A program aimed at recognizing middle and high schools that service a large number of students living in poverty has selected a southeast Kansas school as one of its honorees.



Columbus Unified High School (CUHS), in Cherokee County, was named one of five National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breakthrough schools for 2011. The program was co-sponsored by the MetLife Foundation.

A program aimed at recognizing middle and high schools that service a large number of students living in poverty has selected a southeast Kansas school as one of its honorees.

Columbus Unified High School (CUHS), in Cherokee County, was named one of five National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breakthrough schools for 2011. The program was co-sponsored by the MetLife Foundation.

“To be honest, I really wasn’t surprised,” said CUHS principal Steve Jameson. “I knew what the award was about and knew what we had done here in Columbus and I felt that we exemplified what the program is about.”

CUHS has approximately 45.3 percent of its students that live at or below the poverty line and 54 percent of the entire district is considered low socio-economic status.

The Breakthrough program selection is based on a school’s documented success in implementing strategies aligned with the three core areas of Breaking Ranks II for middle level and high schools that have led to improved student achievement, and include the following:

• Collaborative leadership: professional learning communities, shared leadership, and student and staff leadership development;

• Personalization: attention to all students, mentoring, and school/community connections;

• Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: access to rigorous coursework for all students, differentiated instruction with multiple assessments, data-based decision making, and opportunities for career development.

“That program emphasized those three areas of improvements,” Jameson said. “I feel that our strength is the personalization of our curriculum.”

CUHS implemented a program where students have the same seminar teacher for all four years in high school. The teachers help with adjustment to high school and a four-year plan to help with whatever their career choice is.

“It helps with their enrollment and gives them guidance in helping select what career they want to look into,” Jameson said.

According to Gerald Tirozzi, NASSA executive director, adequate yearly progress — or the measure schools follow for achievement through No Child Left Behind — can be an effective measure of success and growth, the call for principals to achieve AYP status within two years may not allow the same results that these turnaround principals have achieved.

“These 10 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools have made incredible gains in academic achievement by providing rigorous instruction and personalizing their schools to meet the needs of each and every student,” Tirozzi said.

Despite that, Jameson said that CUHS students have scored well and achieved AYP during the 2009-10 school year.

In the 2009-10 school year, CUHS had 91 percent of its juniors test above average in reading and math.

“We just hope to keep meeting the need of our students,” Jameson said. “You can’t ever relax because education is always changing and you have to indentify what is best for the students and we have a staff here that does a great job of doing that.”

CUHS will be honored at the 2011 NASSP Conference, Feb. 24-27 in San Francisco, Calif.

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140