Oak Hill one of 3 Maine schools cited for school reform

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LITCHFIELD — On Friday, Oak Hill High School will be one of three Maine high schools cited as being on the “leading edge” of reform and sharing what they’ve done with New England educators.

Oak Hill, along with Noble and Searsport high schools, were selected to represent Maine at the High School Redesign in Action conference in Nashua, N.H. The selected have made “significant progress raising student achievement, graduation rates or college-enrollment numbers,” according to a press release Monday by the New England Secondary School Consortium.

After being placed on Maine’s list of Continuous Improvement Schools, a designation for schools in need of improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Oak Hill High School embarked on a school-improvement plan that emphasized college and career preparation for every student, according to NESSC.

In two years, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards, as measured by the SAT, rose in reading by 14 percent, and math by 11 percent, for the entire school. Oak Hill students number 520. The school serves Sabattus, Litchfield and Wales.

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Oak Hill educators have spent the last five years working to raise the rigor of courses, supporting all students so they’ll be college ready at graduation, Principal Patricia Doyle said Monday.

One way was working with experts to ensure all students’ reading and reading comprehension was high enough to allow students to do good work. They did that, Doyle said, by working with a consultant who helped them develop a “literacy survey” among students. That survey identified weaknesses which allowed teachers to strengthen teaching for all students.

In 2006, the high school began offering “open access” Advanced Placement classes.

Unlike most AP classes, to get into the class students didn’t need approval from teachers, and their past performance didn’t matter. “There were no doorstops,” Doyle said. What did matter was the student’s interest.

“The only thing we took a look at was prerequisite courses,” Doyle said.

At the same time the school got rid of tracking, or offering multiple levels of ability for the same subjects. Oak Hill used to offer a basic, or “foundation,” classes for students with lower levels, Doyle said. In nine subject areas, the school began offering only two choices: college or open-access AP. “We decided we’re going to raise the bar for all.”

The exception was math, Doyle said, because math has discreet skills necessary for students to proceed.

Meanwhile, teachers agreed that each course would have a well-written, transparent, uniform course description or syllabus, that all teachers would teach from, Doyle said. For instance, all freshmen English teachers would teach the same thing. “We don’t have different learnings,” Doyle said. “The mission and expectations are all listed.”

Besides Doyle, others presenting for Oak Hill will be teachers Patti Leblanc and Julie Boucher.

The conference is sponsored by the New England Secondary School Consortium and departments of education for Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The consortium is committed to fostering forward-thinking innovations in public high school education to ensure every high school student receives an education that will prepare them for success in colleges and work.

All the selected schools have made significant progress raising student achievement, graduation rates, or college-enrollment numbers, among other indicators of educational improvement.

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