Northwest High School has been named one of only 20 schools from across the country to receive recognition as a “School of Opportunity,” a coveted national designation honoring excellent public high schools that engage in practices that build on students’ strengths and create supported learning opportunities for all students.
“Northwest’s commitment to improving student learning by investing in innovative, school-based staff development particularly stood out to the national team of reviewers,” said Carol Burris, School of Opportunity project co-director.
“This recognition is a tremendous honor for Northwest and our entire community," said James D'Andrea, Northwest High School principal. "It is a major milestone in our school’s journey toward ensuring equitable opportunities for each of our 2,350 students, and it would not have been possible without the incredibly hard work of our outstanding staff.”
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), based at the University of Colorado Boulder, sponsors the Schools of Opportunity project, which identifies excellent public high schools that actively strive to close opportunity gaps—the differences in opportunities and resources that drive the well-known achievement gaps.
“Schools play a key role in a student’s life and learning, and we should hold up excellent schools as exemplars,” explains Kevin Welner, NEPC director and project co-director.
Students’ learning arises from more than just what happens in school. Research suggests that about one-third of variance among students’ test scores can be attributed to schools, with the remainder likely due to poverty-related factors. Because schools play this important, but not controlling, role in measured learning, the Schools of Opportunity project rejects the idea that test scores identify the nation’s best schools.
“We instead offer an alternative way of assessing school quality—one that focuses on the day-to-day practices that schools choose to use,” said Welner. “We call attention to research-based practices to support all students and their teachers, thereby creating engaged and successful learning environments.”
Applications went through four levels of screening by review teams comprised of researchers, teachers, policy makers and administrators, who looked at school practices that fell into categories, such as create and maintain healthy school culture; broaden and enrich school curriculum; use a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs; and support teachers as professionals.
Northwest’s “all for one and one for all” motto is more than a motto; it is an extension of how the school approaches the development and equity-focused treatment of students and staff.
Northwest has distinguished itself as a school committed to improving student learning by investing in innovative, school-based staff development. The school has created a unique set of differentiated professional growth opportunities designed to address the needs of both novice and experienced staff. To help each other succeed, mentors work with new and experienced staff to build upon teachers’ strengths and identify areas of growth.
Northwest offers staff development programs that go well beyond instructional-focused enrichment to thoughtfully address issues of equity in education. Northwest has implemented a 20-member staff equity cohort that is engaged in ongoing professional development to examine biases and inequities in teachers’ beliefs and school policies and structures. These practices are consistent with Northwest’s goals to develop culturally proficient, equity-literate teacher leaders and increase rigorous educational opportunities for all students.
For more information about the Schools of Opportunity project, including descriptions of all recognized schools, visit opportunitygap.org.