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home : news : local   May 26, 2016

1/2/2014 6:12:00 AM
New year, new school, new direction for Hall

Spring Valley Hall High School juniors Hailey Goetz and her friend, Adriana Hawton, walk through a crowded hall as they make their way to first-hour class recently. School officials are working on a Vision 2015 strategic plan to help provide the students with better education opportunities and more attention in classrooms. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
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Spring Valley Hall High School juniors Hailey Goetz and her friend, Adriana Hawton, walk through a crowded hall as they make their way to first-hour class recently. School officials are working on a Vision 2015 strategic plan to help provide the students with better education opportunities and more attention in classrooms.

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Alicia LeGrand-Riniker
NewsTribune Reporter

It’s the new year and members of the Hall school board and administration have a resolution: Improve education at the school.

Throughout the new school referendum campaign earlier this year, school officials were questioned about their plans to improve school programs and education and not just add a new fancy brick building. This was followed by a not-too-satisfying school report card which left the taxpayers who decided to invest in the school wanting more.

The school board and officials kicked into action by announcing its Vision 2015 strategic plan in hopes to improve education and provide more opportunities to the students.

“The vision for 2015, for me, has three parts,” said Betsy Sobin, Hall board of education member.

She said it makes college curriculum more rigorous and stringent, it improves upon the vocational aspect of education and it will incorporate the common core standards into classes.

“The basic goal is that all Hall students will graduate college and career ready,” said superintendent Mike Struna.

The first step was adopting some curriculum changes at December’s board meeting. The courses will be added to the 2015 school year and include an honors English I, vocational technology, accounting I, sales and marketing and honors U.S. history.

Assistant principal Angie Carpenter said by offering more honors classes, especially to freshmen, students reaching the bench marks in education will have access to more challenging material which will allow them to achieve more growth. She added that students not in these honor classes also can get more attention from their teachers which can lead to students feeling more pride in their academic achievement.

The other part of the curriculum change is to add more vocational or career-ready courses. Sobin said these courses are a great opportunity for students because there are certain students who have no intentions of going to college. This will allow them to experience other programs and maybe make a decision on a future career, she said.

“We cut a lot of vocation in the last two years when budgets were tight,” said Struna.

Hall started as a vocational school, Struna said in 1913, it was called the Hall Academic and Vocational School. Now, Struna said only juniors and seniors get a taste of these vocational classes through the Area Career Center. Struna’s goal is to also allow freshmen and sophomores to get interested in these types of classes as well and at Hall.

The vocational course would add a class with access to 10 different vocational disciplines. Struna said the final vocations have not been decided, but he has heard local support for classes towards electricians, logistics, computer drafting, welding and manufacturing. The disciplines might also change and grow depending on demands from the workforce, said Struna.

“We also have to remember that those students still have to take math, science, English and other courses required for graduation,” said Sobin.

Hall officials believe the best way to connect students to all courses available at Hall is to incorporate the common core and common career and technical core standards. Carpenter said adding the core standards will help teachers and school officials focus on what the students are producing and students will learn skills they can apply in many aspects of their life.

“I think it will benefit the students because they will see those skills applied across the curriculum,” she said.

Struna said he talked to several community members and union leaders about career paths and preparing the students for the future. The response was that the students would need life skills like working with a group and good thinking and attendance skills. These skills fall in line with common core standards, said Struna.

Taking this idea one step further, the school also plans to line up certain courses and teachers to provide learning across different disciplines. The new school will have a three-floor educational wing which already brings the classes together more than the multi-level current building. On each floor classes will be paired together to allow collaboration to happen.

Hall will be providing its teachers with time to build Professional Learning Communities where they can gain access and knowledge of different disciplines beyond their primary focus, said Carpenter. She added that teachers can change what they teach to go along with something students might learn in another course and see how things fit together.

One example is math and science courses will be together on the same floor with a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lab where students can see how the these disciplines work together. Struna said the lab is about problem solving and hands-on learning where students will not just learn about building a bridge, but get to build and test one on a computer program.

Another way Hall hopes to improve student engagement is through a one to one technology program which will offer all students a laptop. Sobin said that education today is about trying to reach the student where they are at and most students have that technology aspect in their lives already.

“If they already have that technology ability, then we need to tap into that creativity and intelligence in order to help improve student education,” she said.

She added that teacher can use programs students know to help create homework and class assignments.

“It also changes the way teachers teach,” Struna added.

Teachers are still going to be the content experts, he said, but they are going to spend more time working with students individually than teaching a group lesson. He said this will cause more feedback between the teachers and students and struggling students will have more one-on-one time.

He believes this one-on-one time is very important because it will help students to remain on track to graduate. The school also plans to increase efforts to its already successful Response to Intervention program.

The RTI program focuses on providing extra help to the 20 percent of students who need it through building organization and study skills and sometimes offering extra guidance when needed.

Carpenter said the new vision will help the program be more individualized and not just group oriented as it is now. She said teachers will be able to identify exactly where the student needs more support and give the staff time to focus on the students in need of help.

“We have to as a school learn how to better improve instruction and learning. Once those are improved then the test scores will follow,” said Sobin.

Struna believes the attendance and graduation rates will go up because more students will want to be at Hall because of the increased attention in classrooms, better opportunities and added technology to learning.

So far it is a two-year plan to start changes rolling academically at Hall by the time the new school is scheduled to open in the summer of 2015. Struna thinks that looking to far ahead can be overwhelming sometimes and nothing gets done. He said the plan fits what the school is doing without causing major financial strain.

He said comments and feedback from community show they are excited about the changes and the board has been very supportive.

“I think we are going in the right direction,” said Struna. “It is a lot of work.”

Alicia LeGrand-Riniker can be reached at (815) 220-6931 or

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