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Students from William Smith High School.

Students from William Smith High School.

How a small Aurora high school found itself in select company

An Aurora high school that puts a premium on teacher training has been recognized in an annual report that makes a point of looking beyond test scores to evaluate public schools.

William Smith High School was among 20 schools nationwide singled out Monday in the annual Schools of Opportunity report published by the National Education Policy Center, a think-tank based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

William Smith has “pilot” status in APS, which means that the school has increased autonomy around curriculum and how teachers spend their time. The latter is what caught the attention of the report’s authors:

Every Friday afternoon is allotted for developing the projects that drive student learning. Teachers use the time to collaborate with co-teachers and professionals in the field, or in whole and small group guided work. Additionally, days are built into the calendar to accommodate all-day workshops and retreats, and Wednesday morning meetings allow the staff to connect and discuss events and ideas.

William Smith educates about 300 students. The school serves a slightly less at-risk population than some of the district’s other high schools. More than two-thirds of all students are either black or Hispanic. About 57 percent qualify for federally subsidized lunches. Students at the school have generally outpaced the district on the state’s standardized tests and the ACT.

The report is framed as an alternative way of assessing schools. Instead of relying only on data from standardized tests, applicants for the recognition went through four levels of screening including an in-person evaluation.

Evaluators looked at the school’s culture, curriculum, assessments and teacher training.

Another Colorado school also made the list: New Vista High in Boulder. You can learn more about the project and the other 18 schools recognized here.

Support for the Schools of Opportunity project comes from the Ford Foundation and the National Education Association Foundation, affiliated with the nation’s largest teachers union.