December 8, 2015
To anyone considering having Dwayne Peace work for their organization:
Over the past six years Dwayne Peace has been part of a school improvement process at Cold lake High School in northern Alberta, Canada. He has presented to the full school of 600 students on two occasions, to our full Grade 9 cohort five times, to two groups of parents, and over eighteen workshop groups. All of the sessions, with the exception of the parent nights, were a half day in length. As you can see his involvement has been extensive at CLHS.
Our purpose for having Dwayne work to this extent at CLHS was to provide a basis for the school-wide culture change we were looking for. We wanted common language and action among students and staff, and Dwayne delivered. His experience, insight, courage and skill with kids results in close engagement for every minute that he is working with groups large and small. They hear his message, and we know this because we hear it from them months after he has presented. His message that ‘everyone has a story’ really hits home with kids who have ‘tough stories’.
Our high school has come a long way in the last five and a half years; we have undergone some fundamental changes in how we work with students. It has been a careful, thoughtful, and sometimes difficult process that has had several important parts. After the first year we decided that as a grade 9 – 12 school we needed to build strong bones at the bottom, and so we redesigned how grade 9 was done at CLHS. We wanted kids to have a great start so we created a ‘grade 9 only’ teaching team who focussed on building relationships with students and with each other. They also became specialists in grade 9 curriculum and needs. With each year that has gone by we have narrowed Dwayne’s scope from full school and at risk students to all the Grade 9 students. This year we had him do half-day, small group, intensive workshops with over 80% of the grade nine students.
We were also very intentional about making logical changes to our timetable that placed students first. Grade 9 students and many other students in our high school struggled to stay engaged for during the full 84 minute blocks. Four years ago we changed to a 5 times 67 minute block system. At the same time we did a lot of work on changes to how (and why) we assessed student outcomes, and found that this had a huge impact on student achievement. We also vastly increased our option class selection to find out what kids wanted because we know that they had to be motivated to be here.
Attendance rates have increased significantly, and suspension/expulsions are only a fraction of what they were 5 years ago.
We also developed a cohesive Student Services Department that consists of a Special Education Coordinator, a Personal Counsellor, who is also a Social Worker. and an Academic Counsellor. While these positions existed before, they did not function as the cohesive unit they are now. This department has become the first stop for most student concerns. Dwayne works closely with them when he is in our building as many of the issues he deals with bring serious student issues to the surface.
CLHS has seen an improvement in academic results that is nothing, if not remarkable. Five years ago just over 56% of our Grade 9 students were reaching the acceptable standard on our Provincial Achievement Tests. Now over 75% reach this level. We have also doubled the number of students who reach the Level of Excellence. Five years ago 23% of aboriginal students reached acceptable–last year 64% percent reached this mark. Only 1 student out of 161 students who wrote a grade 12 English PDE (30-1 or 30-2) which is graduation requirement did not pass the exam! In 9 out of 10 Provincial Diploma Exams CLHS students beat the provincial average. We have many statistics that show that what we have been doing is working. A full presentation is available at the Cold Lake High School website.
We know that kids who feel safe at school, who feel like they belong, who feel like they have support from their friends and from staff, will be more successful than those who do not. This is part of Dwayne’s message. His expertise rests with helping kids understand how they feel, helping kids understand how others feel, and helping kids to deal with the feelings that scare them, and that prevent them from doing well in life. This idea has been central to all that we have done at CLHS for the past 5 and a half years. We have tackled the tough structural issues at the school, we always working on the instructional improvements, and Dwayne has helped us build strong bones at Grade 9 to carry the school cultural changes into the high school grades. These strategies have all worked together, combined with great staff and a common purpose to help kids get the results they are now getting at CLHS. Dwayne Peace has been an important part of this journey. We have made a long-term commitment to Dwayne and he has returned that commitment to the students of our school. We appreciate that year after year he has shown up ready to deliver the same passion and wisdom that makes a difference for kids, and on a larger scale, for CLHS.
Please do not hesitate to call me if you would like more information.
Mr. Dustan Walker