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SHERIDAN — Fort Mackenzie High School missed the Adequate Yearly Progress target for graduation rates for the sixth consecutive year and as a result they are now labeled a “School in Improvement” under the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
As such, the school is now required to submit a restructuring plan for consideration to the Wyoming State Board of Education.
A restructuring plan committee was formed and included FMHS Principal Sean Wells, Sheridan County School District 2 Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Tom Sachse, SCSD2 Assistant Superintendent Terry Burgess, FMHS teacher Mick Wiest, Sheridan College President Paul Young, SC Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Belish and FMHS parents and students.
Some members of the committee visited charter schools in Montana and learned best practices from Big Picture High School in Durango, Colorado, and the San Diego Met in California.
The district requested funding through the School Improvement Grant for travel, study and implementation costs.
The committee identified three main ideas to implement at FMHS and presented them via a restructuring plan for approval at the SCSD2 Board of Trustees meeting Monday night.
The first part of the plan is to implement an internship program at the school, including the addition of personnel to oversee it, focused on student interest and skills as measured by academic and skill assessments.
The pilot program will function as a seven-week program where students earn credit for job skills.
Based on best practice learned at the other charter schools, Burgess said, “(The internship program) has made education for a lot of these kids authentic. They believe strongly it has kept kids in school who were on the way to dropping.”
The second area of interest to implement is project-based learning.
Burgess said the school district has put together a pilot of what they would like to see happen for this program as well and intend to implement it during fifth block, the final period of the day, with a group of seniors and two juniors.
One example he provided the board of what project-based learning looks like came from a student at the Durango school who was employed at a coffee shop and completed her project at her place of employment.
The student identified a need for drinks marketed to teenagers and completed a series of steps to add such drinks to the menu.
After completeing a survey of customers’ interests, analyzing profit expectations and costs, developing a recipe and a price and making presentations to the company, two drinks were added to the menu and the student then followed their profit margins at the end of each month for six months.
Completion of the project earned the student five language arts standards and two mathematics standards, which are the units needed to graduate.
The project used by each student will be proposed by them and approved, then overseen by the school.
The final aspect to be implemented via the restructuring plan is to require college credit before graduation.
Based on learnings from San Diego Met, the school will foster relationships with Sheridan College to increase dual-enrollment courses next year with six FMHS students for its pilot.
In addition, the college registrar will make visits to the school to teach the students about grant and scholarship application forms and other aspects of college to show them that a college education is a realistic opportunity to strive for.
One concern the committee identified with the changes is the ability to maintain the academic rigor present at the school while implementing these new programs.
“We felt good about a lot of things if they could be done with a Sheridan twist through a pilot program and the academic rigor could stay where it is at,” Burgess said. “They do not have the ACT scores that we do but their completion rate is better.”
Last year the students at FMHS had the highest composite ACT score in the state, but a low graduation rate.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the plan as presented and it will now be presented to the Wyoming State Board of Education for approval on July 1.
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