Gold medal

Derby High School was one of only five schools from across the nation which was recognized this past week as a Gold Medal school during a “Focus on Freshmen” conference hosted in Los Angeles by The George Washington University’s Freshman Transition Leadership Institute. Shown from left, with the award, are Beth Lankford and Robert Rhodes, DHS teachers; Dain Blanton, an Olympic Gold Medalist who brought his motivational presentation to DHS this past year; Chris Foster, Carrie Sharpe and Brett Flory, DHS teachers; and DHS Principal Tim Hamblin.

After its first year, a new Derby High School class has already earned national recognition.

During a conference in Los Angeles this past week, DHS was one of five schools in the nation to be recognized as a Gold Medal school for exhibited outstanding leadership in an innovative academic program. Three of the five schools were from California. The fourth was from New York.

DHS Principal Tim Hamblin, along with a handful of teachers, attended the seventh annual Focus on Freshmen sconference. They were honored for their work with Success 101, a required course offered to freshmen at DHS for the first time this past year.

Chris Foster, the lead teacher of Success 101 at DHS, was one of four teachers at the conference to be given the Teacher of Excellence award.

“As a team, we are very proud of the fact that our hard work and patience has led to – and put in place – a course that will benefit our students throughout their lives,” Hamblin said. “We truly believe the information contained and delivered in this program is information that has been missing from our curriculum and is vital to each of our student’s success in life.”

Success 101 utilizes a team of DHS teachers from a variety of disciplines to reach three goals among high school students: preventing dropouts, creating college and career readiness for graduates and teaching financial literacy.

The program, under the leadership of Hamblin, has been in planning for more than two years. He discovered the curriculum idea – called “Career Choices” – from Academic Innovations, which held the conference Derby attended this past week.

“Our team spent two years developing the entire program that is very unique to the needs of our students,” Hamblin said. “In other words, we used a little piece of their information but added to it and made it our own.”

With statistics showing that nearly 70 percent of students who drop out make the decision to do so by the winter break of ninth grade, Success 101 is designed to ensure that does not occur.

“The class began as we thought about how to increase the graduation rate at Derby High School,” Hamblin said. “In my research, much evidence showed that the most critical year in the high school experience, or the year that has the greatest influence on the decisions students make to drop out or remain in school, is the freshman year.”

Success 101 was piloted at DHS for a semester in 2012, then put into the curriculum in fall 2013.

“As originally planned after one year, the team teaching the course met to reflect and review the course objectives, successes and failures,” Hamblin said.

Now, the class is required for every freshman as an elective credit.

“After two years of research and development, the course we developed at DHS incorporated portions of the ‘Career Choices’ curriculum (developed by Academic Innovations) and many other activities, assessments and strategies unique to Derby High School,” he said.

The program includes an online component called “My 10-year Plan” which is accessible by teachers, administrators and counselors and allows students to self-monitor their goals. Part of the curriculum helps students with day-to-day activities, encourages basic etiquette and helps with job hunting skills.

The class will continue beyond the ninth grade with students engaging in supplemental programs containing 16 lessons during students’ sophomore, junior and senior years. Students will also revisit their 10-year plan and make adjustments due to changes in personal or career interests, Hamblin said.

“The feedback we have received has been outstanding from students taking the course, and parents, staff and students that wished they could take the course,” Hamblin said. “We have had many schools come to observe our program and we welcome more.”