Key Elements to Success
Aligned in every way with the school’s mission to graduate college-ready and civic-minded students, the importance of college readiness is understood very well at SASCS. In addition to high quality instruction and curriculum, programs during school, after school, and during the summer that have been already developed and practiced to make sure that every student has an opportunity to attend college. The school has a college-bound culture in all of its school buildings and provides extensive and targeted curriculum aimed at college preparation. SASCS has 91% or higher college acceptance rate over five consecutive years, which is a culmination evidence of all our efforts and programs in creating and promoting a college-bound environment at SASCS. In addition, 92% of 2012 cohort enrolled in a college compared to 79% national average according to National Student Clearinghouse report. The same class had also 92% 1st year college retention rate, compared to 75% national average, which shows their preparedness to college. We envision that college-prep culture will not start and end in school, but rather become an entire lifestyle, including aspects such as homework and managing time wisely.
Board members who are college faculty members and leaders at higher education create several opportunities and collaborations at SASCS to provide exposure, guidance, and involvement between the SASCS students and staff and programs at local colleges. Involvement will range from field trips and college visits to inviting college staff members to participate at the school as keynote speakers, judges in academic competitions, and valued guests at special presentations and events.
Here are some specific examples of college related program titles implemented at each school of SASCS: (a) Elementary School: College visits, “college themed” classrooms, guest speakers from local universities, annual college week with various activities (b) Middle School: College visits, “college themed” classrooms, guest speakers from local universities (c) High School: College fairs, extensive college visits, summer residential college programs, after-school and Saturday SAT/ACT programs, guest speakers from local universities, college courses, programs at SUNY ESF and Syracuse University, and more.
One of the main issues for colleges is that a high percentage of entering students are not ready for college level math. SASCS takes this problem seriously, and seeks to ameliorate it by preparing our students for advanced math earlier so that these accelerated students will be able to take more AP and/or college level courses. Our target is also to send our students to colleges with SUNY college credits already earned. Several courses are offered through OCC, SUNY ESF, and new programs are under developments with other colleges. Our goal is to be able to send our students to college already having earned between 9 and 30 college credits.
Focused on STEM and Environment
In all K-12 levels, SASCS promotes real-world problem solving & exploration in science and mathematics, interactive engagement and collaborative problem-solving opportunities, field trips to environmentally friendly locations and science museums, and regular use of technology: computer laboratories, smartboard, IPAD one-on-one chromebooks, internet, apps. As stated in its mission, SASCS is focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which provide the necessary foundation for college entrance and careers in technical fields. STEM education is a high national priority because of lack of skilled workers in these fields. Here are some examples: (a) Elementary School: Annual science fair, coding, Lego League (Bricks 4 Kids), and greenhouse (b) Middle School: annual science fair, coding, Lego League, MathCounts, Enterprise America with WCNY, SUNY ESF Environmental Challenge, project submission to Build and Bust Bridge Building Contest and CNY STEM Fair, summer science camp at school and SUNY ESF (c) High School: annual science fair, Microsoft certification, coding, robotics, summer science research program, project submissions to CNY STEM fair, ISWEEP, GENIUS Olympiad, offering STEM and environmental college courses, and attendance to Science Bowl.
Here are some more in depth information regarding some of the programs mentioned above:
SASCS Fairs: The high school students compete for awards at the school’s two internal academic events: the Science Fair and the Liberal Arts Fair. Each winter, in a two month long process guided by science teachers, high school science students in every science course are required to complete a science project demonstrating an understanding and application of scientific methods (hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion). Judges from local colleges (Syracuse University, SUNY Oswego, Most Museum, SUNY ESF, Le Moyne) evaluate each student’s project, and students present their experimentation process and findings at least three times during the afternoon competition. In addition to gauging each presenter’s fluency and poise, judges determine each project’s worthiness according to its adherence to scientific methods and concept inventiveness. Each spring, the same process takes place once again, only this time students are creating presentations and projects in the areas of social studies, English, art and music. Similarly, collegiate staff and community members are again invited to participate in this event as judges. In addition to the school-wide presentations and competitions, students with high quality projects continue on in regional competitions.
