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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Ridgewood High School principal Andy Frelick



Ridgewood High School in Pasco County has begun the process of turning itself around after years of receiving D grades from the state of Florida. Working with a team from the state Department of Education, Ridgewood has crafted a plan that targets everything from student attendance to teacher lesson planning. (More on that effort here.) In seeking a federal school improvement grant, the school also will take a look at how to implement such measures as teacher performance pay. Principal Andy Frelick, now in his second year at Ridgewood, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about a recent review of the school's plans, as well as his goals for Ridgewood and the surrounding community.

I was just curious about how things ended up when you got to the end of the day, how you felt about the things you saw and what the people said you needed to do and didn't need to do.

Well, I felt we are moving forward. It was real positive. We told the teachers when we went through the three days of training this summer that we were offering a GPS, a road map and we feel like we've had a great start to our journey. Our positive behavior support model is working school-wide and we're working with students and staff on expectations and positive reinforcements for those expectations. AS far as in the classroom, some of the differences we've seen from last year to this year are the physical arrangement of the classes have changed to make it a more conducive environment for guided practice.

Did the team think that the goals you all had set forth were the right ones after seeing what they saw?

Yes. We've been working with the team. Last year we did a self study and we've been working with the team since then. So basically we've had a year to get ready. And so this year with their input we put together three days of training and we're putting into practice exactly the prescription that they have.

It seems like people in the community don't like to hear anything bad about Ridgewood at all.

Right. That's correct.

I'm wondering what kind of feedback you're getting from people when you say, 'Look, things weren't going so great and we're trying to fix it.' Because what we're hearing is, 'Things were always great. What are you talking about?'

There's a lot of pride in the community about Ridgewood. I think our student is different today than the student of 10 or 15 years ago. I believe we need to get them more involved in the process to engage them.Those things are working. Some people have been doing that naturally for years. We're proud of the kids here. We need to challenge them more and increase the rigor.

Do all the teachers go along with that?

Pretty much. They're all working hard to achieve that goal. They're meeting to plan. What we told the teachers with this training, and I use a quote from Barbara Blackburn. She wrote a book about how rigor is not a four-letter word. And basically she states that she chooses to focus her efforts on teachers because they're the most powerful change agent in the school. And so if you look at that, our teachers are meeting in professional learning communities weekly, sometimes twice weekly, talking about the instruction.

But we have to realize too we introduced some of the new concepts the last week of July, the first week of August, to the teachers. So we told them we don't expect the end product on Aug. 16, the day the kids walk through the doors. We're working on the work, and we're working on making things better for students in the classroom and trying different approaches. Sometimes you can have the best plan made up for the day and you start the lesson and maybe things don't go as you planned.

We're also doing something the second quarter called the lesson study, where four teachers or five teachers plan a lesson for five weeks down the road. The lesson is aligned with the benchmarks in the curriculum. And the fourth week one of the teachers draws a name out of a hat, and they're going to teach the lesson, but all four have had input on the lesson and when they teach the lesson the others will observe the teacher teach with the focus on the lesson itself. And we focus on the gradual release model of responsibility in the classroom. ... The most important part of the lesson is the debriefing afterwards and kind of debriefing on what happened in the classroom. We're hoping the second quarter to have four or five groups. ... The goal the third quarter is to have four or five more groups ... talking about lessons, examining lessons and kind of breaking down the four walls where people were encased in the past and saying, 'Look, if we're going to improve our practices we're going to need to collaborate and work professionally together.'

I have heard some people say, basically, that teachers can have the best lesson plans in the world but if the kids don't want to learn, or don't want to try, then what good is it? How do you get the kids to care?

One thing we stressed as we began the year is the three R's for us are relationships, relevance and rigor. We asked the teachers to do relationship building with the students, really throughout the year but to focus the first few weeks. That's part of our school-wide goal with positive behavior support, to set up a good, strong network of support for the students and then show the students the relevance of what they are doing in the classroom. If it's relevant, the kid will be involved. And 95 percent of the students do everything you ask them to do. They're enthusiastic and they want to learn. I think with more guided practice, so they're more actively involved in the classroom, they'll get a lot more out of it.

And then sometimes by the time someone gets to high school, a student might feel defeated because they've been struggling for so long. So we've put some steps in place to try to serve a student who is frustrated or maybe has difficulty reading. So we try to provide support. So we're also doing problem solving response to intervention as a school, so the goal for most students to do Tier 1 intervention ... that should be effective for all students. Then for some of the students we may need to do extra scaffolding to provide extra support. The one example I look at this year for increasing the rigor, all our ninth graders, the lowest math they're taking is Algebra 1. Before this year we had Algebra 1A and Algebra 1B. The 1A/1B we splitting algebra into two years. And we looked at the data last year and found the biggest hurdle to being successful for our kids in 1A/1B was attendance. So we're trying to put the scaffolds in place and say, if they're here we can teach them and they'll learn. So we're really judging to see how they can learn.

It sounds like an awful lot of work for a school to do and hope that everyone else comes along for the ride. Doesn't it feel sort of overwhelming? Or is it what you think schools have to be at this point?

I think schools have to be this way. I think it's overwhelming because it's new. I think most teachers have good practices. I think one of the cases with collaborating is the first period teacher needs to speak the same language as the sixth period teacher. So kids don't have six different sets of vocabulary to figure out during the day. We have asked teachers to do a common syllabus and have consistency from one class to another. I guess, imagine when you were growing up and you have both parents there and they had two sets of rules, then you were confused as a kid. Or different sets of expectations academically. So we're trying to be consistent across the board.

It sounds like a plan. I hope it works. I'm sure you do too.

It's not a question of hoping. Schools that have put these practices into play have moved the whole school forward. And I think the whole philosophy behind what we're doing -- we'll do the gradual release model, we're putting more responsibility on the kids for learning, but also if we expect more we'll get more. ... It will take some time. We know it's a growing process. On the road map to our journey, we have begun the journey. We've made some good strides. We're making a lot of improvements. I'm happy with where we are.

[Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 12:14pm]


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