Middletown: A Diploma that Guarantees Success After Graduation
MIDDLETOWN—Middletown’s Board of Education has set high goals for the school district. The Board of Education instituted Project 20/20 with ten goals to reach by 2020. The goal to guarantee the diplomas of graduates, or send them back to school, is at the top of the list.
A fourth floor at the high school is under construction to support the effort. The former technology wing is also getting a facelift. The renovations are expected to be completed by September 2017.
The new rooms will create a new environment. There will be no study halls. “What we really are going to be doing is giving kids experiences working in groups on projects,” said Dr. Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of the Enlarged City School District of Middletown.
Richard Del Moro, assistant superintendent for instruction, said the goal is to prepare graduates for entry level positions, be it for college, at a company, or in the military.
Ready for College, Career, and Life
Eastwood’s goal, and that of the school board, is to prepare students to be life ready after graduation. To be able to read a work manual or a college text is required.
Technology is a big part of the project. Middletown schools make use of technology in the learning environment. Eastwood said students from seventh through twelfth grade have take-home mobile devices.
About 100 credit hours of college courses are taught by high school teachers who are adjuncts to universities. The classes are free to students. The school recently introduced a biomedical program from Stevenson University. Students can take courses from Rochester Institute of Technology or Syracuse University.
Literacy in the military in some cases can be more of a challenge than in college. “If you look at the texts that military folks have to read and work with, these are significantly more difficult relative to reading and understanding,” Eastwood said.
Military recruits need to understand a manual to operate a piece of expensive military equipment. Even more crucial, they need to comprehend the troubleshooting section when things go wrong.
Eastwood wants students to be lifelong learners and the 2020 guarantee is a first step. Students learn at a personalized, independent pace, and learn how to work in a group.
“Life-ready employees can tackle virtually anything in any way with a group of other people. That’s really what business is looking for and that’s what we are guaranteeing,” Eastwood said.
Del Moro said that, whether it’s English in ninth grade or an elective in twelfth grade, it’s not just rote learning. “Teachers are trained to present subjects as skills for life,” he said.
Del Moro said the skills they teach are marketable in terms of the adaptability and flexibility that employers and recruiters are looking for.
Students would have to be what Eastwood refers to as “computationally literate”—to do simple problem solving, such as how to measure the height, width, and depth of a carton and make changes to those dimensions as needed.
If a new hire does not demonstrate those skills, the school district will refresh a minimal level of the needed skill in a night course that will typically be at BOCES.
Del Moro said the guarantee is a way to build a solid reputation that colleges, companies, and the military can count on. “They look at the rigor of the program,” he said.
Training and instruction are expensive in business and the military. “It costs a lot of money to train individuals,” Del Moro said, “whether it’s for the military or money invested in recruitment at a college.”
Dropouts are not welcome. Companies and colleges look at the graduate’s work ethic and attendance. Colleges assess if the graduate can finish a 2-year or 4-year program.
Support for Students
“Billy” Donahue, social studies teacher and head football coach, worked on the data subcommittee for the initiative. “Everybody is working toward that goal,” he said.
He said upper-level teachers have an important role in helping students to internalize the guarantee’s message that the school wants them to succeed in life. “That caring aspect is important,” Donahue said.
Donahue said the guarantee sends the message to graduates that “We are not going to abandon you when you get out and have a hard time getting a job. We are going to make sure that you are going to be successful beyond these walls.”
Keisha Zucks, president of the high school Parent Teacher Organization, said administrators spread the message often in the first days of the school year. “We try to make sure we are in line with them so we can also help.”
Zucks and other PTO leaders meet with Eastwood on a monthly basis to keep up with changes.
Her daughter Joy is pursuing a career in the medical field. “I’ve obtained so many credits from Syracuse [University] that I’ll be a sophomore going into college,” she said.
Joy hopes that parents will be open-minded. “They just have to be very open to the changes and come to the parent club meetings because it’s where they can get all the information they need to make sure their kids are on track.”
The guarantee is something students can take with them for the rest of their life. “When they leave here,” Eastwood said. “They should have the knowledge and attributes to be successful in anything that they want to go after.”
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The First Goal of Project 20/20
Goal #1: GUARANTEE the diplomas of graduates.
The Enlarged City School District of Middletown will stand behind and guarantee that the diplomas of its graduates have met proficiency requirements in literacy and mathematics. If an employer finds and establishes that one of its graduates is not proficient in either basic mathematic and/or literacy skills, the employer can then petition the school district for additional adult education instruction in the subject area identified as non-proficient. Once approved the district will schedule and pay for appropriate adult education courses needed to develop proficiency. These will typically be completed through night courses at the local BOCES.