STEM projects: School hired a STEM projects coordinator, who holds a PhD in chemistry to guide students in STEM project preparation. SASCS submits most number of STEM projects at all levels and grades at annual CNY-STEM fair. In addition, SASCS has participated in international Science projects competition for high school students, ISWEEP and GENIUS Olympiad. In both programs, students interact with their peers from several countries and states and share their projects.
Science and Math Camps: Accompanied by teacher-coaches and parent chaperones, students involved in competitive science or math teams arrange camp places to study more intensive with a professor supervision and these projects will compete in regional, national and international level competitions.
Science Olympiads: SASCCS students will be participating in Science Olympiads. Science Olympiad competitions bring students together each year that have cross-trained in science disciplines in preparation for competition in a variety of events, with an emphasis on active, hands-on group participation. They require a well-planned, long-term commitment, and training which instills certain discipline within the students. Through commitment, coaching, and practice throughout the year, this apprentice and mentoring program improves the quality of our science education, increases student interest in science, and provides recognition for outstanding achievement in science education to both students and teachers. Participation of many students from minority groups (as demonstrated at the SASCS Science Olympiads) engenders respect and appreciation from the community. The students who participate in Science Olympiads have the opportunity to interact with students from many other schools, and learn how to appreciate diversity while competing.
SUNY Oswego Science Immersion Program: Since 2010, SASCS high school students have participated in a summer program at SUNY Oswego. They learn science disciplines under the guidance of Oswego professors, in conjunction with their high school teachers, and improve their lab skills. In this way, the Science Immersion Program provides an additional professional development benefit for teachers, which in turn positively impacts all their students. Through this program, teachers spend four weeks interacting with their students and professors on a more in-depth science research project than normally possible, using equipment and facilities not typically available to high schools. The Science Immersion Program also provides an excellent college culture experience for students. Students reside on the SUNY campus for four weeks, eat their meals in the cafeteria, and get a taste of what college life is like.
Math Competitions: At SASCS, students from every grade level who are interested in or have a talent for mathematics are encouraged to participate in extensive training to preparing for Math Competitions. SASCS has been able to establish a tradition of successful Math Competition Teams. Participation on these teams has given students a new perspective of math for future success. The MathCounts team commits to gathering at school on Saturday mornings to study for approximately 15 consecutive weeks. Because part of the competition includes teamwork, the MathCounts team also attends teambuilding activities and go-karting, to strengthen friendships and knowledge of one another’s strengths. School won several awards at regional MathCounts awards over the years.
K-7 Lego Program: SASCS offers a Lego curriculum to all its students to enhance problem-solving skills, in a context which makes it fun and engaging to learn using Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It blends STEM knowledge and skills with soft skills such as teamwork, creative thinking, critical thinking, and communication. It also enhances eye-hand coordination, which results in greater gross and fine motor skills and brain development at an early age.
8-12th Grades Robotics Program: SASCS created a competitive robotics team and offer in-school, after-school and Saturday robotics instruction and teamwork. Participation in the Robotics Program promotes hands-on application of the STEM curriculum, in which problem solving takes place through students’ emerging engineering skills. Students attend at regional and national competition to gain further knowledge and skills.
SASCS has a celebratory atmosphere, and promotes positive attitudes through quarterly recognition and rewards for academic efforts and citizenship evidence through certificates, gift certificates, and invitations to an annual Dean’s List Dinner (held at a banquet facility) for students and their families.
At SASCS, volunteering is core to the school’s identity. Volunteerism is an incredibly enriching experience that will benefit all students – personally, academically and professionally. The community involvement directly carries the school experience into the real world, throughout higher education, work, family, and community and civic affairs. By recognizing challenges and taking part in solving them, students become better problem solvers and gain real-life application experience. Such success typically leads to a can-do attitude that spreads to academic and work pursuits. In turn, colleges and workplaces view volunteerism as a positive and desirable characteristic in applicants. These student volunteers are seen as more dependable, responsible, able to follow instructions, become committed citizens and having intrinsic motivation.
