hillcrest's slcs at 10 years:
do slcs really work?
inquiry by bibi bachus, dasraj seecheran, and jonathan perez
edited by isela larreinaga, slc editor and emily ram, student life editor
As Hillcrest celebrates 10 years of SLCs in our school, our journalists research whether the SLC movement was successful
Graphic by: Maya Venkersammy, Layout Editor
Graphic by: Maya Venkersammy, Layout Editor
In 1992, a quotation taken from Schools That Work stated that "making schools smaller is the first step toward enhancing school conditions and improving student outcomes." The idea was that in really large high schools, students can “get lost in the cracks” without immediate support to look over them. Is this proven to be the case?
Hillcrest High School is one of the earliest schools to adopt towards a small school within a school model. In comparison with John Adams High School with a student body of 2,634 students and William Bryant which has a population of 2,496 students, all three have one thing in common, Small Learning Communities.
High Schools come in many sizes, including those which tend to hold a vast amount of students. The major quantity of students causes chaos and disorder within the school, allowing the evolvement of the small schools movement. These high schools are too large and needed to become "smaller, autonomous schools of no more than 400 students." Each of these smaller schools would contain different programs including students with similar interests. The small school movement, as well, reforms failing large schools into several small ones to create a fixated environment that is comfortable for all. This was the beginning of what we know as SLC’s (Small Learning Communities).
According to a broad amount of sources, the point of forming Small Learning Communities was for high schools to "receive assistance in their efforts to raise academic achievement, for students to achieve higher standards, for students to participate more in the school communities and keep student achievement at the center of those reform initiatives.” The Small Learning Communities allowed for several alternatives that were not as easy if the entire school was ran within a large population. The communities made it beneficial for alternative scheduling, multi-year groups, adult-advocate systems, freshman transition activities, and academic teaming. The Small Learning Communities were said to do positive justice, and the outcome has been nothing but that.
Hillcrest, being one of the many schools that contained a vast student population, was on the verge of potentially spiraling down until the Small Learning Communities were formed. What was Hillcrest before the division of nine specifical programs? According to rumors spread, shootings, bad grades, bad students, a time when no one wanted to come into this school. School at this time wasn’t a priority for the students, they weren’t motivated to go learn and become something. The action of breaking this school up into nine individual SLCS - The Humanities Preparatory Institute which is currently the Academy of Media Arts & Music, Pre-Med, Theatre, Public Service & Law, Pre-Teaching which became Teachers of Tomorrow, Biz-Tech, Health Careers, Global Citizen & Senior Academy - the school became much better with this change.
Before the SLC's came into Hillcrest, Former Principal Duch had been principal since 1996. At this time, Hillcrest was "a troubled school, had a very low graduation rate and there was not a perception that Hillcrest was a safe school," said Mr. Duch. When data was collected only 55% of students earned a diploma in four years. Former Principal Duch was aware that " 4 of every 10 students who entered Hillcrest were not graduating in four years."
So what justice did the Small Learning Communities do to our school?
The Small Learning Communities gave many positive statistics. From the time the Small Learning Communities were created ten years ago, the June four-year graduation rate increased nearly twenty percentage points, from 55% to nearly 77% last year. 98% of graduates were accepted to college where 85% are attending four-year colleges and universities.
It’s not just the numbers, but students feel that the school offers much. According to our School Quality Snapshot, 95% of students feel that Hillcrest offers enough variety of programs, classes, and activities to keep them interested in school and 96% of teachers would recommend our school to parents. Hillcrest's 4 year graduation rate changed from 4 out of 10 students not graduating to nearly 80% of the entire school. This means that about 160 students will graduate in four years prior to 10 years ago. Principal Morrison exclaims that "Our graduates are attending some of the best universities in the world, including Yale, Harvard, Brown, and Cornell to name a few."
SLCs aren’t a cure-all fix. Statistics show that 78% of students in John Adams and William Cullen Bryant, more than half the population, feels as if their school offers enough "variety of programs, classes and activities to keep them interested in the school."
Do these stats show that SLCs do not work? Or part of a great issue with those schools?
These are schools that are either on the city’s watch list or making headlines in the New York Post for falsifying student record so they graduate. Both schools have below average graduation rates, but both schools turned over into SLCs only a few short years ago. Hillcrest did not turn itself around until about 6 or 7 years into the SLC process. Hillcrest was rated a C by the New York Department of Education Report Card in 2007, just 2 years into the shift. Since then Hillcrest has had a chance to perfect systems surrounding SLCs including teacher teams, attendance and graduation mentoring, and program growth and community partnerships.
A Pre-Med student interviewed said that “Being in a learning community where I could focus on what I want to become rather than being all around the place makes me feel as if I’m truly focused. The SLC’s were a really good idea.” As seen from the expressions on students faces, the variety of friendships formed and having the familiar faces around you, the small learning communities created families, rather than just a bunch of students working together. One Media, Arts & Music junior exclaims that she “never felt happier being close with the staff and the familiar faces around her, it makes learning more comfortable and better.”
This structure is proven to be doing so well, former Principal Duch is working with this idea in Houston, Texas to create 5 small learning communities that will start this October.
Ten years later, it is obvious that the SLC structure has worked. With the high-scoring statistics and the many positive outcomes, this structure has changed our home school, Hillcrest, and many other schools for the better. Hillcrest High School is going to be the safest large high school in Queens for the past decade due to the change from being a large school into formulating to small learning communities. The SLC structure, as Principal Morrison said, "is the best model for large high schools in New York City."