Bay City Central High School works with Harvard University to improve curriculum

By Lindsay Knake on

BAY CITY, MI — Bay City Central High School and Harvard University are not two schools one usually uses in the same sentence, says the high school’s principal.
But this year, 15 Central High School teachers and administrators are working with the Cambridge, Mass. university staff to improve their curriculum, said Principal Tim Marciniak.
The collaboration is a result of Bay City Central’s use of the Great Expectations professional development program, said Assistant Principal Don Clark.
Oklahoma-based Great Expectations for five years has trained teachers at Central High School, and result is a change in Central’s culture, Marciniak said.
The first years of the program were dedicated to creating a learning environment that best promotes learning, and that includes teacher-student relationships and mutual respect, Clark said.
Students use common courtesy by calling one another by name and speak in full sentences.
“It really makes a difference,” Marciniak said.
Now the school is focus on Great Expectations’ next academic step: Rigor.
It’s not more homework and more pages to read, Clark said. 
“That could go in the busywork column,” he said.
Great Expectations has defined 17 classroom practices, including a focus on critical thinking, topics integrated with real world examples, co-curricular learning and teachers staying on their feet to engage students.
Textbooks become a resource, not the class guide, Clark said. Instead of reading about Benjamin Franklin’s letters, the students read them and analyze them. Students also would apply algebraic principals to construction to have a real-world understanding of the subject.
Throughout the class, teachers constantly check in with their students to insure the students understand the material instead just checking through a test, he said.
Teachers also purposefully teach vocabulary to all grades. 
Great Expectations primarily has worked with elementary schools, and also works with Harvard University to collect data to see how the program is working.
Central High School is one of the first secondary schools Great Expectations is working with, Marciniak said, and Harvard will look at the impact of the program at Central.
Three teams of five Central High School teachers are creating exemplar lessons for the classroom, and will work with Harvard faculty to refine the lessons.
“Teachers have really given their time. That speaks volumes,” Clark said.
The groups now are in planning stages, and in the fall will focus on research and development. In the winter, teachers will implement the lessons. Harvard faculty will observe the lessons and critique the lessons, which could be four to five days each.
Next spring, Marciniak said, he hopes Central High School will have progressive school status in Great Expectations’ program, meaning it is a model high school. It would be the first high school in the country with that status.
The professional development has helped Central High School improve academics. Michigan Merit Exam scores are up, Marciniak said, and the school improved 19 percent in the state’s top-to-bottom ranking.