Tag: districts

Five Things for Big Districts to Think About

April 18, 2016 by

Purple FiveIt always happens. You finish a big report and then do a bit more research or have a few more conversations…and realize you didn’t get it quite right.

That’s what happened to me. I finished the report on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders in June, and come November when I visited Lake County, Henry County, and Charleston County School Districts, I realized I would have organized that report somewhat differently if I’d had the opportunity to learn from bigger (these still aren’t the mega-districts) districts before I started writing.

Here’s the scoop – much of the first wave of districts making the transition to competency-based education have been small districts. They’ve been able to engage their communities at the district level. They often asked teachers to vote before they moved forward. It’s relatively easily to bring in the leadership from different schools to help co-design implementation. It’s been a powerful strategy for districts in communities without big employers, foundations, or intermediaries. But what about bigger districts? How do they think about getting going and scaling strategies?

Below are a few thoughts developed from talking with the incredible group of leaders from Lake, Henry, and Charleston Counties. I’m still learning, so my thinking is likely to continue to develop about how big districts can move forward toward personalized, competency-based education.

1. School Autonomy

In the same way we encourage schools to have developed PLCs before they get started, districts should evaluate how well they are doing in terms of enabling school autonomy. Is it okay for schools to try different strategies? How about if some move faster forward than others – are you going to hold them back? Can schools hire their own teachers? Create their own staffing patterns? Manage their own budgets and use resources as they see fit to meet student needs? Can schools design their own community engagement strategies?

Certainly, you do not want to make all the schools implement at the exact same pace – that’s the old way of doing business. And you certainly do not want to hold back schools that are ready and able to make the transition. Also the rationale and entry points may be different. Kathleen Halbig from Lake County explained to me that it is important to have community engagement at the individual school level because communities have different histories, different narratives, different concerns, and different appreciation about competency education.

2. Tight and Loose

Districts big and small will need to know what they want to hold tight and what is loose for schools to determine on their own. But do we know exactly what should be tightly held in a CBE district? Here are some starting thoughts. (more…)

What We Can Learn from Chugach School District

March 8, 2016 by

AKIt’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first district to design a competency-based system was a relatively new one, located in the most northwestern corner of our country and serving remote villages of Native Alaskans. You can read all about it in the new report Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

Staying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. As we know, competency-based education starts with the idea that we can actually design for success and eliminate the traditional practices that lead to sorting and inequity. It also positions districts to manage continuous improvement processes that are constantly helping to build the organizational and instructional capacity of schools.

What Chugach helped me to understand is how profoundly competency-based education positions teachers to be able to use (and develop) their instructional expertise, their assessment literacy, their creativity, and their relational skills in helping students become independent learners.

Although I think this report will be helpful to anyone interested in competency-based education, it will be particularly useful to those interested in teaching and learning within competency-based schools, those working in rural communities, those thinking about how to create the competency-based infrastructure, and those working with Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian communities.

If you want to learn more about Chugach, we highly recommend Delivering on the Promise. It’s a great read for anyone who is trying to understand what competency-based education is really about.

When Red Bank Went to Lindsay

March 3, 2016 by

Lexington to LindsayMarie Watson, principal at Red Bank Elementary School, SC and recently profiled on CompetencyWorks, shared her reflections after visiting Lindsay Unified School District, CA with a team of her educators. I thought this would be interesting to share for a number of reasons, including taking a deeper look at what other educators note and see as important when visiting other schools. – Chris

Why Competency-Based Education is Important?

Dr. Tom Rooney, superintendent, was inspirational as he spoke about why Lindsay Unified moved to a performance-based system of learning (PBS). They call their system performance-based while others may refer to a competency-based system or a personal mastery system. To argue the difference with regard to implementation would be splitting hairs. Sometimes we spend too much time splitting hairs and arguing the points that, in the long run, don’t do anything except expend energy where it could be put to a measurable outcome.

