Principal Christopher Page gets animated when talking about a topic that many others, even in K12 leadership, might find a bit dull: high school schedules.
Bear with us, because it’s student-centered.
The Highlands Ranch High School leader worked with other principals from Colorado’s Douglas County School District to create a universal schedule that gives students access to a wider range of classes that aren’t offered at their home high schools. For example, his school doesn’t offer Calculus 3, but a nearby high school does. In the past, the student schedule would have been adjusted, but taking Calculus at another school meant they could lose two or three other classes, Page explains.
To go with the schedule, the district added a busing system to transport students. “Kids don’t miss school anymore,” says Page, Colorado’s reigning Principal of the Year. “They might miss five or 10 minutes, but they have more access to more classes.”
In his own building, he introduced a homeroom period that gives students opportunities to retake tests and access other interventions, without having to be pulled out of a core academic class. It has also become a key part of the school’s efforts to support mental health. Students can meet with groups that focus on topics such as grief and test anxiety. Page and his team are now digging into the data to see how the universal schedule and homeroom approach is impacting student achievement.
“Even though we’re a well-achieving district and school, being able to continue to move the needle is important,” Page asserts. “We want kids to feel success.”
He also helped write the district’s equity policy, which stipulates that all students should have access to all the resources they need to learn and grow. And the policy survived a recent review by a newly elected school board despite the controversies that have been drummed up around critical race theory and DEI, he notes.
“After it was put out to the community to review, analyze and discuss, the community collectively agreed this is the right work, this is what we need to do,” Page adds.
‘The Streets of Highlands Ranch’
Along with the schedules, Page is also excited about the efforts he and his educators are making to improve grades. More specifically, he and his teachers are working on differentiating and aligning the curriculum. This will not only smooth the transition when students switch schools but will better support special education and more culturally responsive instruction, Page asserts.
Instruction is now aligned with the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” framework and more diverse books have been added to the ELA curriculum. “It’s embedding the culture of different peoples into our schools,” he says. “We do things like ‘The Streets of Highlands Ranch,’ where we highlight all the different types of people who are in our halls.”
He and his educators are also exploring how to use ChatGT in education, rather than banishing it as a threat to academic integrity. His goal is to teach students to use it to analyze their work. “As opposed to seeing it as an antithesis, seeing it a support—there is a productive way to use it without cheating,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges he and his educators are facing in the wake of the COVID pandemic and remote instruction is a widespread and more severe level of disengagement among students. While some students aren’t showing up at all, others are in school but skipping class.
“When you confront them in the hallway, historically it used to be, ‘Hey, you need to go class,’ ‘Hey where supposed to be?’ and kids were, for the most part, compliant,” he says. “Now, we’ve got a lot more kids who are pushing back, saying ‘Well, I need to walk around.’ Their catchall is, ‘I can’t be in there right now, I’ve got some mental health issues.'”