Camden County High School
2015-2016 Model

Authentic, Career-Related Learning in Small, Supportive Learning Communities

Camden County High School is a large Title I high school that has created a supportive environment for students through small learning communities and has given students meaningful choices by making those communities career academies. The result of these innovations has been a dramatic increase in graduation rates.

Student Population Free reduced lunch
(%)
ELL
(%)
Special Ed.
(%)
Staff / Student ratio
2573 45 0 10 1/15

School Contact Info

Camden County High School
6300 Laurel Island Parkway
Kingsland, GA 31548
Grades: 9-12
(912) 729-7318
Principal: Dr. John Tucker

Challenge

In the early 2000s, Camden adopted the High Schools that Work model and moved the graduation rate from 50% to 75%, where it hovered for several years. Camden County, Georgia, was struggling with a sluggish economy, facing rising unemployment and poverty rates. Approximately 15.5% of the population had slipped below the poverty line, including 21.8% of those under 18. The impact was keenly felt at Camden County High School, which was designated a Title 1 school in 2008, with the percentage of students receiving free- or reduced-priced lunches ranging between 40% and 63% (inclusive of elementary).

Solutions

First, the school created a separate academy to provide 9th-graders with a smaller school environment. Then, beginning in 2008, using its Freshman Academy as a model, Camden extended its career academies to include grades 10 through 12. There are now multiple small learning communities called career academies within the school, each focusing on a specific grade and career or discipline. In each academy, students not only work to complete graduation requirements, but also pursue career-learning pathways as electives for exploration or certification in their chosen field. Additionally, there are opportunities to recover academically through extended learning and credit recovery. By engaging students with authentic learning experiences, job opportunities, and mentoring, and by increasing rigor through Advanced Placement, industry credentialing, and dual enrollment, Camden has dramatically improved its attendance and graduation rates and also significantly reduced disciplinary problems. Camden not only uses career technical courses to provide work-related certifications and real-world applications but also as a magnet to draw and keep students at school.

Results

Six years into the creation of small academies, graduation and attendance rates are higher than ever while discipline issues are at an all-time low. The school’s daily attendance rate is 95%. Its graduation rate for the class of 2014 was 87%, and for 2015, 89.6%. Over this same time period, the school has seen its discipline referrals drop by 60%.

Measured by the Georgia state College and Career Ready Performance Index, 86.5% of Camden’s 2014 graduates were college- and career-ready as compared to 68.4% statewide. Camden’s mean composite score on the SAT was 1460 in 2014. On the ACT, its 2014 mean composite score was 20.7. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on state tests was significantly higher in every subject than the state average. For instance, in coordinated algebra, 56.8% of Camden students met or exceeded standards in the end-of-course state examination as opposed to 31.4% statewide. In 9th-grade literature, 45.5% met or exceeded standards as opposed to 35.6% statewide.

Key Policy Considerations

District Policies

There is no teachers union. Teachers are initially hired on year-by-year contracts but receive tenure when they are offered a fourth contract. (Or, if they have tenure at another school within the state of Georgia, then they get tenure when they are offered a second contract at the school).

State Policies

The Georgia State Education Department provides frameworks for instruction that are intended to support teacher implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards. Camden has a curriculum focus team that accepts proposals for curriculum course additions that follow state guidelines. The school follows the state’s prescribed teacher evaluation program, the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System. Teacher ratings are based on:

  1. observations and walk-throughs
  2. student surveys
  3. teacher-made assessments of student achievement in courses that do not give the end-of-course test, utilizing an assessment referred to as SLO — Student Learning Objectives.

Formative assessments are created through collaborative, common planning led by instructional lead teachers and content-specific administrative leaders. A teacher-led focus team, called Best Practices, researches and examines areas that may need clarification, specifically related to weighting of content and performance.

Key Strategies

  • Small learning communities (academies)
  • A separate academy for 9th-graders
  • A choice of career academies beginning in 10th grade, tied to 30 different career pathways
  • Close ties to employers in the county to provide work-based learning programs to seniors and ease the transition to post-secondary opportunities
  • Advanced credit opportunities made available through Advanced Placement, dual enrollment with post-secondary institutions, and industry credentialing
  • Student schedules that address individual needs and interests

Curriculum and Instruction

Rigor and relevance are areas of focus across all academies and courses, along with literacy and comprehension. Instructional strategies focus on student engagement, authentic learning, and connections where appropriate, to specific adacemy career pathways across that academy’s curriculum. The school follows the state’s curriculum guidelines and the district orders textbooks for every course. In each academy, teachers of required core courses will use the same texts, address the same standards, and give the same interim assessments. However, great care is taken to place teachers in an academy where they have relevant experience. For instance, a social studies teacher with a music background infuses music into the core curriculum in the Fine Arts Academy. Retired veterans teach social studies in the Government Academy, which includes JROTC, and bring their experiences to bear as they teach students interested in careers in the military.

