West Clermont's 'Small Schools of Choice' Rely on Student Management Software to Evolve
High school students in Ohio's West Clermont Local School District had been doing well for an "average" school district in Ohio, but for our superintendent, Dr. Michael Ward, "average" wasn't good enough. According to Ward, many issues needed to be addressed: "The top students did well, but the middle and bottom students did very poorly. One out of every five students who entered our high schools dropped out. There was also dissatisfaction among students about how they were treated by their peers and faculty."
So, Ward and other leaders of our 9,000-student district, located in the suburbs east of Cincinnati, agreed on a solution. We decided to remake our two high schools - Amelia and Glen Este, each of which had about 1,200 students - into 10 smaller schools of 120 to 375 students apiece. "[Smaller schools] offer higher student achievement, higher levels of satisfaction, fewer discipline problems and other benefits," says Ward.
After a three-year planning, community relations and implementation process, we switched to 10 high schools (five per campus) on opening day of the 2002-03 school year. Each is a "small school of choice," built around a single focus of interest such as world studies, creative arts and design, and business and technology. We were one of the first school districts - and perhaps the only suburban district - in the United States to convert to small schools in this way.
Setting a Precedent
The technology team - made up of the software and people - was absolutely essential to making this vision a reality. There were three major challenges that technology helped us solve: scheduling for 10 high schools rather than two, changing from a semester to a trimester system, and converting our students' GPAs from the semester to trimester system.
Jim Stahl, West Clermont's network coordinator, spearheaded the technology effort, working closely with our two principals, Mark Peters (from Amelia) and Dennis Ashworth (from Glen Este), district staff and our software vendor, ACE Software.
In essence, we were able to use our existing student management software, which included ACE's ADM-2000 Student Information System, including its Master Schedule Builder/Student-Scheduling software. We used the basic ADM-2000 software package that we'd installed in 1996; however, when necessary, ACE helped us adapt the software for an individual need or wrote a new program specifically for us. What made this even harder and more significant, was the fact that there was no precedent in this area - there were no school districts that we could call for advice based on their experience.
The ACE software allowed us to treat each of the small schools as a separate entity for scheduling, grade reporting, attendance, discipline, etc. We copied many of our existing reference files (e.g., the grading system, system load, header files, scheduling, basic setups, etc.) from one school and used it with the others. That saved us countless hours of work and avoided errors we probably would have made if we'd typed all that information in by hand.
The software also helps each principal quickly find the information he or she needs. It lets administrators break down attendance by small school and grade level, as well as break down discipline by grade level, discipline code and small school. In seconds, administrators can analyze and obtain data for individual small schools without having to run a report for all the students on their campus.
Our Master Schedule Builder/Student-Scheduling software made a daunting task relatively easy. We copied masters for courses offered at all 10 schools, and then added courses specific to individual schools. At Glen Este High School, Principal Ashworth explains: "I can set small schools of 200 to 260 students on their own separate schedules. They're separate entities in the computer. We have five small schools with five different bell schedules, and we offer one-, two- and three-trimester classes." In addition, he adds, the principals can run a schedule for a small school in about seven to 11 seconds.
To maintain the accuracy of our students' GPAs when we converted from semesters to trimesters, we used a program developed by ACE to reflect what we'd done under the old semester system and converted it to trimesters. We used mathematical formulas and did a lot of double-checking to ensure that we didn't hurt anyone. To calculate GPAs today, instead of dividing things by two, we're now essentially dividing by three. Having one-, two- and three-trimester classes adds to the challenge, which our software has met flawlessly.
The benefits of our software and support in our conversion to 10 high schools were immediate and obvious, although difficult to quantify. Stahl says it best: "I just think about copying all those reference files, which took the software probably about an hour. I can't imagine how many days it would have taken us to input all that - plus the mistakes that undoubtedly we would have made."
My advice to any district that decides to undertake an effort similar to ours is that you first need a product with the power and flexibility to handle multiple small schools. But you also need a high level of service and communication with your vendor. We had constant contact with ACE personnel as we developed questions on the processes we should use.
Our use of technology will change as our "small schools of choice" evolve. For example, we are presently installing ACE's 'WEB Parent/Student/Staff" module that allows parents, students and staff to access and input student information via the Web at any time from anywhere. One thing that won't change is technology's all-important role in the team effort of our small schools' endeavor.
- Dave O'Toole
Contact InformationACE Software LLC
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.