The school provides several opportunities to teach thinking globally and acting locally to all its students by character education, mentorship programs, community service, international trips and activities, and various citizenship programs, such as: (a) Elementary school: local field trips on a monthly basis, bullying programs, inviting community leaders, national and international leaders, community service (coin, toy, and food drives for local and national organizations) (b) Middle school: local field trips, inviting community leaders, national and international leaders, character education (teaching universally recognized values such as honesty, stewardship, kindness, generosity, courage, freedom, justice, equality), community service (coin, toy, and food drives for local and national organizations) (c) High school: local, national, and international field trips, inviting community leaders, national and international leaders, mentorship program (providing interpersonal growth, leadership abilities, self-concept, academic achievement, and personality), community service.
In all K-12 levels, the school has a diverse student population who are from various backgrounds, race, and countries, which results in a small-world community within the school to promote its global and local educational mission.
SASCS fulfills its goal of providing opportunities to the student population by arranging, fund raising and chaperoning annual national and international trips in which students may participate. SASCS students have been given the opportunity to travel overseas and compete, visit colleges in, and experience the cultures of Belgium, Kenya, Singapore, Japan, Turkey, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada. Students’ exposure to international travel and culture provides priceless memories and broadens their understanding of the world. Students have traveled to California, Florida, New York City, Washington DC, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, and Pennsylvania for sightseeing, competitions and college visitation. They also attended GENIUS Olympiad, international high school project competition, which draws almost 1000 students from more than 60 countries and 30 states; providing a great opportunity to meet peers from so many cultures and make long lasting friendships over a week.
SASCS co-created a mentorship program to ensure that participating students in grades 8-12 have access to a non-parent adult mentor to provide emotional support, companionship, gender and racial identity role model, self-esteem and self-efficacy beliefs, citizenship, social competence, skills for avoiding risky behaviors and engaging in positive health behaviors, and quality of relationships with parents, peers, and other adults. In addition, the objectives of the program center on increasing school attendance rates, academic performance, and post-secondary attainment. The program incorporates collaboration with local organizations to expose students to additional mentorship and different opportunities both educationally and personally. Additionally, students participated in collegiate enrichment geared to help students navigate educational systems and prepare for 21st century careers.
A student committee was supervised to organize “women’s leadership panel”, where local female leaders invited to speak about their journey and what it takes to be leader in the future. Each year, the panel may emphasize different a focus, such as STEM, diversity, glass ceiling, etc., which is related to common gender and leadership issues. These panelists serve as a role model for to students and inspire with their talks to encourage them to think outside of the box.
Student Centered School Structure
SASCS schools offer a small, safe, nurturing environment to its students. SASCS has been operating on three campus buildings: Elementary school building serving grades K-4 with 300-375 students, Middle school building serving grades 5-7 with 200-225 students, and high school building serving grades 8-12 with 300-375 students. Each school has academic leader called dean of the school and a dean of students who deals with daily student issues. By creating a small school environment at its each location, SASCS creates a family atmosphere in which all staff members know each other and students, and can provide a safer and more controlled environment to our students and staff members. In Elementary school, each classroom has two teachers and in middle school, the school is moving towards having two teachers in ELA and Math subjects. Several courses offered in high school have small classroom environment too. Both parent and staff surveys showed that they find the school’s small environment in each school building and individual attention extremely valuable and safe. Our staff knows our students individually and works with them and their families to achieve the best possible outcome for each student. With its small school size and low student/teacher ratio, and the schools feel like a family.
The school calendar year is extended from 185 days to 195 days in order to provide more instructional time for each student. In addition, the school’s daily instruction is from 8 am until 3.30 pm, which provides extended school day on a daily basis for all its students.
For grades 6-12, extra help, one-on-one tutoring, and/or enrichment programs until 5 pm on weekdays and between 10 am and 2 pm on Saturdays are available on an as-needed basis.
