UHS Finds Leaders Within

Two UHS teachers take on new roles, but their mission remains the same.

Johanna Mracna isn’t a new face at University High School. “Many years ago, as a young teacher, I was drawn to Ferndale for the diversity, forward-thinking mentality and continuous improvement model the school system focused on.” Mrs. Mracna isn’t in the classroom anymore. As UHS has transitioned from a three-person school leader model to a traditional principal and vice principal administration, Johanna Mracna has shown herself to be the perfect choice to take the mantle. “It has been my honor to lead UHS this year, and those same characteristics that brought me to the district so many years ago still hold true for me today!”

Assistant Principal David Gardner is not new to UHS either. In fact, Mr. Gardner has been a part of the school family since its inception in 2010. “My former Assistant Principal and mentor, Mr. Ivory, told me it would be a great opportunity for me as a new educator. He was right! Since then, I have been fortunate to work with great people and help UHS grow to what it is today.” Mr. Gardner has served as both a teacher and a counselor before entering his new administrative role. David is undeniably a people person. “The best part about the job has always been and remains the people! From the students to the parents, the teachers to central administrators, Ferndale Public Schools is a very supportive school community; and teamwork is a huge part of its growth and success. Knowing I can reach out for support from anyone on the FPS team adds to my confidence that we will be successful.” It’s this love of people that drives his passion: helping all the people around him succeed. “Our vision for the school is a culture that encourages teacher growth and development; a place where teachers become leaders across the entire field of education.” That part seems to already be coming true: both Mracna and Gardner have transitioned perfectly out of the classroom and into their new leadership roles. As Principal Mracna said, “Our platform of Leadership-For-All has been the foundation of our new administrative approach. We are proud that our teaching staff and students have taken on major leadership responsibilities in our building and worked together to iteratively improve programming.”

Data-Driven Success

The school has already made real strides in the area of data-driven programming improvements in their first year, even setting up a new Data Team. “Our team of teachers and administrators has worked hard this year to make data analysis–and informed decisions that follow that analysis–the bedrock of our instructional improvement focus. Our new model of FlexPLC has allowed us to evaluate incoming data in real-time and adjust our teaching to improve learning.” PLC stand for Professional Learning Communities, and a FlexPLC is an open–or flexible–work session where teaching staff can come together and work in response to school events, new data collection, or school initiatives rather than following a set schedule which has been pre-programmed at the beginning of the year.

Encouraging Results: Focused, data-driven curriculum improvement and individual student goals have resulted in explosive growth for UHS 9th & 10th graders, compared to the averages regularly seen in NWEA testing results.
Encouraging Results: Focused, data-driven curriculum improvement and individual student goals have resulted in explosive growth for UHS 9th & 10th graders, compared to the averages regularly seen in NWEA testing results.

This instructional improvement focus is one key part of the UHS Way, and it explains the impressive growth UHS students have seen this school year: over 5X the average growth rate. “Our newly formed data team evaluated our Fall NWEA-testing data and looked for specific areas for improvement and knowledge gaps. Then, for our winter testing, we created a growth-mindset culture with our students surrounding NWEA testing. We accomplished this through goal-setting measures and affirmations with each student. Upon completion of winter testing, we used the new data to create specific instructional changes to address the needs of students based on their data. NWEA allowed us to pinpoint exactly which students were in need of specific interventions and enabled us to adapt our second semester curriculum to meet those needs.”

The School Family

Mr. Gardner’s warm, personable demeanor really shined in his years as a counselor. You can tell he really cares about his students when he talks about them and what the new administration team wants to provide for them: “practices that emphasize social-emotional learning and wrap-around services.” Educating and nurturing the development of the whole child is foundational to the district, and UHS is no exception. Physical, intellectual, social and emotional development are all vitally important skills in preparing students and strengthening communities. “At UHS, we call ourselves the UHS Family, and we take our approach to educating the whole child to heart. This means that we use all the data available to make the best decision for each child,” said Principal Mracna.

University High School, like any other school, serves whole families. Over the past nine years, the school has seen many younger brothers and sisters follow their sibling’s path to education. Long term teaching positions have allowed Mracna and Gardner to develop relationships with many UHS families in the same way that a traditional community high school gets to know the families that walk the halls for generations. They are part of the UHS family, and they are ensuring that every member of their family succeeds. That is the UHS Way.