In 1992, the school was plagued with low graduation results, little student engagement, and low teacher morale. Before George Wood’s arrival that year, students, parents, teachers, and administrators did not have any structure or support to be able to work together to understand root issues and collaborate on solutions. As Dr. Wood facilitated collaboration, it became clear that the most pressing issue for all was the 7 of 8 schedule (teachers teaching seven periods in an eight-period day). The 42-minute class periods were too short to support meaningful learning experiences, and the average student load of 142 was too large for teachers to know their students well. Teachers taught seven different groups of students every day, and students, taking seven or even eight classes daily, had trouble focusing on any of them. Class size was low, but that was due in part to as many as 100 students being assigned to study halls in any given class period.
Then-new Principal George Wood, now the district’s superintendent, led teachers in a year-long exploration for a better approach, including visits to other schools. The process of shared decision making became part of the school’s DNA. And the first product of that process was a block schedule of four 80-minute instructional periods a day, with three classroom periods and one prep period for teachers, giving teachers more time with fewer students each semester.
Accompanying the schedule change were complementary innovations, including an advisory program, interdisciplinary teaching in ELA and social studies, and professional development that supported the longer class periods. These initial changes set things in motion so that other cultural changes could start to occur. As an extension of the values developed in and out of class, students were encouraged to take their role as citizens of the school and the larger society seriously.
The year 1999 represented a watershed moment for student citizenship in the school, and the crystallization of a “lived democracy” at Federal Hocking. In response to certain school board actions, students peacefully protested, effected change, and created a student constitution. The constitution laid the foundation for a clearer and more substantial role for students moving forward. Subsequently, teachers negotiated for site-based decision making in their union contract. Over the years, shared decision making has yielded more innovation: expansion of the internship program, professional development that focuses on literacy across subject areas, a senior project requirement, and a school-designed teacher evaluation system. The latter is the only state-sanctioned, teacher-created teacher evaluation system in the state of Ohio. A few years ago, the school decided to shorten class periods to 70 minutes to make possible a daily 35-minute advisory period.
Student performance at Federal Hocking improved dramatically after the redesign and remains strong. Today, teacher turnover is low, and 71% of all Federal Hocking Secondary School teachers have been at the school five or more years, with 57.1% having a master's degree or higher. Both teachers and students are deeply involved in the decisions that affect them. One indication of the improvement in student engagement: disciplinary incidents have gone down 80 percent since the early 1990s, according to district estimates. And the number of students graduating is up. The 2013-14 graduation rate for all students was 95.9%, while the graduation rate over five years was 96.5% for the 2014-2015 school year. Attendance is high, too; the daily rate is 95%.
Another measure of improvement is the school’s strong results on state tests. For 2013-14, the pass rates for 10th-graders on the Ohio Graduation Tests were 80.7% for math, 83.1% for reading, and 74.7% for science. More than 85% of 2014 graduates went on to college.