Principal looks to create freshman 'house' within LHS

LACONIA — Administrators at the high school have proposed creating a freshman "house" to help eighth graders make the transition from middle school to high school. They made their proposal to the School Board Tuesday night.
The purpose of the "house" said High School Principal Jim McCollum would be giving the freshman group of students a specific place and specific teachers to help ease the move up to grades 9-12.
He said he would need a year to prepare for the change for the freshmen, meaning the program would begin in 2014-2015. He told the board he would like to extend the program to sophomores during the following school year or 2015-2016.
McCollum, who is the former principal at the middle school, explained Tuesday that middle school is very structured — sixth graders are largely confined to one floor, seventh graders to a different floor and eighth graders on yet another.
The high school, he said, is much more free-form and some students find the transition between the two — especially in the freshman and sophomore years — to be difficult.
"This will give a space they can call their own," said McCollum, noting all eighth graders will go through a career and academic assessment through the guidance department to see what classes are appropriate. He also said teachers and guidance couselors for those grade levels will better coordinate with each other to provide a sense of continuity between individual classes.
Key to the recommended change is one hour of math, social studies and English for the entire year during the morning "block" during freshman and sophomore years. Before junior year, students would meet again with guidance counselors who will help them with a career "pathway."
Pathways in the junior and senior years would be in four core areas — industrial engineering, design, building and manufacturing; health and human services; arts, media and communication; and business, management and administrative. All four pathways will have a technical and an academic component to them.
The newly recommended format is also more academically rigorous, said McCollum, and more aligned with the new "common core assessments" that are defined as standards designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.
School Board members had a number of questions for McCollum, including how the students who fall behind will be helped and what will be done in seventh and eighth grades for basic skills preparation.
Addressing the first, McCollum said there are a variety of methods students can access to get back on track including remediation — VLACS, or the Visual Learning Academy that is on-line, after school support, after-school library support and summer school.
To the second, McCollum said common core literacy and common core mathematics will be mastered before high school. He said skills build upon each other through successive years and "mastery must be achieved."
When asked, McCollum said the district would need a year to implement the Freshman House and an additional year to implement the Sophomore House. He told the board that if it chooses to go with the new model they should consider a six- to seven-year commitment.