Fewer school suspensions, better student attendance and a program to give at-risk students more individualized instruction are expected to help Lawrence High School earn re-accreditation this month.
Not only is LHS expected to get good marks, but LHS officials are praising the accreditation process itself, which for the first time in LHS history was outcomes-based.
Four years ago LHS began its present accreditation cycle with the North Central Assn. North Central is one of six non-governmental, not-for-profit associations across the country that accredit public schools, universities and colleges. With headquarters in Tempe, Ariz., and Chicago, North Central is the largest of the six and accredits schools in 19 states.
NORTH CENTRAL first endorsed the outcomes-based accreditation process in 1988 as a means to make schools more accountable for correcting weaknesses.
Under the traditional procedure, LHS administrators worked on a report that included details on almost every aspect of the school, from how many teachers had master's degrees to how many books were in the library.
But in outcomes-based accreditation, school staff members identify areas they would like to improve, and the staff then works on programs to reach those goals.
"I think it's important to find out in our school who's achieving and why and who's not achieving and why, and to find out what we can do to help those students who aren't achieving," said LHS Assistant Principal Trish Bransky. "At the same time, nobody is going to forget the high-achieving student who needs calculus, but we've got to reach a broader spectrum of kids, and outcomes-based accreditation makes us do that."
LHS identified six target areas for its accreditation, and four of them call for all students to demonstrate minimum competency in math, reading, writing and social studies.
TO HELP students who have minimal skills in those areas, LHS started the Directed Studies program in the fall. About 30 students are now enrolled in one of three Directed Studies classes, which offer a student-teacher ratio of no more than 10-1. Other students visit the Directed Studies classroom throughout the day for tutoring.
Mary Rodriguez, who chairs the LHS North Central Steering Committee, said, "We just needed to give these kids more time and a different model of instruction, be it tutors or individualized work with teachers."
Another of the LHS accreditation goals was for all students to acquire study skills. Starting next fall, LHS will offer a semester-long elective course on study skills. The course will be geared toward incoming sophomores.
The school also is putting together a study skills booklet for students that includes lots of tips from teachers.
RODRIGUEZ said those measures also should help with the goals relating to competency in subject areas.
"If you get kids to have good study habits, that's kind of an across-the-board improvement," Rodriguez said.
The school's sixth accreditation goal calls for improvements in student conduct and in student attitudes toward school.
"Studies show that many dropouts feel that nobody in the school cared for them or reached out to them," Bransky said. "The Directed Studies program is one attempt to make sure that kids' perception is not that nobody cares about them in the school. We've also done what we can to personalize the school environment."
Last semester, LHS Principal Brad Tate spent second hour of every school day visiting with students in their classes. Students shared their concerns about such things as racial tension, theft, parking, drugs and alcohol.
Tate managed to visit every second-hour class in the school and now is doing some followup visits.
Rodriguez said LHS teachers also have participated in a number of in-service activities designed to help them improve student attitudes and conduct. For example, she said, more than half the LHS staff attended training sessions related to substance abuse, and at least a third of the staff has attended sessions about gangs.
RODRIGUEZ said there already are signs that student attitudes and conduct have improved. During the first semester of 1991-92, 16.5 percent of all student absences were unexcused. During the first semester of this school year, only 1.2 percent of all student absences were unexcused.
Also, the number of suspensions dropped between the first quarter of 1991-92 and the first quarter of this year. The number of suspensions for fighting dropped from 37 to six, and the number of suspensions for "open defiance" dropped from 12 to six.
The North Central External Team, which includes several Kansas University faculty members, has recommended that LHS be accredited. Tate is in Chicago today working with North Central, and LHS will find out before the end of the month whether it has been accredited.
The school then will begin another four-year accreditation cycle. Rodriguez said the continuing look at student outcomes is the key to the whole process.
"The point is you have to continue to do that or you're going to decline," Rodriguez said.