New Heights Charter School, a TK-8 school located in South Los Angeles, originally was authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD or District) in 2006 and renewed for a second five-year term in 2010, and a third five-year term in 2016. New Heights Charter School was founded based on the idea that rigorous learning requires a caring learning community and that students’ academic, social, emotional, and physical development are interrelated. Essential to this vision is our set of beliefs about the importance of school culture and its role in supporting continuous improvement in teaching and learning. New Heights is organized around a cohesive set of shared ideas and practices about teaching and learning; our faculty work together to provide a coordinated experience for students as they progress through the school. Students are given opportunities to participate in a learning garden, arts activities, sports, yoga/mindfulness, social skills groups, and field trips to museums, theaters and team-building programs. New Heights has earned a full six-year WASC accreditation in 2010 and again in 2016.
Now in our tenth year of operations, New Heights currently serves 437 students on two campuses located half a mile apart. Almost all of our students (98%) are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), 25% are African American, 75% Hispanic, 29% English Learners (EL) and 13% are students who qualify for special education (SpEd).
On recent state tests of Common Core standards, New Heights students in all subgroups outperforming LAUSD averages for the same grade levels across virtually every measure, with significantly lower percentages of students in the “Not Met” category as well. New Heights also uses internal measures to assess student progress including on demand writing, internal language arts and math performance tasks. Graduating 8th grade students create a portfolio of work to show their mastery in multiple content areas and all students participate in an end-year interactive learning museum in which students demonstrate their learning to students, teachers, and parents school wide.
New Heights Charter School was founded by Amy Berfield, a former staff member at the Coalition of Essential Schools, and has at its foundation the common principles of the Essential Schools movement.
How can we increase student independence and transfer of learning to novel circumstances?
As a small TK-8 school, New Heights is designed to meet the social and academic needs of students at all grade levels through a personalized, differentiated approach. Adults and students are able to create stable, close, and mutually respectful relationships to support all students' intellectual, emotional, and social growth as they grow. Teachers are trained in Responsive Classroom (RC) for TK-5 and Developmental Design (DD) for grades 6-8 to support students overall growth, with a focus on teacher language, developmental appropriate practices, respectful, relevant, and related consequences, morning meetings/Advisory, and collaborative problem-solving. Teachers use this training to implement RC and DD in the classroom on a daily basis.
We believe our focus on our students’ social and emotional development is a critical component of the successes we achieve. The school staff and faculty strive to keep a “growth mindset” emphasizing that everyone is capable of learning and growth in the interrelated areas of social, emotional, and academic growth.
Teachers use a workshop approach to actively engage students and build their understanding. Students learn how to be readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and creative thinkers. Students have opportunity for both independent inquiry and learning in cooperation with others. Multiple forms of assessments are used on an ongoing basis to better understand the learner's progress and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Teachers differentiate instruction based on their analysis of student work, observations, small group work, and one-on-one conferences.
The greatest strength of New Heights is the school culture and collaborative learning environment. Teachers and staff work together with a cohesive vision for effective instructional practices. This provides continuity for students as they move through the school. New Heights is a community that values learning for adults and students and is always trying to improve.
New Heights faculty and leadership have identified language development as a key area of need for further development. Faculty training in language development – both for English Learners as well as English-Only students – has been a primary focus in recent years. Beginning in 2014 with implementation of new CCSS ELA/ELD standards, school leaders and faculty began a focus specifically on oral language development as a fundamental skill and pathway to developing stronger readers and writers. Students at New Heights, whether they are English Learners or English-only speakers, arrive at New Heights with a lack of academic language. In 2014-15, teachers participated in multiple coaching sessions focused on developing student partnership conversations in reading and writing workshop as well as grand conversations about social issues and read aloud books. Grand conversations are student-led whole class discussions that allow students to practice their listening and speaking skills.
While we have seen gains in academic language, we know there is more we can do to support students’ development in this area. Moving forward, we intend to continue professional development focused on language development to support partner conversations in reading/writing workshop, partner /collaborative conversations in math, and small group conversations in science and social studies. In addition we have added a Teaching Partner with a specific focus on language development and EL students who struggle with reading, writing, and speaking. Teachers are also receiving support through our literacy coaches to understand the new ELD/ELA Framework, with an emphasis on formative assessment. The school will also review soon-to-be approved ELD materials later this winter to determine which new resources to integrate into our small group, designated language development sessions.