Westmont High School District 201
- Number of Students: 440
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 38%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 2%
- Percent of Special Education: 15%
- White: 69%
- Black: 8%
- Hispanic: 21%
- Asian: 0.5%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 1.5%
- Other: 0%
Westmont High School implemented Professional Learning Community concepts six years ago and since that time we have become the most improved high school in Illinois and one of the most improved and top performing high schools in the nation. Our passionate commitment to Learning for All, a Collaborative Culture and a Results Orientation is supported by outstanding student performance information. Westmont’s graduation rate since implementation is 99%. In 2018, every student graduated on time. 100% of our African-American and Latino students have graduated on time five years in a row. Only five students have dropped out in the last six years. Before implementation our ten year average graduation rate was 91%. The year previous to implementation the graduation rate was 88 %.
For some “Whatever it Takes” is a saying. For Westmont it is our way of life. We built our Professional Learning Community on the commitment that every student is sacred. We focus on what we can do versus what is out of our control. We live the ideal that every minute spent complaining is a minute that should have been used to help solve a problem. If students are not learning then we come together and provide whatever students need to help them achieve. Our mission is not to teach students but to ensure all students learn.
Our Advanced Placement program is the most improved in Illinois and perhaps the nation. The only regular high school in Illinois that includes as a high a percentage of their students in A.P. is Stevenson, and we have seven times the number of students living in economic poverty (but the same percentage included in A.P.). This is another indicator of our intense commitment to Learning for All. Westmont ranks in the top 1% of high schools in the country for including students in this rigorous course of studies. Utilizing Professional Learning Community concepts has also made it possible for incredible student learning increases. Since PLC implementation the number of students passing A.P. exams has increased from 29 (2013) to 303 (2018). The number of A.P. Scholars has increased from 3 (2013) to 65 (2018). The number of passed exams achieved by underrepresented students has increased from 2 (2013) to 81 (2018).
We are the most improved, most inclusive and in the top 1% for regular schools in performance because we are driven to see that all students learn at high levels. Our teachers collaboratively analyze student performance information, and we constantly include our students in progress monitoring. Providing additional time and practice is deeply engrained in our culture for all students.
In the opening days of PLC implementation, we collaboratively built and gained a passionate commitment to our S.M.A.R.T. goals. We spent months of careful and open discussion to ensure all voices were respected, and in the end gained near unanimous approval through an anonymous vote of our entire staff. As stated in “Learning by Doing” we “focused on a few very specific goals” and follow through with tenacity as a truly collaborative team. We continue to revisit our S.M.A.R.T. goals and the progress our students are making through open all staff discussions that are rooted in an intense commitment to continuous improvement.
Our state test has changed 3 times in the last 6 years, but overall we have seen significant growth and the best test scores in our school’s 40 year history. The most recent data has Westmont High School at the top of comparable schools in Illinois with double digit increases on the current state exam. We outperform over 125 schools that have half or less of our poverty rate.
Our teacher led teams, through much hard work and several challenges, have become model teams that use norms, S.M.A.R.T. goals and common formative assessments. Westmont teams understand the essential nature of collaboratively analyzing relevant student data student by student and skill by skill. They use this information to implement interventions focused on improving student learning. They also follow through to measure how effective the interventions have been for individual students and the school as a whole.
Westmont High School has earned the highest rating from the state for being a collaborative school community in the state mandated Five Essentials Survey. Over 90% of the staff in this anonymous staff survey state year after year that we have a shared mission and vision driven by what is best for our students.
Several researchers and writers have observed our school and rated it as a model for professional collaboration. Dr. Lynn Howard in her book "Supporting New Teachers: A How to Guide For Leaders" devotes almost an entire chapter to Westmont High School and how we are highly collaborative and the most improved high school in our state. Dr. Yasuyuki Oda, a top PLC researcher from MIE University in Japan, selected and visited our school. He wrote that "Westmont is the best high school" he had ever observed.
