WESTERN ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
MOUNT DIABLO HIGH SCHOOL
2450 Grant Street
Concord, CA 94520
Mount Diablo Unified School District
February 26-28, 2012
Visiting Committee Members
Dr. Mark Ryan
Superintendent, Oakland Military Institute College Preparatory Academy
Executive Director, Twin Rivers Unified School District
Superintendent/Director, Mare Island Technology Academy
MountDiablo High School(MDHS) is a diverse comprehensive high school serving 1488 students, sixty-one percent of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch, 13% of whom are special education students, and 25% of whom are English learners. The staff of 143 includes 95 full time teachers. It is worth noting that 25% of the current teaching staff is new to the school, which is actually a smaller turnover than usual. All administrators are new since the last WASC visit. As a Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) school, MDHS is guided by those mandates. Additionally, the school is the recipient of several California Partnership Academy grants, and now operates four Academies: ACME - Architecture, Construction, Manufacturing and Engineering, DSA – Digital Safari Academy, IHTA – the International Hospitality and Tourism Academy, and MBTA – Medical Biotechnology Academy.
Since the last WASC visit, the school had one principal for one year; the current principal and administrative team has been in place for the past year and a half. The new administrative team, with input from the Curriculum and Instruction Committee (CILC), has reshaped the school’s action plan to include the expectation that all students will be served by academies by the 2013-2014 school year. In addition, all freshmen were placed into one of three freshmen “clusters.” These decisions regarding academies and freshmen clusters have been met with some dissent by some teaching staff, but the majority of staff appears committed to fully “scaling up” the academies to serve all students effectively.
Also since the last WASC visit, the school has striven to shift the culture to be more focused on learning for all students. Staff, students, and parents all report dramatic shifts in the school culture toward one that is more focused on being in class, being on time, being prepared for class, and participating actively in class. The visiting committee observed a measurable downsize in the number of students wandering campus during class time, and a clear increase in the number of classrooms where standards-based teaching and learning occur.
There have been a number of courses added to the school’s curriculum, the Advanced Placement program has been expanded, and the number of students in Academies has more than doubled since the last visit. The school’s master schedule has been re-crafted using a set of clear priorities which include common teacher planning time, fidelity to the academy model, and serving the college and career-going needs of all students. The school has used Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) as a major strategy within Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to improve student performance. EDI is supported by a schoolwide walkthrough protocol and ongoing professional development. The school has made notable efforts to create and celebrate a culture of achievement for ALL students.
Most striking is the clear trajectory of improved academic performance. Schoolwide API has gone up 53 points in two years (to 677), and each subgroup has shown similar dramatic growth: African Americans up by 82 points, Hispanics and English Learners both by 66 points, and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged by 63 points.
It is worth noting that the new principal and administration have made a number of decisions which have been very controversial and which have resulted in “negative” media coverage. While the WASC team purposely chooses not to “take sides” in these controversies, the VC looked objectively at the quantitative data around student achievement and the qualitative data from classroom observations, meetings with students, parents, and staff, and observations of the campus climate. These data point to a school with a clear positive trajectory and a more clear focus on learning than three years ago. It is also worth noting that interviews with more than 60 staff members, 25 parents, and 35 students revealed a sentiment that the administration needs to more effectively communicate with all stakeholders about the vision for the school, the ways to achieve that vision, the reasons behind decisions, and the need for a stronger sense of stakeholder “buy-in” to decisions. Perhaps the biggest concern voiced in interviews is whether the scaling up of the academy model within only four academies is really the best decision, or whether one or more additional academies would better serve all students. The administration has good logic for keeping the number of academies at four, but it will be important for the administration to effectively communicate with stakeholders about the “details” of scaling up and the impact on all students, especially English learners, honors and AP students, and elective offerings.
Despite concerns about communication, there is an almost universal perception by all groups of stakeholders that the changes made by the current administration have resulted in notable student achievement gains across the gamut of students, improved classroom and school climate, and a positive trend toward making this an “all-academy” school.