Dr. Rooney described the experience of a new principal at Lindsay High School who was settling into his office space a few days after the high school graduation. As he was unpacking and deciding where to put his personal belongings in his new office, the secretary came in and said a parent was there to see him. Being new to the school, he couldn’t imagine why a parent wanted to see him, but with some apprehension, he told the secretary to bring him in. A father and his son walked into the principal’s office and the principal greeted them warmly and asked what he might do for them. The father put his son’s diploma on the desk and said, “This is what I want to talk about.” The principal saw the diploma, congratulated the young man, and asked what he planned to do next. His father, with a grave look of concern, replied, “That is precisely the problem. Will you please get that newspaper off your shelf?” The principal got the newspaper down and put it on the desk between them. The father said to the son, “Now, read that, son.” The graduate looked at the paper with his head hung ashamedly and there was an uncomfortable and tense silence. Then he replied, “Dad, you know I can’t read that.”

This father then relayed to the principal that his son had been cheated in “the system.” He had been put through the system and now had no hopes for any future because he could not read.

This riveting moment left the new principal with unrest. This father was right. Students had been pushed through the “system” of education and many had been robbed of their futures. At this time, about twelve years ago, the last ten years of valedictorians had attended college and had to take remedial courses. The system needed to be fixed.

Getting Started

Lindsay Unified started a proficiency-based system in 2009 with the ninth grade class. They met with all rising ninth grade students and held meetings with of their parents. They let them know that their students would be required to learn and that it may take less than four years or it may take more than four years…who said high school had to be four years anyway?

The district has been implementing this system of education for six years. They had been doing the work for well over ten years and they are still working out the details. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Four Big Takeaways

February 24, 2016 by

henry county _oneWe are going to try something different here. Our case studies are getting longer as we learn more. So instead of our releasing one blog post in a series at a time, we are going to release all of them at the same time with interlocking links.

Post #1: Four Big Takeaways (includes background)

Post #2: Ensuring Success for Each Student

Post #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

Post #4: What All of This Means for Schools

Post #5: Impact Academy

Let us know if this works better for you. You’ll need to dedicate ten to fifteen minutes to read it. Our hope is that it will make it easier for you to draw out the insights that are important to you while still building more background in competency education.

Overview

Just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Henry County Schools (HCS) operates fifty schools serving 42,000 students. It covers a mix of four cities and towns, some rural and others more suburban. The district is the largest employer in the area (over 75 percent of workers leave Henry County for work daily), with many people commuting to Atlanta or other suburbs to work.

Historically, HCS has performed relatively well, but enormous changes over the past fifteen years – including enrollment nearly doubling, the percentage of students who are FRL tripling to 60 percent of the population, and increases in racial diversity (HCS is now 33 percent white, 51 percent African-American, and 9 percent Hispanic) – created an opportunity for change. In 2013, the district created a strategic plan to transform their schools to personalized learning by 2020. One of the five pillars of this plan is competency-based learning. Although it’s always hard to determine causal relationships, Henry County has already had a 6.4 percent increase in their four-year graduate rate since they began this work. They are certainly going in the right direction.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Rodney Bowler, the school board identified multiple reasons for turning to personalized learning, including:

  • Better prepare an increasingly diverse student body for college, career, and life success
  • Move from “good enough” to “exceptional”
  • Traditional model is no longer sufficient
  • Nature of knowledge has changed
  • Information is ubiquitously available
  • Focus on metrics beyond standardized tests
  • People learn in different ways (Pace, Place, Path, People)

Superintendent Bowler says, “Henry County Schools is excited about the work being done across our schools to transform them to personalized learning schools. When you look at the core of personalized learning, it fits nicely with our mission of ensuring success for each student. Focusing on each student and their individual needs and learning styles is truly the best approach to equipping them for college, a career, and life in general. It was a no-brainer for us to make this move, and while the work has been tough, our teacher, students, and our communities that have started the transformation have seen great growth for everyone involved. We know that when all is said and done, our district will be a strong example for others looking to make this strategic change for the betterment of our learners and our future.”

