Michael Doran, who is beginning his fifth year as principal at Wootton High School, wants to increase achievement for students at all points along the academic spectrum.
"We’ve done well academically with students in the sense that they’re scoring at the top end of the county scale. It’s a high-achieving school," he said. "What we’re focusing on is those students, though a minority in numbers, that haven’t been as successful."
Academically "vulnerable" eighth-graders at Wootton’s feeder schools are targeted for one-on-one staff mentoring, tutoring from their high-achieving peers, and a summer program that teaches academic success strategies, such as study skills and note-taking. The students are also encouraged to get involved in after-school activities.
"Research shows that if you have a bad ninth-grade year, it’s difficult to get back on track," said Doran. "If they have a good first year in terms of grades and after-school activities, then you have something to build on."
Passing scores on the state's High School Assessments (HSAs) will be a high school graduation requirement beginning with the current sophomore class. This makes remediation for low-scoring students especially vital this year.
"Now it’s the real thing," said Doran of the tests which had previously not been binding.
Wootton administrators are also working to push their accomplished students even higher.
"We’ve done better on the [Advanced Placement tests] than almost anyone in the county," said Doran. He noted that Wootton has achieved a rare accomplishment in increasing the number of students taking exams and simultaneously increasing the pass rate.
Two new Academies are being added to Wootton’s Signature Program: the Education Academy and the Academy of Information Technology. The school's current special programs include the Humanities Signature Program; the Science, Technology and Research Scholars Program; and the College Institute, in which students can earn college credit through dual enrollment with Montgomery College. Doran said the academies attract both high-level students and mid-level students with strong interest in the subject area.
"We have B and C students who would also make wonderful teachers," he said.
Doran wants to see more girls enroll in the IT Academy. He noted that though "girls are beating the pants off the boys in science," few sign up for high-level computer classes. He said this is unfortunate since Wootton’s program allows students to achieve industry certifications so that they can get a high-paying job straight out of high school if they choose. In order to work toward increasing the number of girls in IT, Wootton instituted a computer summer camp for rising ninth-grade girls.
Wootton has 30 new teachers this year. Doran said that there were a large number of retirements, and that some of the younger teachers decided to go back to school for more certifications. He said that long commutes also led some to leave Wootton for schools closer to home.
"We lost four or five teachers because Clarksburg and Poolesville had openings, and they live out there," he said. "The people we’re losing are sometimes very good people."
Doran said he’d like to see the county find a solution to increase affordable housing for teachers.
STUART LEVIN is beginning his first year as PTA president of Wootton High. He was a PTA representative for the Wootton cluster for 10 years and coordinator of the cluster for two. He has two children in the school system.
Levin said that PTA membership dues largely go toward funding grants for staff and faculty.
"That grant may be going to seminars or higher-level learning, and [the teachers] bring back what they’ve learned to the classroom," he said. "We also furnish a dollar amount to the principal at the end of every year, so he can deposit that in a discretionary fund and use it to enhance academics at the school level."
For example, last year the PTA funded seminars for Advanced Placement teachers to learn about the newest version of the annual AP tests.
Levin said that his goal this year is to "maintain and continue the high level of learning that the school has established over the past years."
"We have several Signature Programs at the school that we will help maintain, such as the College Institute, where seniors leave the school and go to Montgomery College for college-level credit."
Another priority is promoting internships between Wootton High and the business community.
"For example, an aspiring doctor can hook up with CVS Pharmacy and become a pharmacy technician," he said. "That person can literally get on-the-job training concerning medication."