Jim Argent is wrapping up his second year as principal of Knightdale High School, the school’s first under a reboot as a school of collaborative design.
The school’s graduation rate in 2015, Argent’s first year as principal, was up 7 percent over 2014, and, at 88.8 percent, it was higher than the Wake County Public School System district average of 86.1 percent, which was the district’s highest rate ever, according to WCPSS figures.
And Argent said the school year ending June 10 has been even better, with out-of-school suspensions down.
“I’ve seen tremendous growth in the school community this year,” Argent said, “and I feel like we’re heading in such a positive direction.”
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The importance of the redesign, he said, was to ensure students are learning skills that businesses need, especially the ability to work together.
“What we have done with this design,” Argent said, “is try to work on this year building high-quality relationships with students, between students and students, between staff and students, so that they feel comfortable in working with and collaborating with others.”
Argent said that as students become more comfortable with the redesign, the school will increasingly move toward project-based learning, with the teacher as more of a “facilitator” instead of a lecturer in front of the class. “What year one was truly focused on was the implementation of a philosophy called ‘capturing kids’ hearts,’ which is all about building relationships,” he said.
“Our students feel safe, Argent said. “They feel nurtured. They feel like teachers care about them. And once you have that environment, students are willing to work really hard to achieve academically.”
Haley McCall, a senior, said she has noticed a difference in how involved teachers are with their students. “Teachers look a lot more happy to be teaching here and collaborating with students on assignments,” she said.
Andre Willis, a senior who plans to major in criminal justice at St. Augustine’s University, took advantage of a forensic science class at Knightdale this year. “That enabled me to take classes to better me and prepare me for my college major,” Willis said.
The motto at the top of the school’s website – “Every Student College Ready” – means that every student should have the option to go to college, Argent said, whether or not the student elects to go straight from high school to college. Those same skills that prepare students for college are invaluable, too, for those who decide to go straight into the workforce or the military after high school, he said.
“Even going into the workforce and into the military,” Argent said, “you have to have a college-ready mind-set because of the professional learning and professional development that almost every industry requires and that the military certainly requires and that a two-year institution or a four-year institution certainly requires.”
Part of the redesign has been the installation of collaborative spaces in the halls, open areas where students can gather outside the classroom to work together, and Argent said teachers have increasingly incorporated these spaces as the school year has gone on.
“Supervision at first and trust with students at first was a little bit of a barrier,” he said. “I think once we built those quality relationships, teachers started trusting students to go out there and to work, and to not just go out there and hang out or to listen to their phone or what have you.”
Argent added that he’s seen teachers move toward creating their own collaborative spaces in the classroom as the idea catches on.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826