With a new head football coach and an expanded math block series, Monroe High School Principal John Lombardi is looking forward to an exciting and successful school year.
“We’re coming off of a year where we were recognized for our academic achievement by the state,” said Lombardi. “So we are looking at building on that.”
Monroe High School was honored with the 2013 Achievement Award in the state’s High Progress category. One program which has helped to facilitate student success has been the algebra block program, which has served to vastly improve student achievement in various levels of math.
“When I first got here, we had about a hundred kids every year coming in with low math skills,” said Lombardi. “We’d put them in pre-algebra, and they would fail at about a 60 percent rate.”
Lombardi explained that, after making adjustments and trying several different strategies to increase student ability in math, they had little success. Until former math teacher, Kathleen Stilwell, suggested allowing the kids to study the curriculum for two-hour blocks of time, rather than trying to squeeze it all in during a single class period.
“She worked with kids a little differently and instead of 60 percent of them failing pre-algebra, 90 percent of them passed algebra,” said Lombardi. “We said, ‘Wow. That works!’”
The algebra block classes continued to evolve at the suggestion of former instructor Dave Telford, who advocated for having multiple teachers teach the block curriculum. This resulted in five instructors heading up algebra block classes, which took place during first and second period. While the scheduling adjustments proved to be challenging for staff, the program continued to result in high levels of student success in math.
Teacher communication grew, as well, as all five instructors worked together to develop specific guidelines for how the block program would be most effective. They decided to coordinate their curriculum so that each block class taught the same material for the first six weeks of the semester. After the six weeks were over, all the block students were assessed on an identical exam, and then redistributed based on the results of the test.
Lombardi explained that, at that point in the program, the students were typically divided and placed into three groups based on their test scores. Students who achieved an 80 percent or higher were placed in one group, students who faired moderately on the exam were placed in a second group, and students who were struggling were placed into a third group.
By doing this redistribution, the students were allowed to continue at a rate of progress which complimented their level of understanding.
“That first year, we begged parents to do it,” said Lombardi. “That was six years ago. This year, we have enough requests for eight of those groups.”
Lombardi explained that, while he wishes they could accommodate eight block classes, they are more costly to implement. Despite the added expense they have added a sixth block class this year, in hopes of allowing even more students to excel in math. The program, which has continued to evolve and adapt based on student need, currently breaks down into two groups rather than three.
Approximately 150 students per school year typically enroll in the algebra block program.
“Last year 120 of them did algebra and geometry during the school year and passed the state assessment at about a 98 percent rate,” said Lombardi.
Academic achievement is not the only thing creating a buzz at Monroe High School; there is also a great deal of excitement surrounding the new Bearcats’ varsity football coach, Brett Jay.
“He’s only been coaching about six years and for six years his teams were in the playoffs every year,” said Lombardi. “Very successful guy; very cool guy. We’re looking forward to him starting out.”
Jay accepted the varsity head coach position earlier in the year. He comes to Monroe from River View High School in Kennewick, where he started coaching in 2008. Jay was selected as coach of the year at River View in both 2010 and 2012, and set a record in 2012 for most wins in a season.
Lombardi shared that, so far, football turnout is exceeding what has been typical in the past.
“There’s been a massive change just in the number of students interested in participating in football,” said Lombardi. “Traditionally we would have 30 kids working out over the summer. This summer we’ve been averaging, from what I understand, more around 70.”
Thus far over 100 students have turned out for football, which is close to a 50 percent increase.
In addition to academics and sports, the Monroe High School ASB is also gearing up for the new school year. Last year’s ASB participated in numerous fundraising campaigns and events throughout the school year as they successfully sought to raise $10,000 to build a school in Africa. The school facility will be built via Free the Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to global outreach.
“This year they’re going to change their focus over to be more local,” said Lombardi. “I think one of the things that we may be looking at is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I just got challenged; I’ll be challenging the ASB and hopefully they’ll be challenging other schools.”
This year’s ASB President, Andrew Zimmerman, who was elected last spring, has already approached Lombardi with the idea of having regular meetings with him.
“It’s really nice to see kids taking the initiative like that,” said Lombardi.
Classes at Monroe High School will begin with an orientation day on Wednesday, Sept. 3, for freshmen and new Monroe High School transfer students. The first official day of school for all students is Thursday, Sept. 4.
Monroe High School will be welcoming new instructors in subjects such as math, German, science, English and special education. New Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors will include cooking, sports medicine, cabinet making and computer aided design.
There are several different ways for students to earn college credits while at Monroe High School including College in the High School, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and Running Start. Students interested in learning more about these programs should check with their counselor.