An essential element of any student support system is high-quality, motivated staff that take an active role in planning and implementing supports, as well as monitoring progress and driving the evolution of supports.
Multiple responsibilities and roles
Faculty and staff across all K–12 schools, particularly in high-expectations/high-need environments, have multiple responsibilities and play many different roles. With adults at the early college schools serving not only as teachers and administrators, but also as resource specialists,* advisors, mentors, and guidance counselors, students have multiple adults to turn to in multiple capacities.
Early college schools throughout the country rely on staff who adapt to multiple roles. For instance, some early college schools indicated that their principals often look for teachers who are flexible and can work in non-traditional environments (AIR & SRI International, 2006). At an early college school in Colorado, the principal even teaches a section of a seminar-style college support course (Hindo, Barnett, Kim, 2010).
*Resource Specialist is a title given to staff at early college schools in the Gateway to College National Network who provide specific support services including transcript reviews and academic advising; assistance with enrollment and registration; referrals to tutoring, counseling, student activities, and health services; and personal guidance, including assistance with problem solving, time management, and stress management.
Everyone an interventionist
At CAL Prep, every staff member on campus is viewed as an interventionist. In addition, every teacher serves as an advisor and becomes the contact point for students. One objective for the school's advisory period is to provide all students with a smaller family within a family. CAL Prep also has a response to intervention (RTI) team composed of the counselor, principal, teacher, psychologist, intern, and afterschool director. RTI is a method of academic intervention designed to provide early, effective assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. The RTI team has weekly meetings during the school day to discuss and plan professional development and interventions to ensure students are fully supported.
Finding the match between student and staff
Each staff member at Manhattan Hunter Science High School (MHSHS) in New York City plays a role in providing students with the additional support they need to be successful (Conley, 2009). Students hear a consistent message about student success and college readiness, whether they are talking to a math teacher, a science teacher, the assistant principal, the college liaison, or the social worker. Of three academic support programs, one is staffed by administrators (the afterschool Homework Room) and two by faculty (Lunch and Learn — the teachers' duty period; and Spotlight on Success — an extra period enrichment program). Students are encouraged to seek help from teachers who they learn best from, and teachers are expected to help any student who asks for support. This academic support is complemented by intensive guidance counseling practices, which include
- an advisory class required for juniors that provides free SAT preparation and information about the college search process;
- direct assistance with college and financial aid applications by guidance counselors;
- parental support from guidance counselors, including access to school computers to help their child in the college search;
- mandatory student email accounts with a name-based format to help students make a respectful first impression in college and career searches (staff and faculty use only this school email account when contacting students via email).
MHSHS students enrolled in Hunter College courses (Hunter College is the school's official postsecondary partner institution) receive advising from their high school teachers. In addition, the college liaison links students to all aspects of Hunter College and encourages them to take advantage of the college's academic support services. Overall, the school's administrators, teachers, and counselors promote a culture of learning in which the school prepares students to take responsibility for their education, advocate for themselves, and seek help — all necessary skills to succeed in high school and college (Conley, 2009).
Creating College Readiness: Profiles of 38 Schools That Know How by David Conley documents the college readiness efforts of the skilled staff at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
Examples of position descriptions for four key early college positions:
- Who initiates and is responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of student supports at your school?
- Who is involved in developing supports?
- Who is involved in offering supports?
- Does common planning time at your school allow for teachers to address student support needs?
- Do teachers and support professionals work together — during the school day — to think about student support interventions? If not, why not? Are there barriers to this kind of collaboration?
- Are all staff at your school viewed as student support providers? If not, are there barriers to that practice?
A key finding across the research is the need for skilled staff to be actively involved in the school. Empowering staff to take an active role in conceptualizing, developing, and providing student supports may be a paradigm shift for some schools. This approach often involves developing new roles for principals, teachers, and support professionals — to empower them to become collaborative enablers of student development (Weinstein, 2011, p. 1).
The faculty at early college schools significantly influence student outcomes. For example, small student-to-teacher ratios foster higher academic achievement by creating close connections between students and faculty, and by allowing for more individualized instruction (Barnett, Bucceri, Hindo, & Kim, 2011). In addition, early college school students who perceived their high school teachers as having high expectations were more likely to do well in college (Barnett, Gardner, & Bragg, 2004). An evaluation conducted by one early college school highlighted small class sizes and strong teacher support as central components to preparing students for college (Vogt & Cook, 2008).
Implementing flexible and innovative student support structures can allow skilled staff to support students both academically and socially. The Middle College National Consortium identifies several key aspects of these support structures:
- all adults see themselves as counselors and mentors;
- all administrators and teachers meet at least once a week with the same small group of students for one to four years;
- class sizes are small;
- seminars for concurrently enrolled* students provide help to handle college-level work, navigate college systems, and provide personal and social support;
- school guidance office includes at least one professional school counselor; and
- counseling is structured for small groups as well as for individuals.
"'It takes a village' is more than a slogan, and rather is an acknowledgment that turning at-risk youngsters into college completers requires the efforts of everyone: teachers, administrators, community and college personnel, and parents." MCNC
*Concurrent enrollment is when students earn college credit for courses taken during high school.