Principals ready for challenges

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer August 26, 2014 09:23 pm

Principal Lisa Dion, right, and Vice Principal Alex Merritt are ready to help students, parents and teachers overcome challenges spurred by recent changes in staff and grading systems at BHHS.

Teachers and students returning to Brookings-Harbor High School on Sept. 2 may do so with trepidation following a year of turmoil and changes throughout the district.

Lisa Dion, the new BHHS principal, wouldn’t blame them.

“We have a community that has lost confidence in our district,” Dion said. “We have parents and students who are feeling disinfranchised. We have teachers and staff who are disillusioned and frustrated.”

The district’s superintendent resigned this summer amid criticism of his leadership skills, the high school principal retired, and nearly a dozen BHHS teachers resigned or retired. Several teachers cited issues with low morale and last year’s trouble-plagued implementation of a new proficiency-based grading system and Common Core teaching. 

“What happened last year was bad — it was very ill-conceived,” Dion said. “But I want everybody to know that the problems are not insurmountable. We are making changes and have a plan to improve school culture and create a positive environment.”

With the help of Vice Principal Alex Merritt, also newly hired, Dion has developed Bruin PRIDE, a positive behavior intervention plan that sets clear guidelines for teacher and student expectations, accountability and academic achievements.

“With this system we will be able to address the general sense of defeat that exists,” Dion said. “Issues of low morale, low performance, low expectations for professionalism and general low levels of enthusiasm will be addressed in an effective manner.” 

Merritt added, “We really hope the entire community will get behind us — not just the parents, but others in the community.

“If we can get the culture parts in place, the academics will follow,” he said.

Dion, who has nine years of high school administration, modeled the Bruin PRIDE program after a similar one she implemented at the Tillimook School District. 

“Over the course of four years the school culture shifted into one where classrooms became cognitively busy places. Students were actively engaged in their learning and teachers taught at higher levels of thinking because the students stepped up to the higher expectations,” she said. 

“The number of freshman on track to graduate increased, our graduation rates increased, and our writing scores increased by 13 percent,” she said.

Her goals for BHHS are:

• Get 90 percent of the freshman students to finish the year on track to graduate.

•See the overall graduate rate rise to 90 percent.

•See 90 percent of seniors graduate with at least one completed college course.

•Get more training and professional development for teachers.

Top of the “to-do” list for BHHS is addressing issues with the proficiency-based assessment system. 

“We need to reframe the discussion about this. It’s a disaster in other school districts, not just here. People didn’t know how to implement it,” Dion said. 

In 2013 the state required all public schools to switch from the traditional A through F letter grade system to a proficiency-based system that graded students solely by whether they have mastered the academic skills covered in class.

Confusing matters was the fact that, under the new system, turning assignments in neatly and on time, bringing back signed forms and racking up extra credit won’t raise grades. Likewise, turning assignments in late or skipping homework won’t hurt — as long as the student can demonstrate the key skills and knowledge covered in the course.

Last year, the Brookings-Harbor School District launched the proficiency-based system with little to no training for teachers and students, and with a computer system that was unable to handle the switch.

The district has since made strides to upgrade the computer system and make it more user-friendly. At the same time, the district is scheduling training sessions for teachers struggling with the new way of grading.

Then, earlier this year, the state changed its mind, saying the switch wasn’t mandatory and that schools can revert to whatever grading system they used before — or switch to whatever else they please.

Some teachers and parents have asked the district to go back to traditional grading system, but the school board recently agreed that is not an option —  too much work and changes have been made in implementation of the proficiency-based system.

Dion agreed.

“Common Core and proficiency-based assessment — that is the package we’re doing,” she said. “Once school starts, we’re going to develop a plan, explain it to the teachers, and get them trained.”

Merritt added, “It’s going to be messy this year, but by this time next year, things are going to be more familiar and more comfortable.”