The school’s Transition Team works with the feeder schools to identify incoming struggling students. Support for at-risk students begins with establishing relationships through meetings between individual students and their families and a member of the Transition Team prior to enrolling in the high school and again once the school year begins. A foundational math course is offered in lieu of coordinated algebra (Algebra I) for students identified from 8th-grade data as lacking math skills. This course is offered on an A/B schedule to allow students to study math throughout the school year. These students will then pick up coordinated algebra as sophomores and continue the math sequence.

Camden has partnered with local colleges to offer juniors and seniors an opportunity to participate in the Accel program, which offers students the opportunity to earn credit hours toward an Associate or Baccalaureate Degree as they simultaneously meet their high school graduation requirements as Dual Credit Enrollment students. The Georgia Move on When Ready Program (dual/joint enrollment) was established during the 2004 school year and is funded and administered by the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Camden students may also take advantage of several additional state programs supporting students seeking technical certificates or diplomas, early-college opportunities, and opportunities to earn college credit through statewide course assessments. For instance, the local technical college offers Camden students four credit- and certificate-conferring programs, including electrical line work, health, criminal justice, and welding, with most of the coursework actually offered at the high school. Approximately 18% of the student body is enrolled in at least one AP course.

Students with IEPs are mainstreamed and their support teacher pushes into their classes. There is a self-contained program serving developmentally delayed students. The special education coordinator notes that several students with IEPs are enrolled in AP classes and are treated with the same level of expectation as their peers. The creation of small learning communities has made it easier for the special education teachers to communicate with their general education partners, and the organization of the small learning communities into career academies has not only engaged and motivated special education students, but has also opened up productive post-secondary opportunities to them.

Course Taking

Students need 28 credits to graduate (each credit representing at least 135 hours of seat time) and have the chance to earn as many as 32. The block schedule provides opportunities for students to complete graduation requirements a semester early. Course requirements include four core credits each in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. There is also one required credit of PE, a minimum of three credits of CTE, and eight additional elective credits, including two in world languages.

During the Freshman Academy, students can select from a range of career academy introductory courses before entering a career academy as sophomores and taking electives specific to that career path. A career day each spring exposes 9th-graders to the opportunities offered by each academy.

Once students are enrolled in a career academy, they are assigned an advisor, who is a teacher from that academy with a caseload of about 20 students.  The advisor stays with those students until they graduate. In addition to meeting with the advisory weekly, the advisor is informed by guidance staff and the retention specialist so they can keep tabs on the attendance and grades of each advisee. The advisor communicates with family, steers advisees to tutoring and other resources as appropriate, and meets with advisees and their families to design a program every year that meets the individual advisee’s needs. Embedded within the school’s 4x4 block schedule is an A/B schedule allowing students to earn eight credits a year, with a one-credit course completed within a semester. Typically, two core courses and two elective courses are taken each semester; however, students can enroll in more core courses. For students in danger of failing a course, a nine-week “extended learning” component, built into the student’s schedule, provides one-on-one and small-group tutoring and support.

Camden Course Requirements

Department Credits Courses
Language Arts 4 credits 9th-grade Literature, 10th-grade Literature, American Literature, British/Multicultural Literature
Mathematics 4 credits Coordinated Algebra (or Coordinated Algebra with Coordinated Algebra Support), Analytic Geometry with Analytic Geometry Support, Advanced Algebra, Pre-Calculus (or 7 other math equivalents)
Science 4 credits: option I or II Option I: Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry (or Environmental Science) and 1 other Science
Option II: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, 1 Other Science

 

Social Studies 4 credits World History, American Government, Economics
Physical Education/Health 1 credit  
Career Academy 3 credits focused on a program of study  
Electives 8 electives (2 should be World Languages if planning to attend a 4-year college)  
Total credits required 28  credits  

Assessment

In 2012, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), a statewide accountability system, replaced the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) measurement tool used as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Camden County High School scored an 80.9 and ranked 17th out of 186 schools districts in Georgia.

Two years later, Camden scored an 86.5 on the CCRPI, placing it third among the 186 Georgia school districts and among the top 1 percent of schools in the state. In math, all students take unit assessments created by teachers that are targeted to assess them at the same level as the state end-of-course exam.

Organization

Camden is divided into six academies: Freshman; Business Administration; Engineering and Industrial Technology; Fine Arts; Government and Public Service; and Health & Environmental Science. The 600 9th-graders are housed in a separate building with its own gym, cafeteria, and media center, so integration with other grades is fairly limited. Each academy is a small learning community with its own administrator, guidance counselor, and faculty, including core, elective, career, and special education teachers. Teachers only offer classes within their academy. However, students may cross over to take courses in another academy — e.g., an AP class only given in another academy or, if they have completed all the career pathway coursework in their home academy, they can take career classes in a second academy. The goal is to provide maximum flexibility to meet student needs.

