In partnership with Isothermal Community College (ICC), Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH) is among the North Carolina Public Schools’ network of Cooperative Innovative High Schools (CIHS). As such, we are a student-centered, public high school in which students engage in an accelerated academic program in technology-integrated classrooms focused on a small, supportive, individualized learning environment. In our four-year program, students typically obtain an associate degree or another college credential—without incurring tuition or textbook costs to families—along with the high school diploma. The expectation is that every student will graduate ready for college, careers, and life.
Student Performance Data To realize our vision of preparing students for college and careers, we closely monitor and respond to student performance data including, but not limited to, End-of-Course (EOC) and ACT outcomes. In addition to supporting all of our students in proficiency and performance at or above grade level, we work toward growth over time. After maintaining or improving proficiency rates across all EOCs for the 2017-2019 School Improvement Plan (SIP) cycle, proficiency rates unsurprisingly dropped for the 2020-2021 school year when testing resumed during the pandemic. Additional indicators of student success include cohort graduation rate, ACT composite scores, and NC School Report Card grade. The 2019-2020 school year marked our tenth consecutive year at a 100% cohort graduation rate. 2018-2019, the most recent available NC School Report Card data, was our fifth consecutive year with a performance grade of “A.” In spite of the global challenges, REaCH average ACT composite scores increased slightly in both 2020 and 2021; this resumed the linear growth pattern from 2013 to present and scores remain well above the state average. The 2021-2023 SIP cycle will continue to focus on EOC and ACT performance, with attention to the recovery and growth of EOC proficiency levels, as well as the timely completion of gateway college English and math courses required for successful CIHS completion. (Please see additional details in the Desired Outcomes and Results section below and the 2021-2023 Action Plan.)
Student and Community Characteristics In alignment with our purpose as a Cooperative Innovative High School, the REaCH target population is by majority first-generation college goers and students from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds. This is accomplished by way of the stratified lottery process used to select students from the district’s public, private, charter, and home schools. Following four years of incremental growth in our 9th grade cohort size, our average daily membership (ADM) has leveled out at or near the 200 mark for the past two years. Even at this high point in ADM we strive to maintain a community and family atmosphere that fosters strong relationships among students, faculty, and staff and partnerships with parents/guardians. In the midst of these times of social distancing and separation we believe this is more important than ever for the wellbeing of students and staff alike and we are putting in place numerous social-emotional elements to drive this in intentional ways. A school culture focused on community and relationships is also important given the socioeconomic status of our county in which, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 34.3% of Rutherford County’s children live below the poverty level (U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau. 2019 American Community Survey. Accessed from: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=children%20povery%20rutherford%20county%20nc&tid=ACSST1Y2019.S1701). Now more than ever our young people and their families need places where they are encouraged and given a sense of hopefulness; through our accelerated academic opportunities, positive relationships, and community orientation, we strive to provide such an environment for our students and to support them in the development of skills tailored to emerging careers of the contemporary economy.
School Characteristics With 9th grade cohort size remaining at 55 admitted students per year, we are currently providing these opportunities to 192 students. The concurrent high school and college programs are enabled by operation on a modified academic calendar that runs more closely to that of our higher education partner, Isothermal Community College. The school day is set up as a modified four-block schedule that allows students the flexibility to attend both their honors-level high school classes and their college classes.
Our location on the campus of ICC offers our students ease of access to their college classes and instructors. High school classrooms and teachers’ offices are located on the first floor of the Lewis Lifelong Learning Center and a number of the ICC courses taken by our students are taught on the second floor of the building by instructors also located on that floor. In addition to academic support provided by the high school, students have access to resources and services across the ICC campus such as the Writing Center, Tutoring Lab, library, and various other engaging college programs and services such as the Global Distinction Program.
High school instruction and academic support is provided by a faculty of six teachers: one science teacher, one social sciences teacher, two mathematics teachers, and two English teachers. This calculates to a student/teacher ratio of 32/1 for the 2021-2022 school year. Additional staff include a distance learning administrator, seminar area supervisor, instructional technology facilitator, school counselor, college liaison, MTSS coordinator, principal, and two office staff. With student needs escalating to more intense and unique situations, sufficient and expert staffing is of utmost importance.
Stakeholder Perspectives about Educational Quality In line with formal surveys of prior years, informal feedback from students and parents/guardians consistently demonstrates positive attitudes toward the school and the quality of the program. Although we are missing the 9th grader summer home visits that have been so meaningful in years past, the increased need to talk with parents more frequently and on a one-to-one basis over the past year and a half have given us the opportunity to connect with families in a different way; in spite of the current levels of stress and emotion, we frequently receive words of appreciation for the high level of support that is a hallmark of the REaCH program. Another source of feedback comes by way of social media. It is not unusual for current students and graduates to post favorable comments about the culture and impact of REaCH. Students, parents, and community members often like and share posts on the school’s Facebook page.
