Yesterday on NPR’s Here and Now, Robin Young spoke to Brain Dale, Principal of Manual High School in Denver, regarding their new schedule with a longer school day and year. Students at Manual High, an inner city school comprising of 60 percent Hispanic and 40 percent African-America students, 96 percent of which receive free or reduced lunch, are already back in the classroom learning. In 2006 however, the school was shut down due to low test scores and falling enrollment. It reopened the next year but this time, with “Innovation Status”. This status, awarded by the state board of education, allows a school some freedoms that traditional schools do not have, including around their budgeting, staffing, and curriculum.
Principal Dale recognized that his students were coming to the school two, sometimes three, grade levels behind their peers in other schools. Dramatic achievement gaps between white students and African American students continued to persists and it became clear that the traditional school calendar was not allowing the students of Manual High the time they needed to succeed. As a response, they added an hour to the day and 50 more days to the school year, making their school year 210 days. They adopted a “learn it to live it” mentality where departments build a curriculum that leads to off-campus experiences such as visiting college campuses or historical sites that relate back to lessons learned in the classroom.
We know that school transformation is hard work. When done well, the results are inspiring, and Manual High is no different. They have not only changed their school calendar but their school culture has shifted as well for the better. Over a hundred years ago, Manual High was built to train manual labor workers. Today, the school has a whole new attitude; Manual High trains scholars and revolutionaries who are taught that with hard work and dedication, achievement and opportunity gaps can be overcome. School leaders look at education reform through the lens of social justice, and from what the sounds of it, this is just the beginning of the change that will be coming out of Manual High.