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Posted on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 9:05 a.m.

Redesigned Ypsilanti High School focused on student achievement

By Janet Miller


Spanish teacher Barbara Martin, left, asks Ypsilanti junior Chloe Gasiciel a vocabulary question during a game of vocabulary musical chairs at Ypsilanti High School on Oct. 10. Martin was on the planning commission for the redesign of Ypsilanti High School's academic and curricular revamping this fall, which split the school into two smaller academies.

Angela J. Cesere |

For Ypsilanti High School, bigger isn’t better.

When the 775 ninth through 12th graders returned to class last month, it was to a markedly different school: YHS had been divided — physically and academically — into two smaller schools within the school, the Global Leadership and Public Policy Academy and the Improvisational Academy.

With the help of educational consultants EdWorks, the district redesigned the high school, creating two smaller learning communities. The traditional 55-minute class periods were replaced by 90-minute classes organized around a block schedule. And expectations for students and teachers were raised, said new Principal Robert Belous, whose career history includes working with poorly performing schools. EdWorks will continue to work with teachers throughout the school year.

The days of tardy and unprepared students, students wandering the halls between classes and teachers without lesson plans are over, said Belous. “We’re changing expectations and we’ve had conversations with students, parents and staff. Students are here to get an education.”

As one of the state’s Persistently Low Achieving Schools (PLA), the Ypsilanti School District was required to submit and implement a plan to turn the high school around. The plan had to address not only academics but also the learning environment.

Not everyone is open to change. The district projected high school enrollment at 840, but enrollment fell 65 students short. District officials have said the changes at YHS could have scared some families away.


Ypsilanti junior Alexis Stallings, left, and senior Bryan Fortson look over a chapter in their Spanish books during class at Ypsilanti High School on Oct. 10. Ypsilanti High School underwent a complete academic and curricular revamping this fall, splitting the school into two smaller academies.

Angela J. Cesere |

Many of the changes address school environment: Penalties for fighting are now consistent, students said. Last year, when YHS saw a revolving door of principals - three in the course of the school year - the penalty for school fights kept changing, said LaVonte Davis, a junior. “At first it was 10 days (suspension) and then it was 60. Now, we all know it’s a fine and court.” The tough, clear policy has cut down on fights, Davis said.

Expectations also are higher, Spanish teacher Barbara Martin said about the planning committee for the redesigned high school. “We have raised the bar for students: You will turn in your homework and you will not get credit if you’ve only done 49 percent any more,” she said.

Raised expectations are not just for students, they have been raised for teachers, too, she said. In her seven years teaching at YHS, Martin said she was never asked to submit a lesson plan. Until now. Teachers are now required to submit weekly lesson plans to the high school administration. That’s good news, she said.

It’s already shown results, students said. “I’m learning more,” said Emily Bearman, a senior. “And it’s not just busy work. Last year, we saw a lot of movies and were told to take notes.” Not so this year, she said. There have been no movies.

The new block schedule with 90-minute classes has meant more time for teaching, Belous said. With 55-minute classes, the first five to seven minutes were spent bringing the class to order, with the next few minutes spent on taking attendance. That left less than 40 minutes for actual teaching, Belous said.

But the biggest change was dividing the school into two academies, allowing teachers to get to know students personally.

“Teachers need to get to know more than just their student’s names,” Belous said. “They need to know their likes, what makes them tick, what’s happening at home. The staff and administration greet the kids as they get off the bus, we’re there between classes and staff volunteers to eat their lunch with students, not to sit and correct them but to have a conversation. We let them know we are there to help them succeed, that we are more than just teachers.”

There are 18 teachers in each academy, which act like two teams and help create more individualized attention, Belous said. “There’s a strong research base that it’s better when there are smaller groups of individuals responsible for smaller groups of students. If there’s an absence, everyone knows the student is absent. If a student isn’t doing well, everyone knows the student isn’t doing well.”

The same curriculum is delivered in both academies, with Global Leadership focused through a worldview lens, Martin said, and the Improvisational Academy leaning toward the arts and problem solving. Global Learning is located on the lower level, with Improvisational on the main floor. Seniors are not part of either academy, but attend classes in both. Still, the academy model isn’t fully developed, and much of the curriculum remains the same in both, Belous said. “The academies are not as pure as we want,” he said.

Eventually, Belous would like to give students a third option and add an ROTC academy to the high school. YHS has 200 students in its ROTC program, making it one of the largest in the area, Belous. While an ROTC would offer the same core curriculum, it would have a more military culture and structure, he said. “For now, it’s a long-term pipe dream.”



Tue, Nov 1, 2011 : 11:20 p.m.

