The Excel Difference
Research tells us that extended learning significantly impacts student achievement. Excel offers an academically rigorous program with dramatically more time – seven and a half hours of school daily over a 185 day school year. This equates to over 500 hours of additional learning per year – the equivalent of over 80 additional school days of learning. The extended day additionally includes tutoring time after school to provide the individualized support necessary to ensure all students succeed. Excel’s extended learning time will benefit the achievement of all students and professional development of all staff through increased learning, while minimizing the impact of potential disruptions such as tardiness, sickness, and testing.
Excel will develop regional leaders, equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to be competitive not only for college success and graduation, but also for this region’s employment opportunities. We will attain our ultimate goal of college completion by providing all students with an academically rigorous, STEM and literacy-focused program that is aligned with Common Core, College Readiness, and Next Generation Science Standards. During the extended day, Excel will employ a mix of instructional methods that will teach students to learn and think in different ways, as they will need to in college. To bring all students to grade level, Excel will provide a 100-minute block of ELA instruction each day. Further, all students will receive extended content instruction in math and science, with 500 minutes per week in grades seven through ten.
Research suggests that certain character traits are more predictive of college and career success than IQ and SAT scores. The Excel team has selected a handful of these traits to define our Core Values – both for our students and staff members- and to help establish our school culture. These include: Excellence, Community, Compassion, Endurance, Leadership, and Love for Learning. In a wide range of studies, many of these non-cognitive attributes are shown to have a direct positive relationship to students’ concurrent school performance as well as future academic outcomes. We believe these traits can be molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the our school’s environment. That’s why, in addition to a targeted focus on certain key content areas, Excel requires teachers to integrate character development into daily instruction.
One of the most elemental aspects of Excel’s educational philosophy is the belief that teacher quality is the single most important factor in driving student achievement and closing the achievement gap. While Excel’s founders believe that recruiting exceptional teachers will lead to dramatic student outcomes, we also believe that exceptional teachers are developed, not born. Accordingly, both time and resources will be leveraged to ensure the development of teachers who change their students’ academic and life trajectories so that they become meaningful contributors to society.
Excel’s entire year, from our four-week Excel-erate Institute to bi-weekly professional development, is designed to support teacher growth and effectiveness. Excel’s leadership tightly aligns coaching with school goals, consults with teachers frequently, provides rapid feedback, and strategically targets their needs.
We believe that our school and all staff must partner with families to strengthen support for learning and encourage parental involvement. Research suggests that when families are involved in the education of their children, the children earn higher grades and receive higher scores on tests, attend school more regularly, complete more homework, demonstrate more positive attitudes and behaviors, graduate from high school at higher rates, and are more likely to enroll in higher education than students with less involved families. Deep family relationships are also a foundation of culturally responsive teaching. Excel’s team recognizes, however, that there are many challenges to successfully involving families in their children‘s academic lives. Families may have competing demands on their time and attention. Some may not have positive feelings about schools or teachers based on their own past school experiences. Some avoid involvement in their children‘s schoolwork because their own academic skill deficits make them feel unable to help. Moreover, many school-parent relationships suffer because the first time that the parent hears from the school is when there is a problem to discuss. Excel will provide a clear plan to support meaningful involvement of parents and community members in the life of the school and specifically in its governance:
Family Orientation: Family Orientation will take place before the beginning of the school year, during which families of new students learn in more detail about our mission, uniform policy, homework systems, and underlying philosophies. Parents/guardians will receive cell phone numbers of all staff, and are encouraged to communicate whenever there is a concern. Teachers and leaders will make contact with families every week. Excel’s staff will make sure that parents understand the rationale behind our actions and school design, so that they connect the rigorous classes, structured culture and demanding expectations with the ultimate goal – 100% of our students graduating from the college of their choice.
Home Visits: The summer family orientation process will conclude with a home visit before the school year begins. This is a chance for each student and family member to learn more about the school, and review our student handbook – Commitment to Excellence. It also provides a chance for Excel staff to learn about each student and their family, so that students’ funds of knowledge will be directly brought into Excel’s curriculum to support a culturally responsive pedagogy.
Homework: HW will be assigned to students five times per week. Parents of middle schoolers will sign off on homework assignments daily, checking for completion only.
Phone calls: Excel staff will communicate with families daily about assignments, morning, lunch and afterschool tutoring sessions, detention, afterschool Study Hall, and other time-sensitive scheduling matters.
Syllabi: Every Monday, students will receive weekly syllabi, outlining all assignments for the week. Parents will sign weekly syllabi and return to school as part of Monday HW requirement.
Compass Reports: Every Monday, students will receive Compass Reports to share with family, including weekly "on" and "off" points, a snapshot of academics/behavioral and HW completion.
Newsletters: All families will receive bi-monthly newsletters detailing academic highlights with a focus on academic growth, student achievement, and school successes. These newsletters will be created and managed by the Parent Liaison.