In November 2018, the Illinois State Board of Education rated every school in the state for the first time in history. Westmont earned the highest rating as an "Exemplary" school. Only 10 percent of Illinois high schools earned this distinction. Most of the high schools that earned this rating were magnet schools or schools with less than 15 percent of their students living in economic poverty. Westmont High School was the only regular high school in Illinois out of 670 that received the highest rating and had over 30 percent or more of students living in economic poverty. This rating did not even consider the substantial growth and achievement of our Advanced Placement program.
Our principal, Jack Baldermann, was named the 2017 Illinois Principal of the Year and 2018 Runner-Up for National Principal of the Year. He earned this distinction because we are a team that is a dedicated Professional Learning Community.
The passionate care and professional commitment of our entire staff, rooted in PLC values and concepts, has led to an incredible culture and environment for all our students. We are clear that our main focus and purpose is to work with our students so that they grow as compassionate leaders who give service back to their community. The purpose of gaining knowledge is to support all people. We rarely have significant discipline issues or suspensions because our mission and vision are known by all members of the school community.
We built our PLC together, with all members of our school community, on the foundation that compassion and service to others are essential. We continue to work extremely hard and are always looking to improve our skills. That is how we have built a successful PLC at this point in our journey.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
At Westmont High School our Data Team is responsible for monitoring all students learning throughout the school year. Based on our meetings, we are able to problem solve with individuals and groups of students, create action plans on an as needed basis, and place students in interventions as needed. Below are the systems that we use to help us stay focused and organized throughout the year.
Early Warning System (EWS)–
Administration creates a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year that looks at the following student data from the previous school year:
● Number of Fs
● Number of credits earned
● Number of absences
● Number of Referrals
By class, we sort students to discuss based on the numbers in each category. We prioritize starting with seniors first, looking at how many categories are red flags. Students that meeting the warning criteria for all four categories are discussed first, students meeting in three categories come next, and so forth. This process is used for each class. EWS is then recalculated each quarter to reassess students.
Individual Problem Solving –
Whenever a student is brought up for discussion at Data Team, we create a file that gathers specific information in order to identify the problem and figure out why it exists, and then to create an action plan to help the student. Data includes:
● Date of Discussion
● Social Emotional Observations
● Action Steps
We then place the student into a Progress Monitoring Group for revisiting in 6-7 weeks.
Progress Monitoring Groups –
Students in our Intervention classes are monitored by classroom teachers. Students who come to Data Team through EWS, F list and/or teacher referral are monitored by a member of Data Team for the course of the year. This person is responsible for collecting data for the file, meeting with the student to discuss any action plans or to get an update, and reporting out to Data Team a summary of their data. In the beginning of the school year, we use EWS to develop our groups. As the year progresses, students can be removed from these groups as they have shown stability over the course of time, and other students are replaced in the group.
We use time in every Data Team meeting to look at our F list for the week. The list is sorted by # of Fs and we prioritize based on students failing the most classes. Many of these students are already in our Progress Monitoring groups, but if not, we may add them to one based on the trend. When analyzing the list, we look to what action plans are in place for these students in order to get their grades caught up. The following actions are taken:
● Student Conference
● Required Attendance for After School Academic Program on Wednesday
● Reaching out to Parents
● Developing a plan during student’s study hall, and/or before and after school help
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Creating Intervention Systems
Under the PLC model, Westmont High School embodies the "whatever it takes" mindset and attitude. In turn, there are systems of intervention in place to help support our staff and students in this effort.
Transitions in English and Math (TEAM)
8th and 9th grade teachers meet during the middle of the school year to decide placement for incoming freshman. Based on the data (Explore scores, MAP scores, and teacher recommendations), students are recommended for a three-period block of English and Math. Students in TEAM following the English 9 and Math I curriculum but have extra time built in to have the teachers provide interventions, extra time, and executive functioning mini-lessons so that students can feel better prepared as they move into their sophomore year.
