Thankfully, the 2022-2023 school year marks the return of school to a more pre-pandemic condition. In particular, we have had the return of concerts in the auditorium, field trips such as our 8th graders heading to Washington D.C. or our kindergartners to Lake Farm Park, and opportunities for young people to be recognized in person both on the field and in the classroom. In fact, this quarter Aurora High recognized 156 young people who earned an Academic Letter for this past school year. In particular, there were 37 seniors recognized who have, up to this point, earned a 4.0 or higher grade point average in each semester of high school. The reason why I share this is not just to acknowledge the product, though it is very impressive, but also to emphasize the process of learning each young person experienced. One part of the program that had nearly everyone smiling was the anecdotal stories shared about each of the third year lettermen. These stories were based on information provided by the recipients including their self-identified superpower, most memorable moment in high school, or key goals/plans for their future. As each of these stories were shared I looked around the auditorium and observed smiles on not only the faces of young people in the crowd but also of the adults (even when their child was not being discussed). The acknowledgement of the human side of each senior was a great demonstration of the importance of balance that all young people need throughout their educational experience while at school. It is why on-line learning does not equate to an on-line education. You can’t get an education, i.e. nurturing of human assets, from a computer. It has to happen in the classroom with caring, highly skilled adults utilizing a student centered preparation for life model. After all, education is the growth of human beings and not just a simple acquisition of skills. This idea of “growth of human beings” is the difference between receiving instruction and gaining an education. This is also why in the Aurora City School District (ACSD) each of the schools PreK-12 is a place where parents send their children to come to get an education and not just to receive instruction.
The Ohio Department of Education recently recognized this high quality education provided by the ACSD as the home of the Greenmen was one of only 12 districts out of the 609 school districts in Ohio that earned five stars (highest rating) in all five components (Achievement, Progress, Gap Closing, Graduation Rates, and Early Literacy) on our district’s state report card.
The first of the five components in the report card is Achievement. This rating is based on the Performance Index which is a function of the state test results in a district. As you know, the Aurora City School District staff believe learning is not a product, but a process and so we put our time and energy into designing learning environments that help young people develop the competencies within our strategic vision. This “greenhouse philosophy” that emphasizes “nurturing the roots” of young people helps Aurora Learners to be Future Ready. As an example, by utilizing our Math and ELA frameworks which promote collaboration and developing critical thinking skills through productive struggle in our classrooms, a natural byproduct of this environment is high achievement as demonstrated by the five-star rating for the district in Achievement meaning that the young people in the district significantly exceeded state expectations in this component.
Where Achievement showed how well the district scored on the test, the second component on the report card which is labeled Progress demonstrates how much growth young people experienced over the school year. We believe that in order to help all young people grow you have to meet them where they are, which means having conversations or utilizing formative assessments to assess understanding, and then adapting the lessons accordingly. As a result, we are being diagnostic in response to the needs of young people. There is also an emphasis on promoting student voice and choice meaning when able we give young people the opportunity to select what and how they go about learning. This leads to innovative approaches that empower young people and ultimately leads to their growth.
The third component, Gap Closing, digs down to the district details to determine if our most vulnerable learners are having their needs met by the district. In order to meet these needs, special attention is given to the specific needs of young people both in and out of the classroom. There are supports in place for young people when they struggle in each of our buildings PreK-12. More intensive supports are put in place based on the needs of the young person. We also are sure to offer a continuum of services that allow us to place young people with learning differences in the least restrictive environment. This approach promotes growth for struggling students, while on the other end of the spectrum we extend learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom for our population identified as gifted learners.
The vast majority of graduates leave AHS in four years, but the state recognizes that sometimes extra time is needed. Our strategic vision looks to support the whole child and not just in the area of academics. Conditions which promote meeting graduation expectations include social emotional factors, support from school counselors, preparation for college, opportunities to learn a trade as is done in our Excel TECC programs, and a variety of courses to select from at Aurora High.
Of course, before young people can graduate they have to learn to read starting in kindergarten, so they can then later read to learn. The Early Literacy component of the report card addresses whether our youngest learners are improving and becoming proficient in their reading in grades K-3. This includes learning letter names and sounds, being able to talk about a story - which promotes comprehension, providing opportunities for young people to select books that interest them that leads to a love of reading, and a guided reading and writing approach which utilizes small groups and one on one conversations.
The State Report Card is a nice affirmation but not necessarily a confirmation that Aurora City Schools are excellent. The confirmation comes from the smiles on young people's faces each day, support from the families and community, the increase in efficacy of our staff, the stories of success from our Greenmen graduates and that of them being prepared when they travel beyond the walls of our school buildings. We also understand that there is always room for growth as a district. The practices we put in place are not a result of focusing on outcomes such as good test scores and five star rankings. The five star rankings are a natural byproduct of the philosophy, practices, and pedagogy that are in place. Our goal as educators is not to raise test scores, but to help raise human beings. That is the narrative we would like our families and staff to take away from this report card…a narrative of Aurora Learners who are Future Ready.