Tommy T. Welch, Ph.D., Principal of Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Georgia, understands his students’ engagement relates to their ability to connect what they are learning in the classroom to their future goals. He was once a social studies teacher at the school and in 2011; he became the high school principal. Welch knew the high school was labeled as low performing and he would use his role as principal to change that.
Welch, who was named the Georgia School Principal of the Year in 2017-2018, has transformed Meadowcreek High School into a high performing school with impressive student outcomes. In seven years, the graduation rate has improved from 48.54 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2017 and SAT scores rose 40 percent. Welch credits adding Career Technical Education (CTE) courses as one of the key components of this improvement plan.
Meadowcreek has five college and career academies known as “The Schools of Meadowcreek U,” which includes the School of International Business, School of Communication and Arts, School of Information Technology, School of Health & Hospitality, and School of Science, Technology & Engineering. Each academy also features a school-based enterprise. Creating Meadowcreek U was made possible by a $3.3 million three-year federal School Improvement Grant.
Along with adding CTE courses to the high school, Welch built partnerships with the local community. These partnerships led to having Georgia’s first full-service bank in the school providing learners with invaluable work-based learning experiences. Last year the school also had a ribbon cutting ceremony with long-term partner Georgia-Tech celebrating the opening of a new makerspace for STEM related projects.
To determine the offerings leadership utilized labor market data to determine where the greatest need would be in 2020. Now, learners select an academy that relates to specific careers that align with industry demand. This strategy not only prepares learners with the skills they need for careers in their own community, but also gives students a better understanding of what they are learning, how it relates to their future careers, and increases overall student engagement and attendance.
Each academy also incorporates an after school component. For example, a learner can enroll in the School of Health & Hospitality and focus on the Culinary Arts program. Learners then have the opportunity to participate in the school-based enterprise, the Creek Catering company. Participation allows learners to gain work-based learning experience in the culinary field, building technical and employability skills, applying what they learn in the classroom, while also being paid. The money the organization earns funds instructional labs, field trips, competitive events and scholarships for secondary education. Paying students was a direct result of evaluating data, which revealed that the low participation in after-school programs was related to students need to help support their families financially. (Over 80 percent students receive free or reduced lunch.)
Welch attributes the following strategies to dramatically increasing student success:
- Using data to make informed decisions. Students complete an annual student engagement inventory (SEI). The information collected helps to create a clear understanding of students’ needs and interests. For example, social workers, counselors and teachers meet to discuss students who have missed more than 10 days of school to determine the barrier for the student, and create an appropriate intervention.
- Reduce negative perceptions of CTE. To address any false perception that CTE is for “lower performing” students, Meadowcreek offers advanced CTE classes, and ensures that all CTE courses integrate with core academics. To allow parents to see the value of CTE courses they create ways to highlight the projects and successes of CTE learners. For example, parents are invited to see their child t in action handling catering for a 400+ person event, where their gaining real-world skills in a real work environment.
The model for Meadowcreek High School is receiving national attention for its success in boosting student engagement, student participation in afterschool programs, a decrease in the dropout rate and increases in graduation rates. In fact, it’s so successful that the state has taken notice exploring duplicating this model with the opening of additional CTE-focused schools in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and Health Sciences.
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Nicole Howard, Communications Associate