transformed into a support center.
  • Enhancing enrichment and engagement to provide ways for students to find relevance, to go deeper, and to connect to their lives and their futures
    • Time in front of Plato is balanced with time for engagement with teachers to discuss the material.
    • Supports are provided to teachers to help strengthen their instruction and engagement with students.
  • Expanding multiple pathways
    • The Community Education program is reconsidered to provide a dynamic alternative.
    • Alternative education is implemented as a choice option rather than as a placement.

As the people at Spaulding reorganize their resources to provide support for those students who are struggling to master the competencies, resources are also being redirected to other students who request reassessments to get the higher “grade.” One teacher— who understands that as students build fluency in a skill, they may have “slips”—will award a higher level of competency if the students can then explain and fix their mistakes.  What’s important regardless where students are in the class rank, Spaulding is creating a culture of continuous improvement.

For more information about Spaulding High School see the following posts:


Chris Sturgis is Principal of MetisNet, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting foundations and special initiatives in strategy development, coaching and rapid research. She is strategic advisor to the Youth Transition Funders Group and manages the Connected by 25 blog.