Frequently Asked Questions: Academies


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WHY

What are Academies?

Academies are small schools within a school designed to prepare students for their options after high school, whether it be college or career. The academy structure links students with peers, teachers and community partners in an environment centered around student interests to foster academic success.

What led GIPS to go to this model? Did the community have input? Did students and staff have input?

Our community helped get GIPS to choose this model. We started a high school visioning process to explore the best way to prepare our students for their future. A team was formed consisting of Board of Education members, administrators, teachers, parents, community and business leaders, higher education representatives and, of course, students. With the help of a national school consulting group, the visioning team reviewed the benefits of at least six different high school models. The team, wanting to build on the success of the Career Pathways Institute, decided to continue with the academy model. This team’s work was formally adopted by the Board as part of the Strategic Plan. Input into the high school plan and the Strategic Plan came from more than 6,000 connections with stakeholders in the form of face-to-face and small group meetings, focus groups, surveys and personal conversations with community members, parents, staff and students. This solution was selected based on meeting the needs and desires of the collective group. Student surveys showed a resounding desire for more hands-on project-based learning and interest-based opportunities.

Why do you feel the need to change how the school works when it's perfectly fine? Why fix something that's not broken?

High school should prepare students for their future and not our past. We know the new economy requires vastly different skills than it did 30, 20, 10 and even five years ago. This model will put all students in control of their future and prepare them to succeed in whatever their next step in life is after high school. Our students were quite clear in telling us they wanted more personalized relevance in their learning.

Did GIPS develop this plan, or is there a model we are following?

Academies have a 30-plus-year history of success.The flexibility this model affords helps us ensure our students are life ready. Students spelled out the need for a solution this model provides. Academies have had varying degrees of success for decades in many other school districts. We are adapting the model from many others to fit Grand Island.

Do colleges like this academy? What feedback has the district received from universities? Does this translate into a college experience? If a student graduates from one academy, but that isn't what they want to go into in college, will it hinder college access?

Colleges and universities like this model. We have already been in contact with multiple colleges and they are on board and ready to partner with us. One reason is the transferable skills all students will gain no matter which academy they choose. The skills gained in any academy will prepare students for college in any area.

Are we focusing on careers when we haven't even covered life basics?

This model does not just focus on careers. In order to be life ready, students must have college prep, career prep and life prep. This model will afford us the opportunity to provide more of the life skill opportunities parents and our community are consistently asking for.

What if a student doesn't want to go to college? Does this model push college too much?

The graduate profile that has been developed provides all students college and career opportunities. Providing all students these experiences will best prepare them to make a wise decision for themselves after high school.

What happens to test scores with block schedule?

We believe this will greatly improve student learning, which will positively impact test scores.

Are you expecting 14-year-old kids to decide what they want to do for a career for the rest of their lives? Are you pigeonholing kids into a career too early?

We are not asking students to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives in this model. However, we are preparing kids with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive for the rest of their lives. The pathways and academies are less about a life-long career and more about what students are interested in right now.

This won't be helping AP students, as they're the ones that already have a general idea of what they want their future to look like. Obviously there are exceptions, but for the most part, this is true. The program will just restrict the AP students that do not wish to take part in a pathway or would prefer to take a more liberal arts approach and get an okay grasp of many concepts. But that's not what I'm worried about. My concern is that the schedule changes will punish the students you're trying to help with this program. I've heard representatives of this program spew the rhetoric that it will help the kids choose something that they are interested and make them more inclined come to class, but I feel that this is a bit silly to expect of teenagers. We are at a point in our lives where our thoughts, interests and disinterests and hobbies change at an incredibly rapid and unpredictable rate. You cannot expect a sophomore to choose something that interests them and expect it to be the same thing that will interest them senior year.

GISH students will still have the same opportunities to take AP courses. If anything, these AP opportunities will grow. Asking students to select an academy is not about choosing a career, it is about what interests them now. The content and skills students learned in an academy are completely transferable. Making learning opportunities for students more relevant and rigorous is our job. We believe we can help all kids connect to school through academies in doing so student attendance will increase.

Why were the academies chosen? Why the pathways? What is H3?

The academies and pathways were chosen using the H3 to guide our work. H3 stands for High Skill, High Wage, High Demand. While we can offer anything, we can't offer everything. H3 serves as a model for which we can make academy and pathway decisions in order to prepare students for success in their future while ensuring access to community partners.

How do you move from the current system to the new system?

Very carefully. We have a project plan which identifies the necessary goals and tasks that must be accomplished in order to make the shift. We review this plan on a biweekly basis at the minimum.

Is changing schedule and instruction strategy too much at once?