Family Literacy and Math Nights: Each semester, the ELA and Math teams will host Family Literacy and Math Nights—families will learn best strategies for holding their children accountable for significant independent reading and math coursework.
Coffee and Tea with the Principal: We understand that many of our parents may work several jobs, some that may prevent them from attending evening school events, such as Family Literacy and Math Nights. To accommodate, we host forums on rotating Friday mornings and afternoons in which families can communicate concerns, ask questions, get to know one another, and receive pertinent information from the school.
Report Card Pick-Up and Conferences: Each semester, Excel will issue formal report cards to all families in person during Report Card Pick Up. During Pick-Up, teachers will meet with all families to discuss students’ academic growth. This will increase the amount of in-person time between teacher and families.
Board Representation and Parent Advisory Council: One parent will be asked to serve on Excel’s Board of Directors. This parent will then serve as one of two representatives to the school’s Parental Advisory Council (PAC). The duties of the PAC will include providing ongoing feedback to management; supporting the distribution and collection of Parent Satisfaction Surveys; planning and assisting the facilitation of Morning Joe; joining canvassing and student recruitment events; organizing an emergency parent phone chain; facilitating child care on late-start days; monitoring and investing parents towards their yearly service hours. While they will have ample opportunities to provide feedback with school management, the PAC will not be responsible for developing or implementing school policies.
Parent Service Hours: Excel will provide parents and families the opportunity to engage with Excel by encouraging them to participate in “Service Hours.” The goal for our school will be for parents and families to volunteer for a set amount of hours per year. Volunteering can happen in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, chaperoning field trips, volunteering in a classroom, and school-wide clean-up. Excel will also host 2 Staff and Family Service Days this year during which families will join the Excel team as we volunteer with community organizations.
One of the four key factors in the success of Finland’s schools is frequent school-based assessments to inform instructional practices. Driven by data, Excel staff use a wide variety of measurements to assess student achievement and inform curriculum and instruction. Excel staff use criterion-referenced standardized tests like Smarter Balanced assessment for Common Core, which tells us how students are performing from year-to-year, relative to the bar of those assessments, and how we are doing in the aggregate compared to students in other schools in the network, district and nation. Excel also uses norm-referenced tests like the NWEA MAP assessment, which give a detailed level of data on how students are performing in various subject areas against the performance of students across the nation. Finally, Excel uses exit requirements, which help our faculty measure growth and achievement in subject areas the other assessments may not address, and also help to ensure Excel’s students have skills that may not be explicitly measured on standardized assessments.
The most effective charter schools nationally employ a culture of high expectations for student behavior. These expectations 1) establish behavior policies and practices to foster a safe and focused learning environment; 2) encourage consistency across classrooms to create clear expectations for students; 3) expect adults to model and enforce norms for student behavior; 4) ask parents to reinforce and support school actions; and 5) emphasize teacher training to support high standards for classroom behavior. To support all Excel students, including at-risk students, Excel will employ a highly structured, positive academic and social environment, modeled after the PBIS system.
In our society, an outstanding, college preparatory education has developed into an exception, not the norm that we believe it must be for every student. College completion for students from the highest income quartile (more than $108,284 per year) is 82%; for students in the lowest income quartile ($36,080 per year or less) it is 8%. Excel will ensure that all graduates, no matter what their family income level, will have the academic knowledge and tools necessary to be fully prepared to enter into and graduate from the four-year college of their choice. Excel’s founders recognize that not all students may choose to attend college after high school graduation; however, we believe that all students must have the opportunity to choose college and the opportunity to be ready to make such a choice.
For students to successfully graduate from a four-year college, they need to have (1) a strong mastery of key academic content; (2) contextual college skills and awareness; (3) strong academic behaviors; and (4) the ability to utilize key cognitive strategies. As students move through the upper-level grades at Excel, they will experience a variety of instructional styles that they will encounter in college in order to model and prepare students for the rigors of college. Additionally, all students beginning in their junior year of high school are automatically enrolled in a college preparatory course that meets once a week, preparing students to navigate the college admissions process. The course is designed to elevate personal expectations, produce competitive applications, boost SAT/ACT test scores, and prepare students for academic and personal success in college.
As we think critically about how Excel will provide students with increased educational opportunities, Excel’s Team understands the importance of culturally responsive teaching as a powerful tool to help realize our mission. Excel is committed to developing within our students a sociopolitical consciousness, one that allows them to critique the social norms, values, mores and institutions that produce, maintain and perpetuate social inequity. In doing so, we give our students the tools necessary to successfully negotiate the unequal power structures that oftentimes create the un-leveled playing field many of our students of color or students from low-income families experience. By grounding Excel’s curriculum in high academic rigor, cultural competence, and critical consciousness, Excel will go far beyond traditional public schools in building a school environment that affirms student identity and funds of knowledge, and helps to set all students on a path to long-term academic success.