II. Follow-up Process
CILC directs the ongoing school improvement process and has done so consistently since the last WASC visit. When the last VC left its report, the school revamped its Action Plan to include all areas of critical follow up and fully aligned that plan with its SPSA. The CILC took responsibility for monitoring the progress on action plan components and has continued to do so throughout the last three years. There is strong evidence to support the assertion that the school took seriously the previous committee’s concerns and took seriously the challenge to make major changes to enhance learning for all students. Perhaps the three biggest concerns of the previous committee were the abysmal student achievement across all subgroups, a school culture that was not seemingly well disciplined and focused on learning, and the perception that the Academies, while wonderful opportunities for a select subgroup of students, were creating two “classes” of both students and teachers – the “haves” and “have nots.” The current school administration appears wholeheartedly committed to improving student achievement for all students, continuing changes in school culture for the better, and allowing all students access to the rich opportunities afforded within the Academies.
III A. School’s Progress on Critical Areas for Follow-up
Overall, Mount Diablo High School has made significant progress over the past three years, particularly in the areas of climate improvement and student achievement. Moreover, the leadership team has made a genuine effort to address the schoolwide critical areas for follow-up, as noted below.
Schoolwide Critical Areas for Follow-Up:
- Coherence needs to be established between the vision and purpose, the Single Plan for Student Achievement, ESLRS and academies. An organization chart is needed detailing the duties and relationships between personnel, programs, and advisory bodies.
- An organizational chart has been created detailing duties and relationships.
- The vision of the school, the academies, and several key departments have been revisited and aligned.
- CILC needs to partner with the SSC to facilitate the Single Plan for Student Achievement with an emphasis on effectively serving the needs of students in subgroups.
- Academic performance by subgroup has been analyzed.
- Continue to implement strategies to increase parent participation.
- A variety of parent outreach activities have been conducted in both English and Spanish, including ELAC, SSC, Academy Nights, Back-to-School Night, and PTSA. In addition, auto calls go out to parents regularly in both English and Spanish.
- With the support of Student Service Coordinators, all students must develop and monitor four year plans to ensure preparation for graduation and beyond.
- Academies typically conduct academic planning for their students. Students not in academies have their academic progress reviewed by teachers, or meet with Student Services to do occasional reviews.
- Low performance on CST and CAHSEE indicates a need for rigorous, relevant, and coherent standards-based curriculum.
- Mount Diablo High School’s API has increased by 40 points since the last WASC visiit – including 53 points in the past two years alone.
- CAHSEE pass rates have increased in the past three years, from 67 to 69% in ELA (this despite the district average going down) and from 62% to 67% in mathematics.
- In the area of coherence, departments (particularly math) have adopted common assessments and finals.
- Provide more opportunities for academies or expand current academies.
- MDHS has dramatically scaled up its academy program, with the expectation that within two years all students will be enrolled in one of the four school academies. For the 2012-13 school year, the Digital Safari Academy will begin accepting freshmen, with the other three academies taking on freshmen beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
- Implement more systematic measurement of ESLRs.
- Although the five ESLR’s have been addressed instructionally in a variety of ways, and remain a part of the instructional culture of the school, a systematic assessment of ESLR’s was not observed.
- Implement plans for a schoolwide professional development program based on the SPSA and ESLRs.
- In the past two years, a systematic staff development plan has been developed around explicit direct instruction, as well as the implementation of a new teachers’ academy to orient and support new teachers as well as teachers new to MDHS. There have been a variety of other staff development initiatives as well, including those on the topics of inclusion, literacy, and PLC’s.
- Improve communication of student achievement data to parents and students.
- MDHS conducts a quarterly honor roll program to recognize students with a 3.0 GPA or higher.
- MDHS has initiated a successful Student of the Month program that recognizes distinguished student performance.
- MDHS staff has attended MDUSD board meetings with the explicit mission to promote the “good news” at Mount Diablo High School.
- There is an urgent need for a schoolwide discipline plan and the implementation of systems to promote school safety.
- MDHS has initiated a new school-wide discipline plan that features daily trash clean-up assignments to tardy students, as well as a new teacher assistance call system to request immediate assistance from a vice principal. As a result of these and other proactive disciplinary policies, the suspension rate has gone down 60% and the expulsion rate by 45% since the last WASC visit.
