VINTON–On July 13, 2015 for the first time in anyone’s memory, William Byrd High School in Vinton was mentioned on the floor of the United States Senate. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine praised WBHS for its “High Schools That Work” model of instruction.
This just happens to be the same week that ten members of the faculty at William Byrd are traveling to Atlanta to the annual Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) High Schools That Work (HSTW) Staff Development Conference. They will deliver a presentation on a key factor in their continuing improvement through the years—One Day Registration.
On July 13, the Senate passed a Career Readiness amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 co-sponsored by Kaine. The intention of his amendment is to insure that “students are ready for postsecondary education and the workforce.”
Kaine said that the amendment, which was passed unanimously, “gives states the opportunity to reward high schools like WBHS while sending a strong message to schools, businesses, parents, and students that it is critical to be prepared for the workforce regardless of postsecondary education plans.”
William Byrd has been doing just that since 1994 when the HSTW concept was adopted with then assistant principal Dr. Richard Turner and teachers Betty Semones and Billy Meador at the helm. Bob Patterson was principal at the time and delegated responsibility for the program to Turner because of his marketing education background.
Patterson said in 1995 that “one of our major intentions is to prepare all students for furthering their education and to be prepared for some type of job and to eliminate students who fall through the cracks.”
Turner says that WBHS was struggling in the early 1990’s. Three hundred students were enrolled in low-level courses with 40 students in a general track curriculum graduating in 1994 “not ready for work or college.” The school sought the input of local business leaders in implementing a new program “that would lead to students prepared for both jobs AND further education.”
William Byrd has now been a HSTW site for more than 20 years, adopting their goals and key practices as its instructional model to raise student achievement and graduation rates. In the most recent year for which data is available, ninety percent of WBHS students graduated on time with 83 percent moving on to postsecondary study.
In the mid-90’s Congress and the General Assembly were advocating broad-sweeping educational reforms intended to ease the transition from school to the workplace. In 1995, Vinton businessman Steve Musselwhite described WBHS as being on the “cutting edge” with their HSTW program.
Because of state and federal involvement, grants were available for reforms at the time. William Byrd received a grant of $20,000 which they used to equip a Principles of Technology laboratory class in applied physics, taught by Meador.
According to Turner and Semones, the HSTW program opened up a new world at Byrd and changed the high school fundamentally.
“High Schools That Work has driven our advancements here at Byrd,” said Turner. “It is so ingrained that it is part of almost every program here.”
The continuation of the program for over 20 years is almost unheard of. The continuity has been due in part to the stability provided by having the same coordinators involved since the outset. Turner moved up to become principal; Semones has retired but continues to coordinate the HSTW program; Meador continues to teach both at Byrd and at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology—another variation on the HSTW philosophy.
The SREB defines the key practices of HSTW programs as a focus on high expectations, defined programs of study including academic,career, and technical studies along with work-based learning, collaboration among teachers, an escalated advisement and guidance program, and remediation opportunities.
At WBHS the key factors in the HSTW success have been the elimination of low-level general track courses, block scheduling, implementation of career and technical education courses, work-based learning, the institution of five major programs of study, encouragement for students to take higher level classes with extra help available, and One Day Registration.
The One Day Registration program is an integral part of HSTW practices. While many schools just send home registration forms for parents to sign after students have chosen their courses, each February at WBHS parents of rising 10th-12th graders are invited to the school on what is a parent conference day to set goals for their students and choose classes for the upcoming year. Students and parents meet together with teacher-advisors and guidance counselors. Rising ninth graders register on two evenings using the same procedure.
Rising freshmen are asked to choose one of five programs of study from Business and Marketing; Communication Arts and Media; Engineering, Industrial, and Scientific Technology; Environment and Natural Resources; or Health, Human, and Public Services. While they are not locked in to the initial program chosen, the process encourages them to start thinking early about their futures and puts them on a career path to gainful employment.
At Byrd this year 80 percent of parents became “deeply engaged” in helping their children think about the not-so-distant future by participating in the One Day Registration event. While students at other schools might be tempted to sign up for the courses depending upon what classes their friends are taking, those at Byrd hopefully are focused on their own goals and needs.
Another result of the program seems to be that parents encourage students to opt for more challenging courses than they might otherwise choose, especially with the assurance that extra help is available to help them succeed.
Semones says the HSTW program has helped the school to “raise the bar” with students pushed to take higher levels of English, math, and science.
The school adopted block scheduling in 2002 which allows students more in-depth exposure to subject matter, as well as the experience of college-type class scheduling.
The Service Learning Leadership classes which encourage community service and involvement grew out of the HSTW model along with the Air Force JROTC program, work-based learning which permits students to work part-time, computer technology, and expanded CTE business and marketing classes.
The HSTW program is data driven. Selected seniors have taken the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test every two years since 1994 and demonstrate steady increases in performance.
The HSTW program at William Byrd was the subject of an article in a recent SREB publication. When Turner and Semones were being interviewed and described the One Day Registration process, the school was invited to do presentations on the topic at the annual conference.
WBHS faculty members Julie Link, Caitlin Hartman, Jill Harris, Jessica Catley, Stephanie Browning, Margaret Toone, Phifer Herrala, Gina Williamson, along with Dr. Turner and his wife Tina, the assistant principal at Hidden Valley High School, will be participating in the conference, which draws thousands of participants from across the nation.
The non-profit SREB was created in 1948 by southern governors and legislators who “recognized the link between education and economic vitality.”
WBHS teacher Jill Harris, says that “HSTW prepares students not only for higher education but for work as well by promoting demanding academic studies and encouraging students to take a sequence of CTE courses helping students to realize they must become lifelong learners.”