WORCESTER—Worcester school officials are working on a plan that would let students take three to five years to graduate from high school and would replace bilingual education at the secondary level with a sheltered English” approach.
In that approach, bilingual students would be taught all courses in English, but with language support appropriate to each student’s level of understanding.
The school system’s commitment to those steps and others is underlined in a grant proposal submitted recently to the Carnegie Corp.
We are redefining the roles of all participants in the education process,” Superintendent of Schools James A. Caradonio said. The grant proposal calls for a partnership involving the city school system and local institutions with an interest in public education, including Clark University’s Hiatt Center for Urban Education, as well as parents and students.
The Carnegie Corp. will award up to $8 million to each of five U.S. communities selected for submitting the best plans for improving their high schools. The winners will be announced in October.
Mr. Caradonio said the school system is prepared to move forward with the plan whether or not the Carnegie grant is awarded.
The cornerstone of the restructuring is the gradual evolution of the city’s middle and high schools into smaller, self-governed academies.
Three of the system’s largest high schools — North High, South High Community and Worcester Vocational — would be transformed into small education centers within each school over the next five years. Burncoat and Doherty Memorial high schools would create one or more academies that would receive assistance from area colleges.
Breaking the system’s large middle and high schools into smaller, more intimate learning communities will give students a better chance of achieving success, Mr. Caradonio said.
The superintendent cited the University Park Campus School, a program for Grades 7 through 12 operated in collaboration with Clark University and the Jacob Hiatt Center for Urban Education, as an example of the effectiveness of small school settings.
Although 78 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and members of minority groups make up 60 percent of the school’s enrollment, University Park Campus School ranked second in the city in the most recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test scores.
While the size of a school matters, the learning approach is just as important, Mr. Caradonio said.
The school system, for example, will move away from time-centered” learning, which designates four years as the amount of time needed to obtain a diploma, Mr. Caradonio said.
While he expects students to complete high school in four years under the new academic programs, the superintendent said that some will need five years, while others might need only three.
There is no God-given constitutional right to get a diploma in four years,” he said.
The goal is that the diploma should mean you are literate, have critical thinking skills and mastery of academic standards,” he added. If you need time to acquire these skills, you should get it.”
In addition to using a sheltered English” approach for bilingual middle and high school students, the school system will institute a preparatory academy to help low-performing students.
On the other end of the academic spectrum, school officials, in association with the College Board, will offer more rigorous courses starting at the middle school level designed to prepare students for advanced placement.
Stephen E. Mills, north quadrant manager for the school system, said the restructuring will help both teachers and students get more out of the school day.
We do a good job with about two-thirds of our students at the secondary level, but everyone recognizes that we have significant problems with a fairly large population of kids,” he said.
To some students, school just does not make sense. Their 8-to-2 class schedule does not fit with their lives.”
School Committee member Kathleen M. Toomey said the system’s restructuring plans will complement efforts to get students to do well on the MCAS tests.
The emphasis is on having personal education plans for all students,” she said. Educators need the time to understand each child as an individual, and this will help.”