Schedule Basics

  • Student calendar days: 180
  • Teachers have an eight-hour day and, generally, work a 190-day contract.
  • The students’ day runs from 8 am to 3:15 pm with four 90-minute class periods.
  • Students have 26 minutes for lunch.
  • Passing is 10 minutes between classes and five minutes between lunch and the next class.

2015-2016 Bell Schedule

Students are encouraged to take two academics and two electives per semester following a 4x4 schedule that supports earning four credits per semester and eight credits per year.  There are exceptions, primarily for Advanced Placement, extended support, and Credit Recovery (CR).

  • Advanced Placement courses may be offered in pairs on alternating days to extend the courses out to the spring AP testing administration. (Example: AP English Language Composition and AP US History)
  • Support classes are offered in 9th- and 10th-grade math. Math Support is taught to students identified to need extended time or more individualized instruction over the entire year with alternating days providing support.  The student earns an academic and elective math credit for the year.
  • Credit recovery (CR) allows students to earn more than the scheduled eight credits.  Since the student has already fulfilled the seat time but failed the class, they repeat the course, utilizing online, remediation, and support instruction that is offered during the school day.

All students are enrolled in advisement, which generally meets weekly for 20 minutes each Wednesday and minimally modifies the regular academic schedule.

Academic teachers have one planning block for a four-block day. Most elective teachers do as well, with the exception of several CTE teachers who have planning outside of the instructional day. Academic teachers average two preps within the same discipline (advanced class(es) and "regular" or support instruction).

A/B block is offered for selected courses. In an A/B block, a course is offered on alternate days throughout the year.  The 4x4 schedule allows students to enroll in one or two 90-minute academy courses per semester while also taking two core courses (each 90 minutes).  The embedded A/B schedule offers a 90-minute course every other day for the entire year.

This design is intended to provide students opportunities to accumulate enough credits for graduation and certification in their career paths. It also makes it possible to offer AP courses during the second semester, closer to the AP exam.  In addition, it supports struggling students by allowing them to spend a full year in selected courses.  Some students are intentionally scheduled for CTE classes at the beginning and end of each day, with two core subjects sandwiched in between.  This encourages students who particularly enjoy their CTE classes to come to school on time and to not cut out early.

Professional Development

At Camden, professional development time is organized by grade and content. A major priority is to provide common planning time to teachers whose classes end with one of eight new state exams (end-of-course or EOC) or Student Learning Objective assessments. The emphasis is on understanding and applying new, more rigorous state standards facilitated by lead teachers who also model standards-based lessons. Teachers of EOC content courses are scheduled for content planning time by department. Where the schedule will allow, planning is common. Scheduling planning for teachers who are not available during common planning is still addressed at some point on the same day that common planning took place. Otherwise, collaboration occurs on a more informal basis, although four days a year are set aside schoolwide for professional development. Throughout the school, technical integration has been a major focus for professional learning, particularly since the school has invested in Chromebooks for every student. In 2015-16, the emphasis is on differentiation, a decision made based on data from teacher evaluations.

Student Community

There are 29 different clubs and organizations at the school, many connected to future careers. Both boys and girls have the opportunity to compete in 12 different sports. According to staff, student evaluations of classes are taken very seriously by teachers who try to respond to student input to increase student ownership.

Professional Community

Since 2001, Camden County High School has been participating with the Southern Regional Education Board in the High Schools That Work school improvement model. This collaboration has led Camden to focus on the Ten Key HSTW Practices for improving overall performance, with a focus on the new “3Rs”—Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. These practices led to focus teams, organized by and reporting to a representative steering committee, facilitating a process for teachers, parents, and students to participate in decision making. Input from these democratic groups led Camden to organize the career academies: each a small learning community. This restructuring increased rigor through Advanced Placement, offered relevance through dual enrollment and end-of-pathway career credentialing, and addressed relationships by establishing an advisement system that links each student to a significant adult along their high school experience.

School-level decisions, guided by the principal, are made with input from the focus teams and a steering committee. Different teams are charged with working on attendance, transition, data, public relations, guidance and advisement, numeracy, literacy, curriculum review, and best practices. Staff members attend an after-school faculty meeting once per month. Department, academy, and/or steering committee meetings are also held after school.

Family Engagement

Parent representatives are voting members of the school’s steering committee. Guidance counselors and advisors make a point of involving parents in important Camden student choices:  choice of career academy, whether or not to participate in dual-enrollment programs, internships, and the enhanced guidance that connects students to post-secondary opportunities. Parents join their children at meetings with advisors every spring to design the student’s program for the following year. Teachers are required to submit documentation of six parent contacts per week (concerning behavior, attendance, or academic performance), including at least one weekly mass email to share general information about class progress and expectations. Parents are able to keep track of their child’s progress through access to Power School. Many teachers maintain websites where parents as well as students can go for information about their classes.