The two changes go hand-in-hand and were driven by our students. Students report high levels of disengagement at school. Shifting to this model and changing the schedule will provide us the time necessary to engage students in relevant and rigorous opportunities not consistently found at GISH today.

How is this even possible? Isn't it too expensive? How will we pay for this? Will taxpayers be asked to pay more?

We are excited that this transition is a possibility. Initial funding will happen through the shifting of current dollars. With full BOE support and the guidance of the strategic plan, we are confident we can make the necessary changes in the budget to accommodate the initial tasks.

Is it too fast to implement this as planned? If you don't know everything about this, then why is it being implemented already?

With the guidance of our consultant, we can launch the academies on our current timeline. Our students should not have to wait any longer for these experiences. The data we have points to an urgent need for improvement. While some details are being ironed out, the overall plan is taking shape. We are continuing to improve our knowledge and skills in all areas of educating kids and running our school district, so we expect to continue to do so with our academy model as well.

What has GIPS learned from other Nebraska schools who have tried this? What have we learned from districts who have failed at this? What other Class A schools have done this? Will this be like Kearney's failure?

Even though we are "rivals" we work very closely with Kearney. Kearney High was facing barriers and challenges that we simply do not have. Our model is not going to be anything like Kearney's attempt at this. There are class A districts succeeding with the model, including a couple of examples in Omaha Public Schools.

Will it still be called Grand Island Senior High?

Yes. We are not changing the name of the high school. The Grand Island Senior High Islanders will still be the Grand Island Senior High Islanders. We will refer to these new academies as The Academies of Grand Island Senior High.

HOW

How will students be placed into academies? Will there be a maximum number of students in each academy? How will district decide who gets into each academy? Will all students get their first choice of academies? How is it fair if some students get their first pick and others do not? What if a student hates their second choice?

The details of this are not finalized. This is in the plan to finalize and when it happens we will give all the specifics of how we will help kids make deep connections between their learning and their personal interests.

What about students who don't know what they want to do? What if a student doesn't fit into any of these academies? What career exploration will students have before they are required to choose an academy?

Our PK-12 system is focused on the whole child. Students begin exploring their interests in elementary and continue through middle school. The Freshman Academy is designed to help students continue to discover and explore their interests. All freshmen will attend a career fair as another opportunity to discover what options they have and what goals they may want to set for themselves. This model is designed to help students start discovering how their interests and passions can translate into adulthood.

It is passion-based, but if a student changes passions, are they stuck? What happens when a student changes interests or wants out of a pathway? What happens when a student gets on a career path and finds it isn't for them? Can students change academies? How will students change academies? What does the process look like? How difficult will it be to change pathways or academies?

Students will be able to change academies at the end of their sophomore year. This process has yet to be defined. We will do everything we can to help students succeed. Changing pathways within an academy will be much easier, as many of the classes will likely align. In talking to students at other districts who have academies, requests for changes are rare. Students told us this is partly due to the number of relationships they form within their pathways and academy teams.

If you have a career idea that is not listed in a specific Academy?

Part of the benefit of this model is personalized academics for our students. If a career idea or interest a student has is not directly aligned with our pathways, we will work with to personalize a related pathway to meet that student’s needs, through electives, distance learning or work-based learning opportunities. Our goal is to help 100 percent of our students find high school to be relevant to their individual passions.

Is English the only required class for seniors?

Currently, English is the only class students are required to take for four years.

Are graduation requirements going to change? If the number of years for getting into college is four years math and science, are we changing our graduation requirements?

At this time, this isn’t being discussed.

DETAILS

Is the advisory time mandatory for all students?

Yes, all students will participate in advisory time.

Can students take classes in other academies?

Yes, pathway courses can also serve as electives or choice classes for students across academies.

Can students still be involved in multiple activities, fine arts and athletics?

Yes, all students will still have the opportunity to participate in multiple activities.

Does early bird go away? Is early bird every day? Will early bird be considered a class?

Early bird classes will still be an option next year. Yes, it will count as a class.

Can any student take AP classes?

Yes, any student can take an AP course. Some may be in a different academy or may be a global class, but all students will have access to AP classes.

Is the block schedule in place just to get more out of teachers?

The exact opposite is true in a block schedule. Over eight periods teachers will teach for six. The other two periods are reserved for academy planning and content area planning.

Will it still be broken into two semesters?

Yes, there will still be two semesters of courses each year.

Is the district building a new building for the Freshman Academy?

Currently, there are no plans for building a Freshman Academy.

Are you getting rid of honors-level classes?

No. We are actually going to fine-tune the process to ensure every student is given equal access and appropriate level of challenge in all areas.