By Gord McCabe
Welcome to another school year at Fort Frances High School. We are very excited to be back and looking forward to a wonderful year.
I think I should use this time to update parents on some changes that have taken place which we believe will result in a better learning experience for our students, as well as changes that will allow parents to more easily obtain information about their student’s attendance patterns.
One change we are looking forward to is the introduction on a trial basis of a “flip” timetable. This means that rather than having the same routine every day, each week students will see their timetable “flip” (i.e., Week One will see periods run 1, 2, 3, 4 and Week Two will see periods reversed to run 4, 3, 2, 1).
Research has shown that students do better in academic subjects such as math and English if they can take them in the morning. A school our size does not allow us to timetable this type of course exclusively in the morning, but now all students will have the opportunity to have half of their classes in these academic areas before lunch.
We also have learned from our own research that the majority of our failed credits were taking place in the afternoon. We are hoping that by balancing the timetable, we will see increased student achievement.
There also are some pragmatic reasons. Students who must leave at noon for co-curricular activities such as sports trips will not be missing the same classes each time. Phys. Ed. students who go outside for class no longer will have to face chilly fall and spring temperatures every morning as half their classes now will be in the afternoon.
And co-op students now will see what happens in a business all day, rather than just the a.m. or p.m.
We also believe that simply breaking the daily routine and adding some variety for both students and staff may make for a more enjoyable school climate.
Different variations of “flip” timetables have been tried in other schools with success. We currently are looking at this as a one-year trial period although if we find it is not benefitting students, we have the ability to revert back to a traditional schedule at any time.
School administration shared this with staff, the school council, and the student council—and it was received enthusiastically.
Another area where parents may notice some change is how we approach school attendance.
The entire focus of Fort High is geared towards student achievement. We have found that providing “detentions” for truancy really has not been much of a deterrent to students. Therefore, we plan to focus our efforts on helping students who are falling behind on assignments.
It is an expectation that students must attend class. Section 21 (5) of the Education Act states that “The parent or guardian of a person who is required to attend school under this section shall cause the person to attend school. . . .”
In this case, “under this section” would mean any student under the age of 18.
Rather than the school providing consequences for truancy, we will be asking parents to take this responsibility. If a student is found to be truant and remains in the school, we will bring that student to the office, phone the parent, and ask them to talk to the student or to come and pick up the student.
This will allow our vice-principals to focus on helping the students with achievement rather than being the “attendance police.”
It is easier than ever for parents to track their child’s attendance. Beginning this past Monday (Sept. 8), our computerized attendance program will phone home to parents if a student has been marked absent and no reason has been given. If no reason has been provided, the student is considered truant.
We trust that parents will counsel the students and provide consequences for truancy as required. In addition, a parent portal is now available on the school website for any parent who has an e-mail address registered with the school to check their child’s attendance at any time.
We hope in future this may be expanded to provide parents with even more information easily and conveniently.
In focusing on student achievement, we also have created a program called Z.A.P., which stands for “Zeroes Aren’t Permitted.” This is a help tutorial program where students who have fallen behind on assignments can be referred by a teacher.
There, they can be helped by teachers in an attempt to catch up on assignments.
If a student is assigned to the Z.A.P. program, attendance is mandatory. The program does take place at lunch, so students will be allowed to bring a lunch with them or will be given a break during their Z.A.P. time to go to the cafeteria to purchase lunch.
This is not a detention, but a remedial room to help students. And once the student has completed the required assignment at an acceptable level, they will be allowed to leave and continue with their lunch hour.
All students can avoid being referred to the Z.A.P. program by completing all work and handing it in on time. We have found the single-biggest reason for students failing to earn credits is not submitting work and this program is designed to help address this.
I would like to close by inviting any interested parents who have students attending Fort High to attend an informal information session about the school council on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.
School council meets four-six times a year to discuss issues, and works in an advisory capacity with school administration. Your input would be welcomed.
Attending next Wednesday will not commit you to anything but is a chance to find out what the school council is all about.
If you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to contact the high school.