‘We all want our students to succeed’

Fairview High School administration, faculty talk state report card improvements

The Fairview High School senior class forms a giant “88” on the lawn of the school. (Courtesy of Whitney Haynes)

FAIRVIEW, Ala. – Two years ago, Fairview High School scored a 68 on the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE)’s report card. The school took the score personally and sought redemption. It succeeded. When the state report card came in last December, Fairview High School’s score jumped from a 68 (D) to an 88 (B).  School officials say this type of improvement was a community effort, and it wasn’t easy. (For a scoring breakdown, see https://bit.ly/2FUzNxW)

Fairview High School Principal Dr. Chris Gambrill recalled, “We had a terrible report card and life changed for us. It was kind of crazy. I think it’s the first time our kids took it seriously because it was the first time we took it seriously.”

Gambrill knew things needed to change but said he wasn’t sure where to start. After the report card, the school went through its Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence assessment.

Gambrill continued, “We had to change everything. (Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Board Member) Mike) Hall said, ‘The second I walk into your school, I have no idea what you’re about, but the second I walk in, I should know that.’ So now, the first thing you see when you walk in, we set the standard. We are all about standard-based instruction in everything that we do. If you go into any room, there are standards all over the boards. That’s what we do standard-based instruction ACT.”

The ACT is a standardized test used by colleges to measure high school achievement and readiness for college-level academics

The administration, faculty and students have created bulletin boards throughout the school to help with motivation. Each classroom features a college/university and the ACT data for that school. Students can see what it takes to be accepted into Alabama, Auburn, UNA, UAH and others. Other displays keep track of progress using different-colored push pins to represent students anonymously.

Gambrill even has 80s music (his favorite) playing in the halls between classes, laughing, “I wanted to kill the prison look.”

While a change in the aesthetics helped, it was a complete reboot of the school that elevated the test scores and morale. Different teams were formed, including the Data Team, which The Tribune sat down with recently. Whitney Haynes, Sarah Jean, Shannon Black, Treyla Kessler, Morgan Watts, Eric Vest and Stephanie Chambers were pouring over student information and pinpointing the different areas in which each student could use more help. 

Haynes, who teaches family consumer sciences, began by saying, “We don’t have ‘D’ students. I felt horrible that we allowed ourselves to have a ‘D’ because we are NOT a ‘D’ school. We don’t have ‘D’ kids, we don’t have ‘D’ faculty and we don’t have ‘D’ administration. There’s nothing about us that’s a ‘D.’”

The teachers attribute much of the improvement to better understanding how the report card score is reached.

Haynes explained, “It helped that Dr. Gambrill had gotten all the information, but we really didn’t understand what we were graded on. He did a really great job of finding out that information.” 

The teachers quickly realized that the school was especially weak in attendance and academic growth. They created incentives to help decrease student absences. Students could earn homework passes and bonuses or have pizza parties for being the best homeroom. The teachers thanked the community, its businesses and state representatives for help in providing incentives and prizes to the kids. 

Academic growth is based on the increase in scores between the pre-ACT testing and the ACT. The school focused these scores through boot camps, practice ACTs, time management and strategy.

Black said, “We put the kids in teams to where the different teachers were over the different kids to evaluate their growth. I think the expectation was of everybody being on board, this is our goal, let’s go, and everybody did.”

Haynes added, “We were able to look at each student’s score and we have them broken down into ‘needs a lot of help’ to ‘these are really high achieving.’ I thought, these high-achieving kids, they are probably topped out. They’re probably not going to get a lot higher, but those kids showed some of our biggest growth. Our kids are capable of more than we ask sometimes.”

The class of 2019 showed positive growth in all subjects. The greatest improvement was in the English portion where the school gained by 2 whole points.

Kessler, who teaches math, shared, “I know for a fact that in last year’s math portion, everybody decreased, but we increased, and last year’s math test was really difficult.” 

When the score of 88 came, the kids celebrated. They were proud of their achievement and recently the seniors challenged the junior class to keep it going. The seniors went to the front lawn and formed a large “88.” They also created a fun music video with a message to the class of 2020 to #ACTlikeachampion.

“Everything that we did was not mandated. It was what we as a community, as a faculty and the administration came together because we wanted the kids to be able to reflect what we knew that they were, “ Black said. 

When Hall came back a year later he loved what he saw. He was so impressed with the changes at Fairview that the school was featured in the Blue Ribbon Schools newsletter. Gambrill hopes to implement more programs next year, including Game Plan 2020, to help students learn real world skills such as building resumes, managing money and budgeting. The school also wants to begin college and career readiness assessments in the ninth grade. 

Kessler stressed, “We are not the only teachers in this county that are concerned with how our students do. Just because we scored really well, and I’m super proud of that, doesn’t mean that those teachers and those other schools aren’t working just as hard as we are. We are around those teachers and they are just as concerned. We just happened to have, last year, found the formula to do well and we hope to do that again. Every teacher I know is working just as hard as we are. We all want our students to succeed.”

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Christy Perry