This sophomore class is an extension of TEAM for Literacy. In addition to English 10, students enrolled in this class continue to skill build based on their individual needs in reading and writing. Students are progress monitored throughout the course of the year based on the goals set within the first weeks of school.
Academic Support –
Students are placed into this class based on a recommendation of our Data Team with a specific skill or executive functioning goal (typically 10th, 11th, and 12th graders). Teachers work with students individually in this class to obtain the goal set. A gradual release of responsibility is placed fully on the student when appropriate.
After School Academic Program (ASAP) –
For one hour on Wednesdays, students not passing any class are required to stay after school to get extra assistance, complete retakes on assessments, or simply complete assignments that they need in order to get their grade back to passing. An F list is pulled weekly and students are organized by content area. One to three TAs who feel competent in the content area are designated a group of students to monitor and assist as needed.
College Readiness –
Students who want explicit preparation for ACT as juniors may take this class or be recommended based on previous practice exams. Students develop strategies and skill-build in the areas of Math, Reading and Science as it relates the exam. They monitor their progress through a series of practice exams with goal setting and reflection as a cornerstone for improvement
English and Math Support (EMS) -
Freshman and sophomore students needing specific skill interventions will be recommended for this class in addition to their regular periods of Math and English. Co-taught by a Math and English teacher, students will develop goals at the beginning of each quarter and work with teachers, small groups, and individually to meet and maintain goals. Teachers will set up individualized plans for each student and monitor progress on a weekly basis.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Our work is never done, but after several years of hard work and challenges most of our teams serve as model teacher-led data teams. Our school is relatively small in size (36 teachers), so our entire faculty/staff operates as a collaborative and high performing team that is focused on and produces substantial student learning achievement. There is little to any drama in our building, people from all disciplines support and learn from each other and we maintain an intense focus on being student-centered. We primarily meet in departments, but we also meet at least 12-14 times a year as an entire faculty/staff, several times a year in grade level teams, and often departments meet in an interdisciplinary fashion to support each other on a variety of curriculum, instruction and assessment issues.
Our department level teams are small (4 teachers on average), and almost everyone is a singleton teacher. At Westmont we do not make excuses. We focus on what we can do, and our teams have been visited by many schools from several states to learn from the work we have done.
Our teacher-led data teams have norms that drive actions that lead to student learning increases. Our mantra is “how did this meeting increase student learning?” We know that a meeting without data is just conjecture, and that data must be broken down student by student and skill by skill. Our primary goal is to use the specific student performance information to focus the work done during interventions.
Our teacher-led department data teams have unpacked standards, cross referenced them to state and national expectations, and translated them into learning targets written in student friendly language. This was essential because we have come to know the power of including students in the assessment process. If we expect students to work at peak effectiveness, they have to be involved in analyzing their own performance and data skill by skill. It took time, but we now operate with students as partners in the data analysis process.
We have a series of common formative assessments that are aligned with the learning targets. Our teachers and students know the power and value of formative assessments. It is common for teachers to identify learning needs student by student and skill by skill, our students are invested in taking assessments seriously so they can identify where they are strong and where they need to get stronger. Our entire school community knows the value of a Growth Mindset (we spend significant time training our teachers, students and parents in the concepts), and we utilize formative assessments to foster student learning increases. Teacher teams are focused on learning not evaluation. It has become a part of our culture that performance on an assessment is understood as a means of charting further instruction, intervention and learning.
The teacher-led teams are very specific with student assessment data that is linked clearly to learning targets. Students have come to expect this type of feedback, and they are generally excited about using it to improve their learning.
Our interventions are timely and most often based on student by student and skill by skill analysis of assessment performance. We have a formal intervention period every Wednesday for one hour, but data driven interventions are also present before school, during class time, at lunch and in after school sessions.
Our teachers and teams are all about “our students.” They collectively take responsibility to support their peers and help students in other classes. Reteaching is often, not always, delivered by a different member of the team and not the students’ primary teacher. Whoever is providing the reteaching has a specific awareness of a student’s learning needs.
