T.C. Williams High School Principal Suzanne Maxey and staff told a small group of parents Monday night the school is making strides toward becoming a better performing school and that recent survey data from students and staff bears that out.
School administrators presented the third-party Hanover Survey and Report, which surveyed about 50 percent of students and staff. “I can tell you, without looking at any data at all, I could have written this report,” Maxey said. “Because if you have yours ears to the ground, if you are paying attention, if you’re listening to people, you do know what is going on with your school.”
T.C. Williams is undergoing a transformation process as a result of its 2010 state designation as a persistently low-achieving school. Maxey said the transformation to a higher-performing school takes seven years, and T.C. Williams is now in its third year of the transformation process.
David Serensits, assistant principal for school improvement, said almost half of T.C. Williams students are considered “disadvantaged” test-takers, compared to lower percentages in nearby districts and down to 11 percent in Loudoun County. When test data are adjusted to take that factor into account, he said, T.C. Williams’ performance increases.
“The fact that we have such a high percentage says something about what the teachers in this building do,” Serensits said. “You’re talking about having some of the most difficult students to reach, the most difficult students to teach, and we’re performing better or on par with everybody else around us.”
More T.C. Williams students are taking Advanced Placement tests, and more of those students are passing AP exams, putting the school on equal footing with the state, he said. The same is true for SAT exams.
“Not only are we increasing participation, but our scores are going back up to the highest they’ve been in a long time,” Serensits said.
T.C. Williams went from offering 17 AP courses in 2003 to 26 this school year. None of those are online courses, and two additional AP courses will be offered next school year.
The school’s graduation rate has increased to 82 percent, from 77 percent in 2008, Serensits said. “That’s a number I did not think we would ever get to,” he said.
According to the survey, students reported that the school’s strengths included a diverse community, a variety of classes and activities, excellent facilities and technological resources. Weaknesses included continued discipline problems and too much emphasis on testing, students said.
Areas that students and staff identified for improvement were better organization and transparency, better discipline, smaller classes, increased academic support, a better focus on instruction and better teaching strategies that engage students.
Maxey said the school's top three priorities to present to Superintendent Morton Sherman were special education, student-counselor ratio maintenance and quality math teachers. Staff also cited the importance of bringing in additional counselors in increasing multiple measures of school performance.
She also noted some measures of school performance had decreased in recent years due to more accurate reporting, such as actually taking attendance as opposed to not counting students and, by default, counting them all as present, and not reporting school fights.
Maxey also addressed concerns that the school was focusing too heavily on low-performing students and ignoring the needs of their higher-achieving peers. “What the transformation at T.C. is all about it meeting the needs of every single student, whether they’re a high-flying kid taking AP classes or the [English-language learner] student, or the special ed student,” she said. “It’s designed for all the kids. Our high-flying kids are doing extremely well.”
Staff noted that prior to the transformation process, the school had no dual-enrollment courses for college credit at Northern Virginia Community College. Now, it has courses in math, social studies and English.
Parent Susan Gildersleeve, who has children in the 10th and 12th grades at T.C. Williams, complimented staff on the school’s progress.
“Subjectively, what we hear as parents, from students, from the teachers and the kids, is that the whole atmosphere has improved, and the ability to spend more time teaching has improved because the discipline problems have gone down,” she said. “When they need to go get counseling, the kids who get it, get it long term.”