For St. Edmond Catholic Schools, 2012 ended as a year of great success not only academically, but athletically, according to John Howard, St. Edmond High School principal.
"If you start at just the calendar year, we had state runner-up in basketball. Our girls basketball team was conference champions. Boys tennis, state runner-up. State runner-up individually in tennis. Two girls made it to state. Softball made regional finals. Then you go into football in 2012," Howard said. "It was just a tremendous year, athletically."
Again, the school performed highly on the Iowa Assessments standardized test, formerly known as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Of its 250 students, 32 scored in the 95th percentile or above and 64 scored in the 90th percentile or above.
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Katie Julie, left, and Nichole Hotzler, St. Edmond Catholic School students, study and converse in the school’s library. The students use 21st century technology to enhance their educational experience.
"The scores are very high. In fact, probably some of the highest scores we've ever had in general," Howard said. "Our scores compare very highly to not only the state, but the nation. We're really looking at those as a good indicator of what we're doing, how we're teaching the Iowa Core, how students are receiving that information, how they're putting it into practice. With the support of the staff and parents and the administration, our scores are really good."
The high school's one-to-one program, which issues laptops to each student for academic use, was so successful after it launched in December 2011 that it was expanded in August.
"We expanded it to eighth grade this fall," Howard said. "We've seen a tremendous amount of progress in terms of assignments, student usage. A positive reaction by stakeholders to the computers. Students in our eighth through 12th grades now have a competitive advantage."
The technology enhances the students' education, Howard said, because they are already so familiar with it.
"Growing up with computers, they have the knowledge, they have the ability to find stuff, to utilize what the computer has not only in terms of information but things on it," he said. "PowerPoint and other programs allow the students to expand their knowledge, make stuff more creative than it used to be."
The school's teachers have adapted to the inclusion of more technology, as well.
"It used to be paper and pencil, chalk and chalkboard. Now everything's run through computers," Howard said. "All our teachers have websites, kids can communicate by Twitter with teachers and students. You never used to be able to do that. It's a complete change of how teaching and learning is done, and we think it's a positive change."
The technology allows instruction to be more fluid and instant, Howard said.
"It used to be you had to wait for the next day to get the answer from the teacher or you'd have to wait to have a review the next day in class," he said. "Now teachers can post a video review the students can access at all times. Math teachers, science teachers, they tape their review lecture, post it on their website. Kids can watch it whether it's seven o'clock at night, 10 o'clock at night, whenever they're doing their homework and not wait until the next day."
A one-to-one technology program had long been a dream of the Catholic school. For Howard, seeing its success has been rewarding.
"I always tell people, when I took this job our technology was somewhat archaic," he said. "I intentionally used that word because we were dealing with chalk and chalkboard four years ago. We were dealing with paper and pencil. Now, to see our one-to-one program expand like it has, not only is it rewarding for me as an administrator, it's rewarding for our students, our teachers, our stakeholders, the community. We're putting out, in my opinion, a better product for our community than we ever have. A more prepared product."
In 2012, St. Edmond adopted the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system, a nationally-recognized program that teaches and rewards positive behaviors.
"We thought it would make our school environment much better," Howard said. "It's based on expectations we have posted. We teach the behavior instead of just assuming a student knows what to do in a certain situation, whether it's listening to a speaker, going to mass, sitting in an assembly. We teach those behaviors now, even at the high school level. We teach behaviors we've never taught to before."
Instituting PBIS has also been a success for St. Edmond, Howard said.
"It's really been good," he said. "Our discipline issues are down. Overall, I think our environment is much better."
St. Edmond in 2012 also continued its efforts to work more closely with the Fort Dodge Community School District for emergency response, in supporting Rachel's Challenge and in school calendar preparation.
"We're really trying to work together," Howard said. "It's not an us versus them mentality, it's a 'we' mentality. Anytime we can work together to help our schools, it's better for everybody."
Preparing for Rachel's Challenge is an example of this cooperation.
"That was the first time I've been here that we've had the same professional development day, and worked with the public school and been in attendance in the same session," Howard said. "It hasn't happened in my four years here. That was really good for relationship building."
Howard is optimistic about 2013.
"We're really looking forward to finishing 2013 the way we finished 2012, with the success we had academically," he said. "We continue to perform well. We're hoping 2013 matches the success we had in 2012 or even goes beyond it."