Transforming Educational Opportunities: Window Rock Unified Shares 3 Best Practices

August 22, 2019
Window Rock Unified School District in the Navajo Nation Shares Best Practices

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Window Rock Unified School District, a small rural district in the Navajo Nation, about the success they have experienced with Apex Learning and how our curriculum is transforming educational opportunities available to their students.

Window Rock Unified School District students were skipping class with the expectation that even if they failed, they could make it up with an easy online course. This was resulting in poor performance and students were not mastering grade-level content. Many students were also facing other challenging life situations that was making it difficult for them to stay focused in school.

The goal was to change the culture and perception of online learning in the district from a credit recovery-only solution to a critical tool to support a variety of learning options. Rebecca McClellan, who runs the credit recovery program and the assistant principal of the high school, Arthur Ben, took some time to share their recommended best practices for implementing a successful online learning program to maximize student achievement.  

1) Structure, accountability, and high expectations are key.

Educators at Window Rock USD set high expectations for their students. With the new online learning program, Window Rock USD has been able to create an environment of high achievement where students feel challenged yet also supported.

Many students at Window Rock USD are faced with challenges outside of school that can impact their motivation and engagement. Ensuring that students and parents understand the benefits of structured, rigorous online learning can help to increase motivation and achievement. Students may have minimal support at home if their parents have little educational background or if they had a bad experience with the education system. In some cases, students in the district live with grandparents who only speak the Navajo language or know very little English and can’t help students with their schoolwork.

When McClellan and Ben restructured their online learning program, accountability was a key priority. Students and parents agree to a contract where students must achieve to the agreed upon mastery level when they take the online learning courses.

“Students have to be accountable,” said McClellan. “We build a picture of what that looks like, and if students are really struggling, they have an intervention contract with us where they receive tutoring three times per week until they reach content mastery of 75 percent or higher.”

McClellan and Ben also emphasize the importance of celebrating successes, both large and small, to keep students motivated. For example, McClellan has a ‘data wall’ in her classroom that recognizes quarterly student progress. Students receive a certificate of completion when they complete and pass a course for credit toward graduation. When they complete all graduation requirements, their name is added to a section of the wall labeled ‘I’m Ready.’

2) When students are given more options for learning, they will take advantage of them.

With Apex Learning, students can take courses that would normally not be offered, such as college and career prep, music, and foreign language. The district now also offers AP courses after several years without them.

“Some of the students who take our AP courses online have gone on to Ivy League and other prestigious schools,” according to Ben.  

3) Expect more from your students; they will rise to the challenge.

“We tell our students that being prepared for their futures is not an option,” said McClellan. “Students rely on supports and scaffolds in the curriculum and the teachers who can support them along the way.”


Window Rock students in the credit recovery program achieved a 97 percent passing rate for courses they took with Apex Learning with an average course grade of 80 percent.

“Knowing that their teachers had high expectations for them opened up a whole new world for our students,” said Principal Dan Horsley. “Our educators recognized that in order to elevate excellence, students need to be challenged. The higher the expectations, the more students will strive to meet that challenge. We are holding our students to a higher standard, so that they will be prepared for whatever comes next in their life.”

Learn more here about the online learning program at Window Rock Unified that has increased rigor and student achievement.  


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