III B: Priority and/or Additional Areas for Improvement.
Although as noted Mount Diablo High School has made significant progress over the past three years, there is still room for growth within the school-wide critical areas for follow-up. Specifically, MDHS leadership should include the following in its strategic planning process:
- Continue to work on communication strategies with all stakeholder groups to make them feel more included and proactive in the life and decision-making of the school. This includes more faculty input to leadership decision making, as well as broader and more systematic faculty use of AERIES Home Link to communicate with parents. Additional examples could include monthly or quarterly parent newsletters, regular e-mail updates, and/or a PIQE-style parent education program.
- Careful consideration of how the expansion of the academies – universally recognized as the school’s strength and defining characteristic – will impact existing faculty teams as well as students. In particular, academies should be thoughtfully expanded so as not to dilute student investment and engagement, as well as not to undermine the interpersonal dynamics of the faculty teams. With seven pathways already established, an 8thpathway could be considered, providing there is adequate enrollment and resources to support it.
- Consideration of how structural changes – particularly of the bell schedule – could positively impact continued student academic success. Examples could include moving to a seven-period day, block period, or introducing an RTI / advisory period.
III C: School Success
As stated above, Mt. Diablo High School has addressed each of the critical areas. It is evident the school has improved in three major areas school wide. With a new administrative team it is evident that they have committed to focusing on learning at Mt. Diablo High School. The evidence that supports this are the continued classroom observations as well as a laser focus on developing teachers on instructional strategies that are research based. Also, they have the largest growth of any high schools in Mt. Diablo Unified School District for the last two years. (53 API points) Professional Development opportunities have been provided during buy-back days in Mt. Diablo Unified. At Mt. Diablo High School the focus was on instructional delivery through the Explicit Direct Instruction model, literacy, inclusion, and Professional Learning Communities. The administration makes sure that teachers are implementing their new skills and knowledge by observing classrooms more frequently through a walk through protocol that has been established.
Another area of growth that is evident since the last visit is the improved school climate and culture due to implementing a school wide discipline plan. Within this plan, the staff developed an accountability system for students to get to class on time. During the observed times, there were fewer students out during instructional times and students were getting to class on time. When interviewing students, support staff, and teachers it was overwhelming confirmation that students were “taking their learning more seriously than ever before”. Staff reported out that it was due to the students being held accountable for their actions.
The last major area of improvement is the implementation of Academies or Small Learning Communities for ALL at Mt. Diablo High School. The emphasis is on all on this visit. After assessing the academies at MDHS, the school saw a need to expand the academies and open it up to all students. The decision was to allow all students to choose what pathway they would participate in. The data shows the academies have an impact on student achievement versus those that are not in an academy. Academy students pass the CAHSEE at a much greater rate than non-academy students. As the school is still transitioning to school wide academies, it is imperative that all of the stake holders are at the table to discuss how ELL students, special education students and advance students are placed in each of the academies.
III D: Commendations
Mt. Diablo High School has shown growth in student achievement over the last three years. The evidence has shown that it points towards the laser focus of learning for all students. MDHS has grown the most in Academic Performance Index of all of Mt. Diablo Unified School District High Schools over the last three years. They are no longer the lowest achieving High School in MDUSD.
There is evidence that the school leadership and staff have implemented and monitored the action plan and that the resources available to the school are adequate to bring the plan to fruition. Because the strategies employed in the Academies has enhanced student achievement with that population of students, the commitment of the school is to transition to academies for ALL students.
MDHS staff, parents, students acknowledge they feel safe on campus. There is also an acknowledgment that tremendous change in the culture and over all school safety has improved since the last visit. The staff has embraced the new discipline plan and implement it school wide. There is a significant decrease in suspension and expulsions since the last WASC visit. MDHS has also made efforts to celebrate student success on regular basis.
Mt. Diablo has done a tremendous job in advertising and encouraging students to take higher level classes. There are more students taking Advance Placement and Honor classes at MDHS since the last visit.