We have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, and know the value of following through and having the teachers who have done the collaborative analysis of the assessment data delivering the Tier Two interventions. It took time and several adjustments to get to effectively delivering this work, but we have seen double digit increases on our state tests scores because of this system.
Here is what we expect from teams and the artifacts that they must produce:
1) Present your team norms that drive actions that lead to student learning increases.
2) Present your essential learning targets written in student friendly language.
3) Present your common formative and summative assessments aligned to the learning targets.
4) Show us your “fresh and relevant data” student by student and skill by skill.
5) Show us how the collaborative team follows through on increasing learning with data driven interventions.
6) Show us specifically how your collaborative work as team led to student learning increases.
7) Show us how students have been included in the process.
It took us several years, many struggles and mistakes with continuous improvement along the way, and we are still refining our process. However, today our teams are excited about this process and our work. They want to share what they have done. We have a culture where the teams share their successes and challenges with each other so they can continue to grow and learn. Our collaborative teams have been recognized by educational leaders as model teams, and the teams are now sharing what they have learned and achieved during visits from other schools and at presentations at conferences.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
99% of students have completed all graduation requirements on time five years in a row. 100% of students graduated on time in 2018. 100% of African-American and Latino students have graduated on time five years in a row. Only 4 students have dropped out over the last 5 years.
We have the most improved Advanced Placement program in Illinois. We have had almost 1000% increase in the number of taken and passed exams. WHS has gone from 29 passed exams in 2013 to 303 passed exams in 2018. Similarly, WHS has increased from 3 AP Scholars in 2013 to 65 AP Scholars in 2018. Our AP outcomes put Westmont High School amongst the top regular high schools in the state of Illinois.
From 2001 - 2018, Westmont High School has made double digit gains in state-related testing (now SAT). WHS has gone from the middle of its sector related to state testing, to the top of its sector with other similarly composited high schools (diversity, percent of low income). Westmont scored just under 60% proficient in both math and reading on the SAT in 2018. This was done through the departmental PLC work and strengthened curriculum.
Westmont High School has become one of the top regular high schools in Illinois. Westmont High School received "Exemplary" status from the state of Illinois - the highest rating given out by the state. Furthermore, there has been clear and significant growth since PLC implementation in 2005.
Westmont High School Awards and Recognition:
Washington Post Challenge Index - Most Improved High School in the United States (2013-2017)
Intel Microcenter Recognition Grant for $25,000 (2013)
Illinois State Board of Education recognized Westmont High School’s AP Program; received $45,000 in annual funding to support collaborative effort to establish AP Program (2013-2016)
Newsweek - America's Top High Schools (2014-2015); “Overcoming the Odds” - Top 2% in the Nation (2015)
U.S. News and World Report - Most Improved High School in Illinois (2014-2015)
Lynn Howard's Supporting New Teachers: A How To Guide For Leaders - Entire chapter dedicated to Westmont High School and recognizes the high school's work as a model Professional Learning Community
Dr. Yasuyuki Oda - top PLC researcher in Japan; upon his visit he wrote "Westmont High School is the best high school I have ever seen" (2016)
AP Conference - WHS Recognized for Leadership; six years of sponsoring and hosting the AP Consortium with an annual participation rate of over 600 teachers from 73 different schools (2013 - present)
RAMP status for Westmont High School Guidance Department through the American School Counseling Association (2015-2020)
Changemakers Program - Recognized by the U.S. Congress for work on Human Trafficking (2016)
Received Coleman Foundation Grant - for start up of INCubator course/program (2017-2018)
Illinois State Principal of the Year (2017)
National Finalist for Principal of the Year; 1 of 3 individuals chosen (2018)
Earned an "Exemplary" rating from the state of Illinois - the highest rating assigned by the state (2018); achieved with highest poverty rate of any regular high school that received this distinction