Over the course of a year, change has been unfolding at Sarasota High School in Sarasota, Florida. School administrators are dedicated to the success of their students. And they’re doing what it takes to help students succeed – which, especially this year, has boiled down to attendance and getting students where they need to be to learn.
At Sarasota High, Assistant Principal Becky Moyer is particularly focused on student accomplishments. As an educator, seeing what students ultimately overcome, year after year, is what motivates her day in and day out. And in some ways, it’s why she became an AP after 10 years teaching math in middle and high school. “I wanted to make a difference on a schoolwide level,” she says, adding “I wanted to make it easier for more students to graduate – to accomplish their goals.”
Moyer and the leadership team at Sarasota High are enabling student success in a handful of ways. One of these ways centers on academic variety by offering different courses, opportunities, and niche learning environments that set students up for success. They have a Cambridge AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) diploma program that they excel in statewide, nationally, and internationally. For those who are looking for an honors program, students can take a full honors course load or simply participate in specific subjects. They also have an exceptional visual & performing arts program that many of the students at Sarasota High gravitate to, and their Career and Technical Education programs have the highest acceleration rate in the county.
While the academic options at Sarasota are helping bolster student interest in school, that’s only half the battle. For students to truly succeed, Moyer knows, they must come to school and to class to receive the instruction they need. And that’s why Sarasota High leaders are heavily focused on physically getting students in class – which they’re doing with a two-pronged approach.
First, they’re working to reduce chronic absenteeism. They’ve assembled a core group of staff who are working closely together to monitor for chronically absent students, Moyer explains. This includes a discipline secretary who helps track absences plus security and clerical staff who are now able to step in to work to treat those issues. Secondly, they’re also focusing on reducing tardiness. And Sarasota High is using Hero for that.
Seeking a solution to a larger tardiness problem is actually what introduced them to Hero. “One of our challenges was tardies and students just not getting to class on time. We also found that the staff weren’t consistently reinforcing what our tardy policy was at the time and a lot of that added burden fell on the teachers,” says Moyer. Hero, she believed, could help with both as a “systematic way of addressing tardiness schoolwide.”
Now, every teacher is enforcing a consistent policy, every day, with less effort than before. “All teachers have to do is shut their doors, which are already locked, and so when the bell rings, they’re shut and students can’t come in unless they have a pass,” she explains. Tardy students quickly get a pass when they’re noted as tardy in Hero, which is done instantly in the office or with a mobile hallway monitor. Processing tardy students was a disrupting, time-consuming burden before for teachers, but that burden has now been eliminated. “Everybody loves Hero…the teachers especially,” confirms Moyer.
At Sarasota High, Hero has also helped in another way: it’s actually creating a sense of motivation within students themselves. “Hero is making sure that students get to class and are where they’re supposed to be,” Moyer says. They’re creating a shift in student mindsets, in a way, which is just one more tactic school leaders are using to get students in class and learning. “With Hero, students are holding themselves accountable. Before, staff members had to round up students, tell them to get to class, and walk them to class,” says Moyer. “Now, students are self-motivated
because they know what the consequences are of being late. Students are making an effort to be in class more than they ever have before.” Hero has helped change student behavior because students know what they need to do, she feels. “They’re getting to class on time because they’re held responsible if they don’t.”
All of the hard work the school is doing is having a positive impact on their campus. This year, the percentage of students with chronic absences decreased to 10% – which is down from 12% the year prior. Days Present also increased a percentage point this year. And over 700 students (half the school’s population) did not have any tardies-to-class during the third quarter.
Moyer can see that more students are in class this year. But she can also feel a difference since adding Hero. “Hero has transformed our culture and climate to one that’s defined by more positive interactions and less negative ones, because we’re holding students accountable and recognizing when they do the right things,” Moyer says. And most importantly, the combined impact of all the school’s efforts is poised to increase every student’s chance of success.