Beliefs and Mission
Our Vision All Rutherford Early College High School students will graduate prepared for college and career success.
Our Mission Rutherford Early College High School will prepare students for individualized academic, career, and life success in a rigorous, supportive learning environment that builds upon family and community partnerships to foster growth, responsibility, acceptance, and connection.
Our Core Values The following core values are fundamental to our strategies, student supports, and day-to-day practices. We believe that: • Small, supportive learning communities create opportunities for individual student success; • Engaging, technology-enabled, real-world relevant classrooms are necessary to prepare globally competitive students; • Rigor, relevance, relationships, responsibility, and respect are the cornerstones of the REaCH culture; • Research-based strategies facilitate effective teaching and learning; • Collaborative partnerships among students, staff, parents/guardians, and other learning community stakeholders is necessary to student success; • Preparing future-ready students is essential in a globally competitive workforce.
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, our faculty and staff revisited these core values and updated our school mission statement to more effectively reflect them. To us, these are more than boilerplate text on a webpage, social media outlet, or school improvement team agenda; they are keywords that drive strategy, design, and decision-making. From planning to daily interaction with students, these statements are innate to our activities and vital to student and school outcomes. While balancing the importance of these as long-standing commitments for sustainability of the school’s learning culture, the vision, mission, and core values are reviewed during each biennial school improvement planning cycle for ongoing relevance and alignment.
Desired Outcomes and Results
The school’s broad vision was developed through collaborative discussion among faculty, staff, and administration to be in alignment with the vision of Rutherford County Schools and to meet the needs of our students in their preparation for future roles in workplace, family, and community. The success of our students in these roles demands our attentiveness to not only local but also state and national priorities. These include the state’s areas of emphasis for school accountability as well as state and national focus on individualized, targeted pathways that correlate with emerging workforce trends. To this end, student performance data were considered against the backdrop of the socioeconomic climate of our community and the demographics of the student population to develop our vision and supporting school improvement action plan. Trends and patterns in the data, in the context of the learning community and current health and safety conditions, informed the specific goals and strategies of the action plan.
Data trends include historically strong student performance on the ACT. Because this assessment is used as a key indicator of college readiness and college admission criteria, it is important that we continue to support our students in demonstrating preparedness for higher education when they take the assessment. The importance of the assessment is emphasized throughout our programming and curriculum in numerous ways; ongoing strategies and actions are built into the 2021-2023 Action Plan and are detailed in that document in support of a specific desired outcome that the average ACT composite score for each junior class will increase by at least 1% during each year of the 2021-2023 SIP cycle. Progress in this area will continue to be a key measure of results for the school.
EOC outcomes are also considered a key indicator of the level at which we are helping our students toward future readiness, as their high school core courses support their ACT and other achievements. Our 2021-2023 EOC goal is that the percentage of our students who are at the career and college ready EOC level will increase by 5% during each year of the cycle. This cycle will require a rebuilding to prior EOC proficiency levels prior to resuming our growth trend.
With regard to academic readiness for college, additional goals in this SIP cycle’s action plan relate to readiness as demonstrated by the timely completion of at least one college math and one English course. These foundational courses are critical to students’ successful completion of a college credential during their matriculation at REaCH as well as to their ongoing success as they transfer to other institutions of higher education. A number of actions, detailed in the 2021-2023 Action Plan, will be implemented to prepare our students to successfully complete these courses in the timeframe required for their eventual graduation and college credential completion.
Future readiness would be incomplete without a working set of soft skills to support success in college, careers, and life. Our goal and expectation is that our graduates are not only academically ready but are also equipped with skills such as goal setting, time management, self-advocacy, and critical thinking. Development of these is supported in conjunction with academic development through daily classroom activities, effective teaching and learning strategies, student support and development in House (our weekly, grade-level advising period in lieu of the traditional homeroom), the past year's development and ongoing evolution of our new IseeU academic support program, engagement with community professionals and higher education contacts, ongoing enhancement of the MTSS process, and other support programming throughout the year.
Analysis of Organizational and Instructional Effectiveness
As an early college high school, REaCH was designed to provide rigorous, individualized instruction. Students begin taking college classes from their first semester at the school with the intention of simultaneously earning both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or another college credential. Of the graduates in the REaCH class of 2021, 80% earned an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree. Further, 70% planned to transfer to a four-year institution and another 8% planned to pursue additional studies at a two-year college. These figures speak to the effectiveness of the college-ready instruction at REaCH.
REaCH continues to fine-tune existing supports and add new support resources to meet students’ social, emotional, and developmental needs. Each year’s start-up weeks (the school days prior to the beginning of ICC fall classes) are planned with intention around promoting student success in the current school year and addressing topics to build longer-term future readiness. During this start-up period, students are in House every day; activities include focused presentations by guests, ICC staff, and REaCH faculty and staff on carefully selected subjects. This year’s two-week House start-up was more instrumental than ever in addressing the transition needs of not one, but two grade levels--9th and 10th--that had never experienced the start-up opportunity due to limited in-person operations for the past two school years. It also served as an important reconnection for our returning 11th and 12th graders. The topics and activities of the two weeks were tailored around this year’s specific needs. On an ongoing basis, House is held weekly on Fridays and features future readiness activities by grade level such as guest presenters from the higher education community and activities in Naviance, the RCS platform of choice for college, career, and life readiness.