It’s worth taking a minute to look at the Georgia state policies that shape Henry County’s strategy. GA does offer a seat-time waiver that allows courses to be mastery-based. Henry County has a strategic district waiver that allows them great freedom, excluding a handful of exceptions. GA state policy has also made a firm commitment to a number of secondary school policies designed to improve graduation rates and college-going rates. In addition to early college and career academies, Georgia offers Move on When Ready, which establishes a dual enrollment program that requires students to meet the admissions policy of the partnering institution of higher education. HCS is also partnering with Southern Crescent Technical, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, and others. The district provides the transportation costs, and the state pays for the courses. Finally, the Hope Scholarship program will pay for college for students up to a master’s degree when they have a 3.2 GPA in high school and college. In addition to assessing grade level standards, Georgia’s state accountability system also uses growth measures. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Ensuring Success for Each Student

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This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the second of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County Schools’ (HCS) vision for personalized learning is captured in the phrase “Ensuring Success for Each Student.” To help people understand the components of the vision, it has been visually organized within the structures of a building. On the roof is the goal for “all students college, career, and life ready.” There are two steps indicating the foundation for the transformation: 1) school autonomy and district support, and 2) student voice and choice. The five tenets of personalized learning are the pillars holding up the roof:

  1. Learner Profiles and Personal Learning Plans
  2. Competency-Based Learning
  3. Authentic/Project-Based Learning
  4. Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking
  5. Technology-enabled

HCS_two

Each school has a different entry point and timeline for making the transition to personalized learning. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We think of the five pillars as the guard rails. Schools have the freedom within the five pillars to create personalized learning for their students. We avoid using the phrase design principles, as it can sound more like a mandate of what you have to do.”

To support schools in their redesign process, HCS is partnering with Mastery Design Collaborative led by Jeffery Tsang. MDC is providing guidance in the overall design process by meeting with teams from the school bi-weekly. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

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HCS3_scaling

Click Image to Enlarge

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the third of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County provides important insights into how larger districts can organize strategies to transform their schools with a more “personalized” approach and how they can avoid the unintended consequences that result from mandates. Their scaling strategy is definitely one to consider and adapt to work for your district.

Overarching Strategy of Change

The challenge before HCS was to get every school to make the transition to personalized learning, knowing that schools were going to have different entry points and that they couldn’t provide support to all the schools all at the same time. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We looked at several different school models, and each one is different. It quickly became clear to us that we can’t tell people how to do it. We want to support education entrepreneurs who can create a personalized learning school using their vision and strengths.”

The strategy that was developed “starts with the willing, draws on a small group of consultants, and creates an inclusive process where everyone makes the transition.” Historically, schools in Henry County have had a high level of school autonomy. Thus, it was important to keep as much as possible “loose” for the schools. The decision was to keep school redesign and the tools schools use “loose,” while the learner profile platform and competency-based learning infrastructure remained “tight.” It was important in terms of equity that the assessments built around the competencies and performance indicators be consistent across the district. They set the expectation that all schools would start the transition within the next three years and that each could develop a model using the five tenets of personalized learning in a way that worked for them and their students. Karen Perry, Special Projects Coordinator for HCS, emphasized this with, “We wanted to give schools the choice of when they go, but the 2020 vision for the district is that all fifty schools will be engaged in the work of personalized learning, whether that is in the application, planning, or implementation stage.” (more…)

Introductory Webinar on Competency-Based Education, April 20th

February 22, 2016 by

what is competency-based education_Given that there is growing interest in competency-based education, we thought it would be a good idea to do an introductory webinar. We’ll go over what the working definition means (and doesn’t mean). We will then explore how it is being developed in a medium-sized district and in a very innovative start-up so you can have a sense of how educators are designing around the core concepts. The webinar will also be archived so you can listen to it later if you can’t join us. You can register here. And all the information is below.

Competency education, an educator-led reform, is taking root in schools and districts across the country. The concept behind competency education is simple: learning is best measured by students demonstrating mastery of learning targets, rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. By redesigning the education system around actual student learning, we will effectively prepare each student for college and a career in an increasingly global and competitive economy.

In this webinar, attendees will learn the foundational tenets of competency education, explore school models that meet students where they are, and glean promising practices from leaders and practitioners pushing the next generation of teaching and learning.

