News & Notes

Last year we at Owen High School applied for a Lighthouse Award and were disappointed that we were not selected. However, we understand there are so many NC schools and students achieving at high levels. This year, we hope to demonstrate compelling evidence of continuous improvement to benefit our students, our school, and our community and ultimately rise to the distinguished status of an NCASCD Lighthouse school.

Over the past two years we actively engaged all school stakeholders in revising our mission and vision statements to guide our work. Our new mission “Empowering students to dream; Preparing then to achieve” reflects both academic and social goals for our students. Our vision “Excellence: Fostering ownership and pride in ourselves, our school, and our community” reflects Owen’s educational aspiration for excellence and ties us to the heart of the Swannanoa Valley where we are located.

How do we empower students to dream while preparing them to achieve? We do both of these things through our unwavering commitment to research driven, innovative approaches to teaching and learning. We were the first school in Buncombe County to implement a SMART Lunch schedule and are the only school continuing this structure to support learning. During SMART Lunch, students are given an opportunity for extra support in mastering content material or for content enrichment in every class, every week. Another example of innovation occurred seven years ago when, in an effort to make learning more engaging, we established a common instructional framework (CIF). Buncombe County later used our process and result to establish a CIF that is now used across all schools in the system. Our teachers consistently use the CIF to give every student an opportunity to read, write, speak, think, and move in each class throughout their day and to create a more consistent learning experience for all students. Continuing on the pathway to innovate, we are in the process of implementing standards-based grading. This research supported learning process assesses student achievement on what students know and can do. It allows students multiple opportunities to show content mastery and bases grading on what, not when, students learn. It also nearly eliminates student behavior from the grading process.

At Owen we not only support academic achievement and growth, but social and emotional growth as well. One recent innovation was the implementation of Advocate groups. Each certified staff member has a small, cross grade level, mixed-ability, student support group. These group meetings every other week provide a platform for teaching soft skills not included in the high school content curriculum as well as teaching/rewarding Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) expectations and important school success habits. For our efforts, we achieved PBIS Green Ribbon designation for the fourth year in a row. In addition, Advocate groups provide every student with a personal connection to a caring adult. Advocate meetings provide a safe environment to ask questions, seek advice from a trusted peer group, and promote initiatives about which they are passionate. The innovative teaching and learning practices described above have decreased disciplinary problems and increased student achievement, as well as established a culture for personalized academic/social/emotional learning.

Not only does Owen support excellent learning for students, but also essential opportunities for teacher learning too. Owen High has grown to become a true Professional Learning Community. We have built our master schedule to create time for teachers to meet weekly in collaborative, subject area teams to assure that content is aligned with standards, to develop learning targets and formative assessments focusing classroom learning and to analyze data so they know which students are excelling and which need extra support. PLC time occurs during the school day when teachers are fresh and committed. Another source of pride is our culture that places high value on public teaching. It is commonplace for Owen teachers to share best practices and learn from one another. All teachers participate in either rounds, learning walks, or lesson studies each semester. These structures allow teachers to give/receive feedback and reflect on how best to improve practices in their classrooms. Plus, the Owen High faculty was the first in the county to construct a Literacy Instruction and Technology team. Members open their classrooms and lead professional learning, ensuring that our teachers are growing and learning just like our students.

