To The Daily Sun,
As Laconia grapples with the realities of significant budget cuts to our schools and public services, and as we all carefully reflect on the data presented about our community through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it is worthwhile to also consider what students currently think about their schools.
Additionally, it is important to have a clear understanding of how our schools are doing for our students each day. As a local school leader, I have the unique opportunity to have access to this data. Sharing it is typically something I enjoy. So let's look as some positive numbers that should matter as much as the concerns that we find ourselves and our community's youths faced with at present.
Based on a 2015 Student Engagement Survey, 85 percent of the students attending Laconia High School plan on pursuing post-secondary programming. This means they have goals that are educationally focused and go beyond high school. Goals mean they have hope for a future they will build through hard work and continuing education. It is both relevant and encouraging that 77 percent of our student body "feel good about being in school every day."
Remember, this is a perceptual survey and kids could have responded in any way they wanted. Additionally, over three in four students confirmed they were "actively engaged by their teachers" in the classroom. Perhaps the number was that high because 8 in 10 students at LHS believe there is at least one adult in the building who knows them well. Seventy-six percent say they feel supported by the staff. These numbers say a whole lot about what is right about Sachem Nation.
The survey also reports that students at LHS believe the school emphasizes the following components of education:
— 81 percent believe we emphasize understanding ideas and information.
— 78 percent believe we emphasize being actively engaged with the school community.
— 76 percent believe we emphasize computers and technology at LHS.
— 82 percent believe we emphasize preparing for post-secondary education.
I am encouraged with all of these student perceptions, as they are indicators that show that our mission to engage students in pursuing academic excellence that ensures college, career readiness is relevant to our students. These are the perceptions of the students at LHS. They are consistent and positive and create an attitude that school is a serious place to prepare for life.
Some may say, "Why isn't the percentage higher or why isn't this true for ALL of the kids?" My answer to that is honest: I wish it were. I would also say I have rarely in 30 years of education seen this level of affirmation from a student body about their learning environment. As Jamie Vollmer infers in his book, "Schools Can't Do It Alone," we are working with every student every day. We don't select only the ones who are ready and willing to engage in the rigors of academic learning. We seek to find ways to educationally engage all students regardless of how prepared they are academically, socially and emotionally. These numbers make me proud of where we have gotten thus far and motivated to reach those who have not yet learned that education is an important part of their overall development.
Now let's take a step away from student perception and look at actual student performance. Over the course of the past few years, the following data points are true:
2012 –2014: LHS improved each year on NECAP reading scores and tied the state average in the 2014 school year for the first time since the inception of this assessment.
2013-2014: 63 of LHS juniors were proficient or above on the NECAP writing assessment. This number is well above the state mean and is consistent with elite public schools such as those in Hanover, Bedford, and Exeter.
2011–2015: During the last three years, LHS students grew an average of 7 points on the MAP (NWEA) Reading assessment between the fall of ninth grade testing and the spring of 10th grade testing. The national average for growth in reading during that period is 1 point for reading.
From the fall of eighth grade to the spring of ninth grade, our students improved an average of 8.5 points on the Math MAP (NWEA) assessment since 2012 to 2015. The national average for growth on this math assessment is 7 points. Last year's freshman came in to the high school with the highest math NWEA scores ever. This year, our freshman have already increased an average of 8 points on the NWEA math assessment in the fall to winter assessments.
2015: On the Smarter Balance Assessment, which the state had 11th grade students complete as the compliance tool for federal requirements related to testing, LHS juniors scored above the state average in reading (first time we have done this since the beginning of NECAP) and were 6 points off the state mean in math which represented the smallest difference of any district school. This year the state has adopted the SAT, a far more relevant assessment to our juniors, as the assessment that fulfills those requirements.
2008-2016: The number of Advanced Placement (AP) tests that Laconia students took went from an average of 30 over a five-year period ending in 2013 to 78 this year. The number of AP course offerings has more than doubled. The number of Project Running Start (dual enrollment) courses has also doubled. Enrollments in these courses have done the same. We also have students taking courses at LRCC campus while still enrolled at LHS. It is factual that more students are taking more rigorous courses than ever before and they are performing well in them.
These data points are offered to let you see that many good, encouraging and hopeful things have been and continue to be happening in our schools. The significant majority of students feel engaged and safe in our schools and the data repeatedly confirms this. Our task is to continue to increase the percentage of students who feel this way while also helping to shape their appreciation and respect for the importance of education as a meaningful preparation for success in life.
We can come together as a community around the true reason for Sachem Pride: quality preparation for a life that is meaningful to both the individual and the community in which one interacts. While we face very real problems here in Laconia, they are not problems we are unable to overcome if we value and commit to what we all know will benefit us. Great things continue to happen in Laconia schools and throughout this community every day.
During the important and difficult conversations that lie ahead of us as a community, there is value in remembering that.
Jim McCollum, Principal
Laconia High School