During the week of the Academies, almost fanatical attention is given to student attendance – so much so that the schools engage in friendly competition with one another to reach 100 percent participation. Superintendent Riley typically reports first-day attendance in a memo to staff on Monday evening, continuing to impress upon the schools the importance of full participation throughout the week. Attendance consistently reached the 95 percent mark and higher during our visit to the schools, a notable achievement for a vacation week.
The central office team darts from school to school to check on attendance and help resolve any urgent matters. Every school has attendance officers, and although Lawrence is a walking district, sometimes a few students may have trouble getting to school. In such cases, a van or a bus will pick them up at home. On occasion, the weather, particularly during the February Academies, has presented challenges, but unless safety is an issue, the Academies stay open for business. Students who commit to the Academies are expected to be there, just as an employee must show up for work.
The Flow of the Day
The creation of a daily schedule for the Academies is no small feat for building leaders. At each school, the pieces come together a little bit differently, based on the teachers, the needs of the students, and the culture and traditions of the community. The goal, of course, is to create a flow to the day that is organized and engaging, and that enables all participants – whether students, teachers, or administrators – to show up as their best selves.
Each school that hosts an Acceleration Academy offers 25-30 hours of intensive instruction in either English Language Arts (ELA) or Mathematics. Typically, the February Academies are dedicated to ELA and the April Academies to Math. The concentration of instructional time ensures that teachers can go deep into a lesson and not be constrained by the clock, as is often the case during the regular school day. Similarly, teachers can spend more time with individual students to ensure mastery of core concepts.
In addition to longer instructional blocks, the Academies feature enrichment classes throughout the week, typically two per day at each school. Building leaders determine which enrichments to offer, but most schools have a mix of sports, music, and fine arts. These enrichment periods also open up two planning periods per day for teachers in the Academies, when they develop or tweak their lessons independently or collaborate with colleagues. They may even have time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom, a rarity for many teachers in regular classrooms across the country. The daily schedule gives everyone a little breathing room, providing teachers with a chance to reflect, and students with an opportunity to consolidate their learning. What may seem like a luxury is a necessity for good teaching and learning to occur.
All participating schools serve breakfast at the beginning of the day and lunch in the middle of the day. Many schools have daily assemblies at mealtime, or sometimes convene the community at the end of the day. And all of the schools host an event at the end of the Academies week, to reflect on the experience and celebrate successes.
Each school is required by the district to offer 25-30 hours of intensive instruction in either English Language Arts, during the February Academies, and Math, during the April Academies. They are also required to offer enrichment classes throughout the week. These are the only two mandates; otherwise, the schools have total freedom to shape the Academies in whatever ways make sense for their respective communities. Some schools have daily assemblies – at the beginning of the day, at lunchtime, or at the end of the day. Schools also select different kinds of enrichment activities, based on a given school’s culture, the student population, and access to different kinds of specialists.