SASCS offers a 2-week summer enrichment program for incoming kindergarten students. It is strongly encouraged to gain experience in a structured setting with teachers and groups of children in their new environment. At risk-students and ELL students from first to seventh graders are also strongly encouraged to attend a 2-week summer enrichment program to get a head start and to close the achievement gap. These programs are offered on a voluntary basis and transportation are provided by parents.
Teachers provide after school tutoring for students in need, three days each week. The teachers and Dean of School determine the student needs based on data and target those students whose performance does not reflect their potential for remedial instruction, tutoring, and academic enrichment programs. Tutoring at SASCS allows for dialogue and interaction that create an atmosphere of individualized supportive learning.
Parental Involvement and home visits
Students’ success and performance are affected not only by teachers, but also by their parents and environment. Therefore, parental involvement is a significant part of our school’s strategic goals. We created a new Home School Organization (HSO) policy, which resulted in separate HSO in each school building to increase the parental participation.
The school’s teachers perform home visits to understand the students’ problems and abilities and to create a better triad of parent-student-teacher relationships. During home visits, teachers encourage parents to take active role in student’s learning at home. As part of this program, the SASCS educators contact a minimum of ten school parents each week, and carry out a minimum of twelve home visits each academic year. Several teachers carried out more than 20 home visits during the academic year. The school receives many complements regarding its home visit program, which is one of the key elements in our parent outreach activity.
In grades K-8, elementary and middle schools organize several events throughout the year, mostly involves HSO, to make parents participate in activities at schools, such as grandparents day, donuts for dad, muffins for mom, field days, academic fun nights, girl empowerment nights, school dances, and winter/spring concerts and art shows. In addition, school holds annual Dean’s dinner for high honor roll students in 5-12th grades, for which parents and grandparents invited over a formal dinner where their student’s performance through the semester is highlighted and celebrated.
The SASCS Student Database System gives online access to parents, students, teachers and administrators. It enables parents to be continuously and actively involved in their children’s education. Parents are able to see their children’s assignments, teacher comments, test scores, and attendance instantly. Teachers can use the database to post comments regarding student performance. Therefore, it is very interactive and allows for two-way communication stream between parents and teachers.
Performance based accountability
The school must achieve academic and organizational excellence through outstanding instructional quality coupled with the school’s key design elements to remain a viable educational alternative in the community. Student performance and teaching and learning are measured monthly and/or quarterly through data collected and tracked by multiple assessment instruments, including STAR Math and Reader Testing, Benchmark Exams utilizing DataDirector Software, and full-length practice tests for state assessments. Student performance are documented and reviewed by teachers, and school administrators. From these performance results, teachers will create intervention plans to improve individual student achievement. There is an extensive teacher observation and enrichment program, in which each and every teacher is visited biweekly and given feedback, with resources tailored for their individual needs using NYSED approved models, such as Danielson Framework for teacher evaluation and the Teachscape program. SASCS hired several instructional coaches who perform class observations as well as feedback to improve the instruction. There is research evidence that performance-based accountability policies and the performance information they provide encourage teachers to work harder, be more instructionally focused, and develop their instructional capacities. Therefore, teachers are incentivized based on student performance, home visits, and extracurricular activities up to $4,000. In addition, the school uses a comprehensive system based on its performance metrics to more effectively oversee school operations and school leadership using NYSED approved models, such as Marzano rubric. Based on these rubrics, school leaders are also incentivized up to $15,000.
For greater accountability and transparency for parents, SASCS has been using the Apple Education System Web-Enabled Student Information System Database for tracking student academic performance, assignments and assessments.
Several key decisions, such as hiring instructional coaches, having two teachers at K-4 grades and ELA and math subjects in Middle school, professional development workshops and summer institute were based on data collected throughout the years based on student success.
SASCS increased its academic reporting to parents to monthly (first Friday of every month) plus end-of-quarter progress reports (typically resulting in 4 reports home per quarter), which provides more frequent information to parents, particularly those who do not have Internet access, or are uncomfortable with accessing the database for information.
SASCS also started providing monthly results of STAR testing, enrollment numbers, and financial dashboard system to the board on a monthly basis for accountability and feedback purposes.