The co-founders of CompetencyWorks, Susan Patrick, iNACOL President and CEO, and Chris Sturgis, MetisNet, will share competency education’s structural elements. To understand how these elements are implemented in districts and schools, this webinar will highlight two different, emerging competency-based models. Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, will introduce the model in development at Charleston County School District, South Carolina. Then we will explore the innovative model being designed at Building 21 in Pennsylvania with Sydney Schaef from Building 21(currently at reDesign). Virgel Hammonds will then discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure, and he will share his experiences from Lindsay Unified, RSU2 and as Chief Learning Officer at KnowledgeWorks.

Speakers:

During the webinar, extend the conversation to your personal networks using #CBLearning.

Lake County Schools: Designing a Strategy to Bring Personalized Learning to Scale

February 15, 2016 by

Lake CountyThis post is the first in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida.

After the iNACOL Symposium in Orlando, I had a whirlwind visit at Lake County Schools in Florida and an incredibly rich conversation with Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning for Students. I first met Halbig two years ago at the iNACOL pre-conference symposium on competency education. She was just learning about competency education at the time. Two years later, a group of her schools are already in their first year of implementation. This district is moving fast, although one person referred to it as “moving at the speed of trust.”

In this post, I share a bit of background and an overview of the Lake County Schools strategy to transition to a system of personalized learning (including competency education). Each of the profiles of the schools shares insights and takeaways into the process of a medium-sized district making the transition to a competency-based, personalized system. Thanks to the educators at each of the following schools for their generosity in sharing their learning:

We didn’t have time to visit Umatilla High School – I hope to do that when I get back to visit Lake County. Or perhaps if you go to visit Lake County, you might be able to stop by and share how they are proceeding in their transition. (more…)

How is Personalized Learning Changing Lives? Ask Thomas Rooney.

January 16, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 9, 2015.

Nestled in Central California, Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) is meeting and exceeding expectations. And part of the district’s winning formula includes competency-based learning.

The Lindsay community certainly faces challenges. One hundred percent of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. More than 90 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino, 50 percent are English Language Learners and 13 percent meet federal standards for homelessness.

Despite these incredibly difficult circumstances, LUSD is transforming education to a personalized system where all learners are met at their own level. These students are guaranteed success, challenged, and are pushed to leave LUSD ready to choose college or their career. (more…)

RSU2: Entering a New Stage in Building a High Quality Proficiency-Based District

January 5, 2016 by

poss pic for rsu2_oneThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the first post on my conversations at RSU2 in Maine. 

RSU2 is a district that has been staying the course, even through two superintendent changes (Don Siviski is now at Center for Center for Secondary School Redesign; Virgel Hammonds is now at KnowledgeWorks; and Bill Zima, previously the principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School, is now the superintendent). This says a lot about the school board’s commitment to having each and every student be prepared for college and careers. If we had a CompetencyWorks award for school board leadership, RSU2 would definitely get one.

Given that they are one of the districts with the most experience with competency education (Chugach has the most experience, followed by Lindsay), my visit to RSU2 was much more focused on conversations with the district leadership team, principals, and teachers rather than classroom visits. My objective in visiting RSU2 was to reflect with them upon their lessons learned.

It takes a load of leadership and extra effort to transform a traditional district to personalized, proficiency-based learning. It’s a steep learning curve to tackle – growth mindset, learning to design and manage personalized classrooms, learning how to enable and support students as they build habits of work and agency, designing and aligning instruction and assessment around measurable objectives and learning targets, calibration and assessment literacy, organizing schedules so teachers have time for working together and to provide just-in-time support to students, building up instructional skills, new grading policies, new information management systems to track progress – and districts have to help every teacher make the transition. I wanted to find out what they might have done differently, what has been particularly challenging, and what they see as their next steps.

I began my day at RSU2 in Maine with a conversation with Zima (a frequent contributor to CompetencyWorks); principals from all nine schools; Matt Shea, Coordinator of Student Achievement; and John Armentrout, Director of Information Technology. I opened the conversation with the question, “What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started?”

Tips for Implementation

Armentrout summarized a number of insights about implementation: (more…)

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