As the 2017-2018 school year inches ever closer, several local high schools are looking to hit the ground running with fresh ideas to further prepare their students for life after secondary education.
Connie Berger has been the principal at Heights (formerly Reagan) High School for many years, and the school is held in high esteem. However, she acknowledged that no matter how successful past programs have been, continuing their (and their students’) success hinges on adapting fresh ideas, and the school seems to be well on its way through new initiatives and leadership.
First and foremost at Heights (and across HISD) for 2017-2018 is “Literacy Across Curriculum,” a program that seeks to embed a true understanding of all aspects of literacy in every subject and every lesson.
“In high school, literacy can sometimes fade in math and science—we’re really going full force in embedding literacy across all subject areas at the high school,” said Berger, who has assigned a designated literacy coach that will be working solely with teachers to help them embed literacy in courses. “When we say literacy, we’re not only talking about reading, we’re talking about the writing aspect as well. That’s something that will always travel with the students everywhere.”
In looking back at the school and district’s STAAR testing, Berger acknowledged that the writing typically manifested itself as one of the lowest areas, so the school has made it a point of focus.
“What’s the one thing you always have to send in? An essay. We never want a student to not fill out a scholarship because they’re scared of writing essays,” she said. “Writing and reading never leaves you, so we’ve got to continue that now, and as they move forward to college. We want to make sure we’re speaking the same language across our schools — that’s the common thread that will pull the school together.
As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, Heights already employs the MYP (Middle Year Program), the DY (Diploma Year) and now the Career and Technology program. That will hopefully go into effect around the spring semester.
Finally, Berger said Heights has implemented a new focus on social emotional learning to meet the needs of not only students, but their families as well.
“We hear so much about giving support to our students and their families, and I have a counselor I hired who is designated specifically for work with social-emotional issues with our students and possibly families as well,” she said.
New leadership, fresh ideas
To help implement the programs as well as the school’s 2017-2018 theme “What’s Cooking at Heights,” Berger has brought in several new members of the leadership team, including assistant principals Latreal Ballinger (who was on the Heights campus last year working with IB) and Greg Wagner, who joins Heights after years as a teacher at Bellaire High School. Additionally, a new AP Coordinator who will be working with AP teachers in perusing their curriculum and data trying to get students and teachers to higher level scores on their exams is joining Heights from Westside High School.
Beronica Pickney, who was a classroom teacher at Heights last year, will now be working in the school’s IB department.
“I’m looking forward to a great year, and I’m really excited about these new folks joining us, because new leadership brings new ideas to the campus — especially when I have new leaders coming from within the district,” Berger said. “It brings fresh eyes to the work we do, and we’re excited to be able to share what’s going on across our school.”