Education Our Way: How the #1 Public High School in the State Does Things Differently
In Building T on the Florida SouthWestern State College, you will find a high school that is not like any other high school in state. Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School-Lee (FSWC-Lee) has decided to do education their way, and it is working with a number one ranking according to the Florida Department of Education. Dr. Brian Botts, principal of FSWC-Lee, states, “We believe we are the on-ramp to a student’s academic future. We take that very seriously.”
Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) has two early college high schools, one located on their Charlotte campus and Lee campus. Both schools were designed as an early college experience where students learn the requisite skills in a small school setting for their ninth and tenth grade, and matriculate to FSW for a full-time early admission college program where students can earn an associate of arts degree before they graduate high school. Within the state, early admissions or collegiate programs are on the rise but programs like FSWC - Lee take this concept to another level. Just a few minutes of chatting with a student, teacher, or staff member will help one see that they are deliberately creating an environment that supports students who are “naturally inquisitive, pay attention to detail, and wants to ask and answer compelling questions” to excel.
“Student success comes at the intersection of what the parents want with the student’s idea of ‘I want to be successful’” states Dr. Botts. “We believe in a growth and grades mindset. It’s too shallow of a goal to simply strive for the A’s or the B’s but not willing to grow academically and personally. If I had to pick a focus, it would be on getting students to grow as young academics….If a student trusts and invests in our process and allows the growth to happen, the grades will come.”
Written on the walls of the school is the school’s slogan of “Work to Learn; Learn to Lead” which is a cornerstone to what they do every day from their physical education class to world history. By creating a rich interconnected curriculum that is data driven and evidence-based, teachers are able to use meaningful student data to inform instruction. In an open enrollment system where anyone can apply, we need to know what types of support our students will need; as an example, “One of our teachers went through and pulled all data for students who completed our program with an AA degree. This process helped us know and plan for the reality that students who didn’t have a 3 or higher on their seventh-grade math end-of-course exam will need extra support to succeed.” Besides looking at this large-scale type of data for programmatic decisions, they do the same thing when looking at student learning outcomes in a course or grade level. Our teachers analyze and discuss daily where students are weak and need additional assistance. They then adjust their instruction or provide additional peer tutoring support to hone in on the needed skills so the students are successful,” explains Dr. Botts on how their teachers approach instructional decisions differently. “Unlike large schools, we are able to be flexible to individual student needs and provide tasks that they are ready for, not what some standardized curriculum demands.”
Besides a number one ranking in the state, the school’s focus on college-readiness skills is working and paying off in big ways. Recently, Florida Gulf Coast announced that students who graduate from one of the FSW Collegiate High Schools with their AA degree will receive a $5,000 a year scholarship for up to three years. Last year the two schools had a combined $10 million worth of scholarships and alumni have attended top Ivy League schools and many in-state and out-of-state colleges. “In the end, what makes us unique is that we believe in the 3 C’s; Critical thinking, Communication, and Collaboration. With those, our students will be successful in and out of school.”