Leading a 4000-student, three-building high school during a budget crisis while introducing Common Core standards and closing academic achievement gaps takes a certain kind of steel. Assuming the principalship in 2008, Dr. Robert McBride cut through the obstacles with a message of “simplicity, clarity, and coherence.”
The first step was to identify four key skills students needed to master: developing arguments, acquiring academic vocabulary, making inferences, and drawing conclusions from multiple data points. Across disciplines, grade levels, and buildings, small professional learning communities threaded these skills into everything they taught. The resulting leaps in achievement by students in subgroups of low-income, African American, and special education affirmed the effectiveness of their work.
Now in his tenth year, Principal McBride has overseen seven consecutive years of ACT growth, increased numbers of students, especially minority students, in AP course work and testing, and increased numbers of National Merit Semifinalists.
To address societal challenges and instances of student anxiety, depression, and suicide. Dr. McBride and school staff provided social and emotional safety and support for students. A key step was to tweak the “class house” structure. Students at Neuqua Valley were organized by grade level, each with a dean, a guidance counselor, and a social worker, and students moved from house to house each year. Dr. McBride arranged for house personnel to move with their students too, enabling students to be known by their dean, guidance counselor, and social worker.
He and staff also reformed the discipline structure, adding resources, changing consequences, and partnering with a local youth agency, reducing the number of monthly discipline infractions and suspensions to almost single digits, despite the large student body. To engage parents as part of the “neighborhood,” Dr. McBride founded ParentsMatter Too, a parent network and website. Part of the Naperville non-profit KidsMatter, ParentsMatter Too connects parents to local news and expert resources and engages parents in discussions about teen risk behaviors. Communications with parents encompass Twitter, phone calls, newsletters, Google, school websites, and invitations to personal tours of the school and frank discussions.
Expanded student leadership roles include opportunities for students to train to lead PE classes as seniors to disabled students, to participate in Student Council, and to take a blended face-to-face and online leadership course.
An online educational consortium among Neuqua Valley and five other area high schools offers students a more individualized experience, and Neuqua Valley students have embraced the opportunity, accounting for three-quarters of online course enrollment. And as the state’s heaviest educational user of Google Drive and Google Suite, Neuqua Valley gives students online access to all coursework and materials through 1:1 devices.
Dr. McBride is also active outside of his high school. He has participated in numerous district level projects and initiatives, including teacher evaluation committees and a grant project with educator Charlotte Danielson. He worked with other district principals to create a summer “bridge” program to ready students for the upcoming school year. At the request of the Regional Superintendent, Dr. McBride has chaired the DuPage County High School Principals since 2009. The Illinois Principals Association recently awarded Dr. McBride the Building Community Bridges Award for his work with ParentsMatter Too.
Embracing Neuqua Valley High School’s long-standing “first-name” culture whole-heartedly, he attends countless school and community events and knows not only students’ names, but their interests and accomplishments.