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2016-2017 Annual Reflections from the Nest



Hello Ospreys,

Thank you for all you have contributed to support another year of growth and learning at Animas High School! As the year draws to a close, we would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our end-of-the-year reflections and let you know about the work we will be doing this summer to prepare for the 2017-2018 school year.  

Last year our Faculty, School Excellence Committee, and Board set out to determine how best to accomplish our mission of preparing all students for postsecondary success through project-based learning.  Our first seven years were fantastic and our students were working on and through academically complex projects. We would like to continue this success by refining our projects to have more integration between the hands, the heart, and the mind across subjects. Projects become personalized and intellectually challenging when art, humanities, science, and math are woven throughout. Our students are entering into a world where knowing the right answer is less important than being able to ask the right question; information is readily available at their fingertips and our job is to help them learn to think critically, analyzing and synthesizing information to come up with innovative solutions, and how to ask the questions that lead both themselves and a group to those solutions.  Preparing students for the opportunity to attend and succeed in college is an important part of our mission. We believe strongly that project-based learning, with an emphasis on developing 21st century skills, provides a strong foundation for college and career success, and our alumni confirm that this is so.

We determined that refining the daily schedule would allow us to better meet our mission. This year we launched a new schedule that allowed for more elective choices, a revamped and improved Spanish program that has led to higher numbers of students going on to Spanish 4 and 5, an improved x-block schedule, and a renovated math program. We are intentionally teaching math in a non-traditional way because research shows that traditional approaches are not working. In the U.S. our test scores lag behind other nations’ and women constitute only 25% of the PhD candidates in math programs.   Our math program is designed to:

  • Better equip all students for the math they will need in the real world
  • Prepare students for the rigors of postsecondary STEM fields if they choose to pursue them
  • Help reverse the negative mindsets around math that many students have when they enter high school
  • Demonstrate that math and other academic disciplines are interconnected in the adult world
  • Build critical thinking/logical problem solving skills in a structured setting

Our measures of the success of our revamped math program have included formal and informal surveys of our students as well as teacher-designed assessments.  Our most recent evaluative tool was our annual student survey, our analysis will be made public at a later date and will also be used to inform our State of School address.  When comparing our math program to last year’s, our students negative perceptions decreased from 34% in 2016 to 22% in 2017, our neutral increased from 10% to 29%, and our positive had a slight decrease from 55% to 48%.  Students new to our school had an overall positive trend in their data moving from 53% feeling positive about our math program in 2016 to 64% feeling positive about our math program in 2017.  

While the surveys suggest that the majority of our students are responding positively to the math program and our new to AHS students are viewing math more positively, we know that we have room to refine and grow and that one year does not accurately measure the success or failure of a program.  To that end, we have hired a math consultant, who has over a decade of experience helping transform math programs across California and the nation. Freshman math teacher Lauren Lucky partnered with him this year in her health care unit, which was wildly successful.   Our math team is putting the finishing touches on our four year sequence of Math Skills and Dispositions as well as the Habits of a Mathematician, which is our framework for the essential skills that are needed to solve complex math..  

With our 5th class of seniors graduated, we wanted to take some time to celebrate. Once again we had 100% of our seniors accepted into a college. This year’s seniors were awarded over $1.5 million in scholarships, which roughly equates to $20,000 per student on average. Next year’s seniors have already begun their college admissions experience, with over 60% of them having identified which schools they are interested in attending. While we have a small sample size,  88% of our alumni who attend college are still in college, as compared to 69% nationally. This falls in line with our model school, High Tech High, that has an 89% college retention rate over 15 years.  Much of what we do at AHS pays off in college and postsecondary life for our students. Our school is focused on real life work such as building a mobile aquaponics system, introducing a tracking system into the illegal ivory trade, utilizing the design thinking process to design our future school, and many more excellent projects.  To quote one of our 2015 alum, Sarah Lawton:

I am so grateful for all of my experiences at AHS and find that it prepared me well to interact with my peers and professors at CC [Colorado College]. I am thankful that I was challenged to have independent thoughts, ponder philosophy, and be creative in high school, for it has made me a more well-rounded student and citizen. Additionally, Animas helped me mature at my own rate and as my own person, which I’m extremely grateful for.”

While it is easy for us to say “trust the process” our college statistics and testimonials from alumni give us the proof that our way of educating really does work.

Looking ahead, our enrollment is roughly where it was at this time last year and we are on target to hit our goal of having 270-280 students in the next school year.  Last year the Board of Directors gave the directive to right-size our school.  Two years ago we were roughly 21% of the overall Durango high school population. This percentage is uncharacteristically high for a charter school and it also made our class sizes large. At the 270-280 range our budget is sustainable and self-sustained. This number enables us to have smaller class sizes, especially at the younger grade levels.  We will know more when August hits, but our retention rate looks slightly higher than it has been historically. All of this means that financially we are stable. We are proud of the fact that, thanks to careful budgeting and fiscally responsible management by Christine Imming and our Board, we have surpassed the State’s requirements for reserve funds.  AHS is intentionally a small school, with small class sizes, while also a financially healthy organization.

This spring, our students and staff explored our school culture, with a focus of looking at changes we can make that will help uphold the culture of excellence that is central to who we are as a community. We heard concerns this year that we were perhaps losing some of the magic of our early years, with cultural expectations among staff and students slipping. We also know that the atmosphere of starting up a school is hard to replicate and that nostalgia for the old tends to be only through rose colored glasses. With this in mind, our faculty and students dove into conversations about school culture this spring semester, identifying key areas that need attention as well as recognizing areas of success. Next year we will be building upon those successes and spending time during our staff orientation to put systems in place to shore up the areas of growth.  That being said, our students and parents feel our school is safe and as though they belong to our community.

This summer the AHS board of directors will conduct our 5 year strategic plan. The areas of focus will be academics, culture, and facilities. As we work toward funding and building our permanent facility, there are several key points to share:

  • We successfully partnered with 9R on the mill levy which will amount to roughly $90,000 extra per year
  • We are exploring multiple partnership opportunities that will allow us to fund our new site
  • We are working closely with Twin Buttes to see how their development progresses and exploring all options that might be available to us in the larger community
  • Freshman used the design thinking process to analyze our school’s needs with an eye toward including student voice when designing our facility.

As you can see we have had an active year and this summer will be a much needed time of rejuvenation for our staff, while also providing time to dig into reflection, learning, and planning. We also are excited to welcome four new staff members who will bring new excitement and fresh perspectives to AHS in the fall: Shane Nelson (Humanities), Kat Jackson (Spanish), Summer Sanford (Science), and Erin Skyles (Counselor). As we move into our 9th year, it is an exciting time to be an Osprey.

Thank you for always supporting our amazing Ospreys and enjoy your summer break.

Sincerely,

Sean Woytek – Head of School

Ann Laffaye – President, AHS Board of Directors