Another enhancement to our support structures began in fall of 2019 as a critical-care program developed as an MTSS intervention, became crucial to student support during the remote and hybrid learning of 2020 and 2021, and is now the latest iteration of our Friday afternoon learning support period. This is our IseeU program, a small-group and one-to-one academic mentoring effort that has proven invaluable over the last two school years. We had been considering improvements to our Friday afternoon support period, so applying what we learned over the past two years by folding the IseeU concept into that period was a natural next step in its evolution. We consider this to be among the most significant developments of these two challenging years and look forward to its continuing evolution and positive impact on our effectiveness during 2021-2023.
In addition to relationship building with our students, fostering effective partnerships with families and community is of great importance. This is facilitated in large part by our parent contact system. Teachers are intentional in making introductory contacts with all parents early in each semester. Teachers' ongoing communication routines are not limited to calls made when challenges arise, but include positive parent calls recognizing students' strengths and accomplishments as well. All parent contacts are documented as part of a shared process that is emphasized and monitored throughout the school year. It is our desire that all of our parents feel comfortable talking with our faculty and staff as a result of multiple points of contact rather than being contacted only when there is a difficulty. Families are also supported with events such as Senior Parent Night and FAFSA Night that include parents in the future ready process. Parent and community relationship building and communication is another area that can and should be strengthened continuously; this will continue to be enabled by our robust use of communication tools such as remind.com, standardization and improvements to web-based and social media communications in alignment with RCS standards and policies, and exploration of other emerging engagement opportunities.
Equitable access to the above and other resources is paramount to the REaCH vision and mission. In addition to the above programs and processes, we are dedicated to providing our students with access to the latest learning technology and innovative learning resources. This requires our ongoing commitment to up-to-date, progressive professional development. We believe that this is critical to developing students who are equipped to thrive in 21st century college classrooms and workplaces, regardless of their field of work or study. We continue to be active in the statewide CIHS network to the extent that members of our staff presented to our regional cohort on two occasions during the 2020-2021 school year. In addition to in-school instructional and technical professional development, we follow the RCS calendar of district-wide professional development days and online learning opportunities as they arise. Thanks largely to instructional materials and equipment made available through the GEAR UP grant, our faculty and staff have had the opportunity to learn about and utilize new tools for instruction and communication that boost the level of engagement in our learning community. One example is new science equipment that explores weather conditions, enables official weather station reporting, and provides data that can be used for cross-curricular lessons involving both science and mathematics.
As we bring new resources and practices into our portfolio of teaching and learning, we will maintain those that have proven effective in years past. All students will continue to have access to targeted feedback through Canvas, learning supports through various online access points, and online learning through NCVPS. Academic supports will continue to include daily, after-school Academic Support and Friday afternoon IseeU learning support. The weekly Friday support program, now called IseeU, has evolved over the past year but continues to be required for students with one or more course grades below a C and available to any student desiring extra learning support or focused work time. This program is part of our MTSS pyramid of interventions. All students continue to have access to ICC resources, such as Disability Services and Learning and Retention Services, that ensure equitable access.
These strategies and practices are keys to achieving the goals identified in the school’s 2020-2023 Action Plan. In developing the Action Plan, consideration was given to school performance data; maintenance during and recovery from the current global health crisis; the school’s status relative to local, state, and national educational priorities; and goals and actions that will enable the school to meet or exceed those priority expectations as well as to fulfill our vision and mission.
Goal #1: The junior class average ACT composite score will increase by 1% year-over-year for the 2021-2023 SIP cycle.
Goal #2: The percentage of rising juniors who have successfully completed college ENG111 increases by 1% year over year for the 2021-2023 SIP cycle. (The combination of ENG111, ENG112, and either ENG231 or ENG232 serves as students' high school English III credit as well as credit toward associates degree completion. Completing ENG111 in the 10th grade year gives students time to take the two subsequent courses and earn English III credit before taking English IV during the senior year.)
Goal #3: For each school year of the 2021-2023 SIP cycle, 100% of students will be eligible to take their gateway college math course (not remedial) by the first semester of their senior year. (The college transfer pathways require at least one college math course. This goal will also help high school teachers raise expectations for students in high school math courses while keeping in mind college math course content such as statistics and pre-calculus topics.)
Goal #4: The percentage of students at the career and college ready EOC level (proficiency levels 4 and 5) will increase by 5% each year of the 2021-2023 SIP cycle.
These goals and their supporting actions are further detailed in the 2021-2023 Action Plan (found in the Action Plan section of the online SIP system).