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Dedicated Leaders Increase Student, Teacher Engagement

Encouraging all students – not a select few – to take AP courses wasn’t a common practice at Skyline High School. Through a partnership with the Oakland, California, school, NMSI helped break down barriers so more students have equitable access to high-level courses.  Now, Skyline is on track to boost Latino and African-American student enrollment in AP classes by 20 percent in one school year.

This major shift doesn’t happen with one person. NMSI worked with Skyline to create a dedicated leadership team with administrators, teachers and counselors collaborating toward a common goal.

“Everything I’ve touched related to NMSI is valuable,” says Justin Anderson, Skyline assistant principal and NMSI leadership team member. “All the support and resources and training opportunities we can provide teachers and students through NMSI is really out of scope of what we can do with the general budget.”

The multilevel leadership team, along with NMSI study sessions, let students know they don’t need to shy away from AP classes because they have the support they need, says Ayo Akatugba, AP Physics C teacher and NMSI leadership team member.



Anderson adopts the mindset that all students can take all classes if given the opportunity. It starts with an increase in student confidence, which he attributes to the “NMSI vision and building that vision through the teachers that trickles down to students.”

With teacher buy-in, students are more aware of NMSI study sessions and are signing up in the fall for the AP exam rather than waiting until a few months prior to the test date in May. This seemingly simple shift creates stronger investment from students, says Michael Knox, AP English teacher and NMSI leadership team member. “Students really enjoy the study sessions, which have good instructors and worthwhile materials,” he says.

Akatugba adds, “Because of NMSI, our students are better prepared for college, and they are working really hard.”

Counselor Nanci Román Gonzalez, also part of the NMSI leadership team, understands the unique role counselors have in driving student success. Before the NMSI partnership, certain AP classes were assigned to specific pathways, and only students within a particular pathway had access to those courses. Counselors also were previously familiar only with their assigned pathways. Now, AP classes are open to all, and counselors are working closer together to make sure the students they’re assigned to know about the opportunities available.

Another strategy implemented with the NMSI partnership is beginning earlier conversations about AP courses. Román Gonzalez says counselors now speak with 10th-graders about AP classes to address concerns and fears. This year, Skyline has its first ninth-grade counselor spreading the word about AP. “By catching them earlier, we’re doing transcript audits and making sure they get ready to solidify those skillsets to help them see that AP is an option,” Gonzalez says. 

Like counselors, Skyline’s AP teachers used to operate in siloes. NMSI encouraged teachers to align not only horizontally across a grade level, but also vertically so teachers understand where students are coming from in the previous grade and where they’re expected to be in the next year. The leadership team helped structure regular meetings for AP teachers across departments, which led to creating a vision and plan for the next year and two years from now. “We’re now getting ahead of ourselves for the first time, which is when change starts to occur,” Knox says.

Knox meets with teachers to ask how they’re struggling and offers ways they can receive support from NMSI, like attending NMSI teacher trainings. “One AP teacher may be teaching one way, and for another, the level of rigor is drastically different, so the more teachers are exposed to NMSI training, we’re seeing a balancing of what’s happening in the classroom,” Knox says.

With advanced planning, teachers are scheduling AP mock exams that don’t conflict with each other, says Akatugba. This allows students taking multiple AP courses to participate in every relevant mock exam rather than having to pick and choose.

“In the past, we thought of AP as hard, and it might not be something a student wants to do, versus now, where we tell students it’s a wonderful opportunity to challenge yourself,” Gonzalez says. “Being part of NMSI, we think about what we want to accomplish as a school instead of a pathway.”