So, what is the result of all of the hard work and effort that goes in to supporting excellence in teaching and learning at Owen High? For the 3rd year in a row, NCDPI has given Owen High a NC Report Card status of “Exceeding Growth” (up from “Growth Not Met” in 2014-15) and a School Performance Grade of “B” indicating that our students are both meeting course objectives and making personal growth. We attribute much of this success to outstanding teaching as indicated by 100% of Owen teachers meeting (39%) or exceeding (64%) growth expectations last year. Our composite Educator Effectiveness Growth exceeded expected growth (> +2) with our teacher measure at +12.26 in 2017 and increasing to +18.75 in 2018. Our academic achievement is measured in two ways: Proficiency, or the number of students scoring level 3 and above on an End of Course exam, and Growth, a measure of teacher impact on student learning over a year’s time. Over the past 4 years our Math 1 growth measure moved from “Did not Meet Expected Growth” to “Exceeded Expected Growth”. Similarly our English 2 and Biology growth measures have increased from “Met Expected Growth to “Exceeded Expected Growth”. School initiatives and hard work by school staff and students have also paid off with positive proficiency results. Students scoring as grade level proficient (GLP) in Math 1 increased 16 points from 2015 to 2018. In English II, students scoring as GLP increased 18 points between 2013 and 2017. This past year the English II proficiency dropped but our students still exceeded growth expectations (Index 3.71). Biology GLP increased 30 points from 2017-2018 due to a curriculum sequencing shift but more importantly we were able to exceed growth expectations with an Index of 3.89 with our top tier students. Owen’s performance composite, reflecting students with GLP of 3,4, or 5, increased 31 points from 2013 to 2018. In that same time span, we also increased the percentage of students scoring at a level 4 or 5 for college/career readiness (CCR) by 17 points. Our ACT and ACT WorkKeys Proficiency indicators are also trending upward. Senior CTE concentrator success is at 81%, 2 points above the county (78.7%) and 8 points above state (73.3%) averages. Remarkably, our Cohort Graduation Rate (CGR) has increased from 84% in 2012-2013 to 95% in 2017.

We fully understand that our academic achievements are not earned in isolation, but with the ongoing support of our parents and community members. Meaningful parent involvement is integral to our mission and vision and our school improvement processes. At Owen High we encourage parents to engaged beyond perfunctory test proctoring and dropping off forgotten items despite the fact that it is developmentally appropriate for parents of high school students to become less engaged in the day to day lives of their children. Parents support our fine arts and athletic programs through booster clubs that contribute countless hours and dollars to enhance student experiences. Our PTSO leadership has raised money solely for the purpose of paying for professional development and staff morale events. They continue to be energized as evidenced by two fall fundraisers tallying over $4,000.00. Simply put, parents impact the core of our work through these activities and as they advise our School Improvement Team (SIT), lead our Advisory Council, serve on hiring committees, and judge graduation projects. On average over the past five years, 80% of our parents report they feel encouraged to participate in our school.

Community partnerships leverage opportunities for students to fulfill our vision of fostering ownership and pride in themselves, their school, and community. Owen High and our local community engage with one another in numerous ways. We recently established a bi-annual, Service Learning Fair to connect students with opportunities to volunteer in our community. Through the Fair and graduation project process, our senior students perform over 350 hours of community service annually. In addition, our school has a long-standing partnership with the North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS). Each summer a cohort of Owen students and faculty are given the opportunity to participate in a week-long NCOBS course that promotes self-awareness, team building skills, and leadership opportunities. Two teachers each year are exposed to experiential learning techniques by participating in NCOBS’s Educator Initiative. Many NCOBS “graduates” have become student and faculty leaders in our building.

In collaboration with town leaders and county commissioners, our animal science program, horticulture classes, and FFA organization built a barn on property adjacent our campus allowing students to have more hands-on activities while ensuring proper care of animals. Students investigating environmentally sustainable practices moved their interests beyond the classroom and formed a Green Team. Our efforts were recognized by the state in May 2017 when we received the NC Green School of Quality designation. Other opportunities to connect students to community has empowered students to improve parks (Grovemont), study and clean rivers (RiverLink at Swannanoa River), donate food (MANNA and Community Garden) and collect clothing (Veterans’ Home and ABCCM) for those in need. The power of these activities is that our community supports students as they pursue their dreams. Students find relevance between their academic studies and improving the world around them and are excitedly engaged in both the school and larger community.

Owen High School is a lighthouse school, bold in our mission: empowering students to dream and preparing them to achieve. Strengthened by meaningful parental and community involvement, our vision fosters ownership and pride in ourselves, our school, and our community.