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With new leadership, WHS experiences changes

September 3, 2010

The 2010-2011 school year got off to a big start on Wednesday with a number of new changes at Walpole High School that are aimed to bring the school into alignment with accreditation recommendations, give teachers more collaboration time, and increase student achievement levels, among other goals. The changes come as the school goes through its first major leadership shakeup in years. The school has a new principal, Stephen Imbusch, and a new assistant principal, William Hahn, both of whom, along with existing assistant principal Ed Connor, are setting an ambitious agenda for improving the school.

Among the new initiatives spearheaded by Mr. Imbusch and the new leadership team are Professional Learning Communities, otherwise known as PLCs. PLCs are intended to expand and enhance collaboration between teachers, as studies have shown that teachers who collaborate and work together to share their teaching practices upgrades student achievement in the long run. Students this year will be allowed to report to school 35 minutes later every other Wednesday, at 7:55 rather than the normal school start time of 7:20, so that teachers can spend that half hour in PLCs. There is added benefit too, for having students arrive at school later, according to Mr. Imbusch, as an increasing number of studies show that students who have had plenty of sleep are performing better in school.

But teachers aren’t the only ones who will be taking time off from the school day to communicate more with one another. Students this year will be attending weekly advisory groups, as recommended by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The concept of advisory is to allow students and staff to have an opportunity during the school day to discuss what is going on in their classes, lives, and in the world. [See 2009 Rebellion article about advisories here.] The advisories will be run by staff members from nearly every part of the building. In addition to teachers, non-teachers like secretaries and janitors and others employed at the high school are expected to be running the groups when they start up at the end of the month. Students will be assigned to one advisory group for the entire year – meaning that they will be meeting with one specific teacher and one specific group of students every Wednesday for about a half hour in the middle of the school day. Advisories have already been in place at many other schools, with success.

The addition of PLCs and advisories to the high school represents an interesting transformation in the history of contemporary education. The PLCs and advisories allow students to actually spend far less time actually learning in a physical classroom. Under PLCs and advisories, students will lose anywhere from about a half-hour to an hour of classroom learning time every week. But education leaders hope that the benefits of PLCs and advisories will translate into greater success for students, and compensate for the lost classroom time.

Other changes are also taking place at Walpole High as well. With the creation of advisories, homerooms have been eliminated and students now report directly to their first period class upon entering the school in the morning. And, in what has apparently now become a tradition for all new Walpole High School principals, Mr. Imbusch has made his own mark on the bells that alerts students class is over or about to begin. The bell sound, last changed under the Bernstein administration several years ago, has been modified to a softer and shorter tune under Mr. Imbusch – not such a popular change among students. Another not-so-popular change has been made in the school’s attendance policy. School administrators realized last year that by allowing students to have a maximum of twelve unexcused absences per year, some seniors were stocking up on unexcused absences and then using them all at once towards the end of the school year. Under the new policy implemented by Mr. Imbusch this year, students are permitted a maximum of three unexcused absences per term, totaling twelve per year for all four terms.

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