Hm. I admire how you stand up for your work place YHSTeacher. However, I heard that the homecoming dance was nearly canceled this year due to students fighting. It didn't make the news though. Odd. It's okay though....the word is on the street.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

@shephard145: I won't insult you by accusing you of never dealing with teenagers, but it does seem like you have never (a) dealt with at-risk youth and (b) never taught in a public school. While you have a good list of cures and end results that are indeed ideal solutions, what we really need are graphic and to the point of good sex ed and prevention classes (keep in mind The Netherlands have a practically zero unwanted pregnancy rate and thus a low to zero "procedure" rate and that is due in part to their uncensored sex ed commercials and classes - we can take a lesson from them). There is one solution. But, seriously, replace parents? And you will implement this how? I'm not arguing some parents (or lack of) is a problem, but good luck replacing them and good luck finding people who are standing in line to be replacements even if that were legal. As for not voting for "morons", I didn't, however, we seem to have several in office (not mentioning a single name so there should not be a deleting of my comment).


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

As a core class (math, science, English, social studies) teacher at YHS, I have been asked for my lesson plans on a regular basis. I have always kept them on my desk and available like my contract outlines that I must. To suggest that teachers were not required to keep or did not complete lesson plans is laughable to anyone who has had any experience in the classroom. The change is that the administration team at the building is now responsible for reading them on a more regular basis so that they can better see what goes on in the classrooms. This is an excellent improvement in communication! The expectations have been raised for students both academically (with the adoption of the Common Core Standards and the elimination of the 49% instead of a 0%) and behaviorally. There is a new PBIS program here and students are more often rewarded for positive and correct behavior than punished for their bad choices. This has created a different, more positive feel to the building. Last week, a colleague of mine asked a young man to please put his cell phone away during passing time. The young man began to act defiantly, but then, all of the students around him demanded that he put his phone up and respect the teacher, one that he did not know. This is the real change. The credit goes not to a new administration, "better" teachers, or consultants, but to the students. They are creating a world at YHS. I have always believed in our student population, despite the shots the local media and many posters often take at their expenses. It has been too easy for too many years for too many of our students to loose confidence in themselves because they come from "Ypsi." I have never seen it that way. I will one day trust our students with my future. They are rising to the challenge. YHS is changing. Not in the ways the article above makes it seem. These things are nice, but not as powerful as the attitudes and efforts of the student

Gretchen Ridenour

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 4:56 p.m.

"Redesigned Ypsilanti High School focused on student achievement", "Expectations for students and teachers were raised", "The days of tardy and unprepared students, students wandering the halls between classes and teachers without lesson plans are over", "Students are here to get an education", "Penalties for fighting are now consistent". Really? I'm not an educator, but the statements above should be minimal standards for any educational setting. I'm shocked that changes in administration and the addition of a consulting group were necessary to outline such basic concepts. And for those who are "not open to change", I wonder why they would settle to be a Persistently Low Achieving Schools.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

10dz, can you name any specifics of the 'culture' that you blame? Anything in particular? That's a pretty broad abstract concept to blame.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 3:50 a.m.

Wow, 775 students? When I graduated from YHS in 1978 my class size was 560 and we had over 2,000 in the High School.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 3 a.m.

Dump the teachers union and replace parents with educated guardians and then you will see changes. Later - avoid poverty by finishing high school, avoid having a baby, get married before having children and stay married. Do those things and your chances of living in poverty later drop to something like 8%. ...oh, and stop voting for morons.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

" . . . and replace parents with educated guardians " Shep dislikes big government . . . except when he likes it. Good Night and Good Luck

K Thompson

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

Sorry, misunderstood role if parents>guarduans, but education plan still unclear.

K Thompson

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

Not helpful to attack and condemn when new efforts are bring made. Your comments are not about designing a curriculum or about instruction, so off topic. Your solution, using parents, though possible, would not be an accredited or public school. It is a different option. This article is about improving the public school that exists now.


Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:02 a.m.

Great start on addressing systemic problems. I hope the YHS community is successfull in growing and improving the educational experience for its students. The public school system has been failing a large segment of lower income students for too long. This type of reform is long over due.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

I remember when the high school opened in the early '70's. They were so proud of it in Ypsi; but when they told me it was all to be "open classrooms without borders" I thought it was a disaster in the making. I'm glad to hear they are trying to improve it now. Best of luck (said without irony) to all involved!


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

They've got nowhere to go but up ! Good Day


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Good luck. Changing the culture in Ypsilanti will be the biggest challenge. Getting Teachers and parents to buy in will be the toughest part. The students will follow the lead of the adults.