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John Monfredo: South High Raising the Bar With More AP Courses

Saturday, October 27, 2012


High school Pep Rallies are enjoyable to watch, for seeing the excitement on the faces of the students is priceless. The special part of this particular rally was that it was not about sports, but about AP achievement. The South High rally began with the award-winning South High band, fresh from participating in the July 4th National Independence Day Parade, playing as this year’s AP students walked into the auditorium.

There was the posting of colors by the JROTC Air Force students, the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem by the AP chorus. Then, the stage was set for Principal Maureen Binenda to greet the students and begin this motivational assembly.

A video clip was shown from the show “You’ve Got Talent”, a takeoff on the American Idol via England, featuring Susan Boyle, the unexpected winner of the show who, when she sang, “blew the audience” away with an outstanding performance.  When asked why she didn’t perform before she responded “I never had the chance." Thus Principal Binienda seized upon the moment and told the students that is what AP is all about; giving you the chance to change your life.

Starting this year, South High now offers 18 AP courses and even though there has been an increase in the number of students taking AP courses, the rate of passing has kept up with the enrollment. 

The highlight of the assembly was the big announcement by Principal Binienda, “South High beat all the other schools in the district with its AP scores, and by 40 points.”  The news set off a wild yell from the student body. 

As part of the motivational rally, four AP students, Kejs Aliko, Kimberly Truong, Edwin Tran, and Nicauris Heredia, spoke about their AP course work and gave advice to their peers.  The general advice was be fearless; tough it out and nothing is impossible if you stick to it.  All stated that the school staff was there for them when they needed assistance. The students also complemented Principal Binienda for encouraging them to move forward.

The Worcester Public Schools Secondary Schools have partnered with Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) and College Board to bring high quality professional development to all secondary teachers and students.  The program from MMSI provides extensive training for AP and pre-AP teachers, additional student preparation, and performance-based financial incentives for students and teachers. Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative also is involved at North High, Worcester Tech, Burncoat and has added Claremont Academy this year.

John Mahoney, a member of the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative, was introduced at the rally and highlighted the school’s achievements.  He stated that there continues to be an increase in participation, for there was a four year growth of 16% enrollments in AP math, science and in English…a 100% increase.  South High showed a three year increase of 85% AP math, science and English qualifying scores. 

The Saturday study sessions, a mandated program for AP students at South High, had attendance over 75%.  Mr. Mahoney acknowledged that the overall improvement the last few years at South High has been remarkable.    He also affirmed to the South High AP students at the rally that according to College Admission directors’ course selection/grades in College Prep Courses (AP courses) is the number one criteria for admission to college. 

For those readers not familiar with Advanced Placement, here is a simple definition.  It is a university level freshmen course that you take in high school. There is a national exam at the end of the course and it is the same exam for all students in the nation.  Scores on the exam range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, and you need a 3 or higher to earn college credit while still in high school.  Most important, AP allows you to compete for college admission with students from all over the country. 

AP teachers involved in the program receive a stipend for the many hours they put in on professional development and working with the students as tutors outside the school. Students, on the other hand, receive $100 for each Math, Science, and English Exam score of 3 or higher. This year over $1900 was awarded to the students. In addition, there are several other incentives built into the program. All of the incentives come from the Massachusetts Math and Science initiative.

Lisa Dyer, Manger of Staff Development office, and who oversees the AP programs in all schools stated South High School made significant gains this past year, in their AP program particularly, with closing the achievement gap. This is clearly due to an all out effort by the teachers to reach out to underrepresented students to encourage them to enroll in the AP courses and support them along the way. Here is some significant evidence:
·Of the Latino students who took an AP course last year, 64% passed the test. That is a 300% increase from last year.
·Of all the 5's from all the AP exams, Latino students had the highest number.
·South High is # 6 in Massachusetts for Latinos AP qualifying scores
·South High is # 1 in minority representation in AP statistics
·Of the English Language Learners students that took an AP course, 55% passed the AP tests.

Mrs. Dyer went on to say that, “The plan this year is to reach out and help the other schools focus on underrepresented students as well. South High is leading the way to help others understand that ALL students with encouragement and support can reach high levels of achievement."

Students really do perform at the expectation we set for them… Our AP students have taught us a few lessons: When we allow students to choose for themselves – they often choose the more rigorous path. As a result, when we bring this rigor to the lower grades – our students will be further prepared and our qualifying scores will increase even more.”

What is happening across the system is that more rigor continues to escalate each year. The South High model is fine example of what we as a system can accomplish.


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