Following a legend isnt easy but T.C. Williams High School Principal Mel Riddile has done so with grace and style while quietly making his own mark on the school.
He came to the school last July with unsurpassed credentials: the National Principal of the Year; a sought-after conference speaker and with the turn-around of JEB Stuart High School to his credit. And yet, many of his students still thought of John Porter as their principal.
John is a legend and the kids still see him around and he is still very important to them, Riddile said. That is understandable.
But next year, there will be a group of sophomores who dont remember Porter as their principal and a new building. Riddile has spent this year putting academic programs in place to take advantage of that new facility but not focusing on the building itself.
I could have waited until next year when we get into the new building and I could have spent my time focused on the structure. I decided to let others focus on the building and put my attention into making T.C. a stronger school academically. The building will come and it is in good hands. I have never worked with a more competent construction manager than Mark Burke. I have every confidence that the building will be ready in time for our teachers to return in August and for our students in September, Riddile said.
This year, though, there has been much preparation. All of our teachers are fully trained on the use of Blackboard, he said. Blackboard is a web-based program that allows teachers to post curriculums and tests and allows parents to follow their childs progress throughout the year. It also allows students to communicate with their teachers.
About half of our students had at least one class that was paperless and that is going to increase next year. Now, we have 15 classrooms that are fully wireless and, in the new building, we will have 138.
I dont expect T.C. to be completely paperless that was never the goal but you will see more and more teachers going to a paperless environment as they become familiar with the technology, Riddile said. Our Earth Sciences staff is already doing amazing things with their technology.
Improving Standards of Learning scores is important because of accreditation and, of course, the federal No Child Left Behind Act. We now have a team leader for each of our 11 SOLs. These teams work together to prepare lesson plans and to ensure that every student is receiving the same content. For example, if one section of Earth Science is having a test, the other sections will have the same test on the same day. The order of the questions will be different for the different sections but each test will contain all of the same questions. Teachers can then evaluate which question is causing most of the students problems and teach more of that content area, Riddile said.
Also, teachers have been asked to look at the way they are teaching classes. There should be a beginning, middle and an end to each class period, Riddile said. We dont want to take away a teachers creativity but we do want to ensure that every student is being taught the same material.
One of Riddiles goals was to reduce absenteeism. I believe we have increased attendance by a percentage or so, he said. We dont yet have all of the numbers. For next year, we have hired an additional social worker and we believe that the new academy environments will also help.
We want to look at teacher attendance as well and I have asked the human resources department for that information. If a teacher is here teaching, it is more likely that the student will be here learning, he said.
Literacy is one of Riddiles major concerns. Today, 92 percent of all jobs require postsecondary education. We still have kids that are graduating who are functionally illiterate. That is unacceptable. My goal is that 100 percent of all of our students are reading on grade level: thats really what No Child Left Behind is all about, he said.
To that end, he has implemented Achieve 3000 and Read 180. While these programs are technology-based, they are not completely dependent on technology. Students will still have to read real books. They can simply take quizzes on what they have read on their laptops, Riddile said.
And what about those laptops? Riddile acknowledges that some school districts around the country are discarding the concept of providing a computer to every student. We have come a long way and we still have some distance to go but we are integrating the laptops into the curriculum and, as the city goes wireless, they will be even more useful. Next year, every student should be able to use the Internet from home, he said.
T.C. has just undergone an audit of its Advance Placement courses and all of them have been accredited. We arent going to add any additional AP courses next year but we are going to offer our students the opportunity to enroll in Virtual High School, he said. This will allow students to enroll in 13 additional courses, on-line, without our having to hire additional teachers.
Students will be able to use study hall for this purpose and could even take an additional course at home. In addition to Virtual High School, Riddile hopes to expand T.C.s relationship with Northern Virginia Community College.
Right now, we have agreements with NOVA in a number of Career and Technical Education areas, he said. My goal is that, eventually, every 12th grade English class will be taught through NOVA, giving each student three hours of college credit, he said.
There will be new faces at T.C. next year, but no more than usual. About 10 percent of the teachers are leaving. Thats fairly typical of an urban school and a couple less than left last year, Riddile said. People are leaving for a variety of reasons: retirement, leaving the area and accepting new jobs.
As to student involvement, Riddile instituted an Executive Council this year, comprised of representatives from each class, clubs and the Student Council Association. Next year we are going to expand that and have Academy Councils as well. I met with the Executive Council about once every five or six weeks and we accomplished a lot. Next year, even more students will be able to be involved in some type of leadership role here.