Category: District Exemplars

District-wide Transformation to Personalized Learning in Eastern Carver County, Minnesota

August 1, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about the Eastern Carver County Public Schools. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

The Eastern Carver County district in Minnesota has worked intensively since 2011 to transition to more personalized, competency-based learning. Located about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the district has 16 schools and almost 10,000 students in four communities that span a region of 88 square miles.

During a recent visit to two Eastern Carver schools, I spoke with students, school staff, and district officials. Superintendent Clint Christopher, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Amy LaDue, and Leader of Personalized Learning and Innovation Brian Beresford provided valuable reflections on the strategies, challenges, and rewards of district-wide transformation.

A key strategy has been creating a district-wide definition of personalized learning but then allowing it to take shape differently in different schools.  Personalized learning can take many forms, so the district strives to be clear about what they mean. The focal point of their definition is “the Star,” illustrated in the graphic above, which provides a compelling way to communicate the district’s approach to learning. The star is accompanied by powerful language on the district’s website, explaining the rationale for personalized learning. Some samples include:

  • Purposeful Learning – “In the past, teachers stood in front of the class for each lesson, expecting all students to learn in the same way and at the same pace. This is becoming a thing of the past. Teachers in Eastern Carver County Schools not only lead instruction but also facilitate learning for each student. They teach by guiding students toward mastery of content and instilling 21st century skills. Students have access to a variety of resources and tools, and teachers connect students to learning beyond the classroom.”
  • Collaborative Environment – “Design of spaces and their furnishings reflect purpose: how we live, how we work, and how we learn. We are redefining learning spaces with a variety of furniture, layouts, and technology that facilitate collaboration, creativity, comfort, and safety. They also convey a sense of belonging and purpose. School should be a place where students feel welcomed and empowered to learn.”
  • Learner Voice and Choice – “Students have the freedom to design the way they showcase their learning based on individual styles, experiences, passions, and needs…Treated as co-designers, students take greater pride in their success and ultimately find meaning in their work.”
  • Purposeful Instruction, Assessment, and Feedback – “Learning is continuous in our schools. This means that students are not limited by their age or grade. They are able to work at the level that is right for them. Students are consistently challenged…With teachers as facilitators, students effectively communicate their learning journey and progress. They then work with their teacher to determine their next steps for learning.”

Christopher is clear that they plan to transform the entire district, but says “it’s not going to happen overnight. We know it’s a long journey.” He emphasizes that Eastern Carver has 16 buildings with 16 leaders, faculties, student groups, cultures, and parent communities. The district has a document for each building that identifies where it is with personalized learning and the next steps to move forward.

Three Elementary Students from Eastern Carver“We need gentle pressure, relentlessly applied,” he said. “We need that constant focus on this, moving forward, adjusting, identifying what’s working. And what our board pushes back on, rightly so, is that we have pockets of excellence throughout the district, so how do we identify that and bring it to scale? This is also an equity measure, so the experience you’ll get in this district doesn’t depend on where you live. It may look different in different schools, but student outcomes need to be the same. We allow buildings to have some flexibility in that journey but are clear on what the parameters are around that.” (more…)

Innovative Scheduling: Digital e-Learning Days and Academic Support Periods

July 1, 2019 by

This is the fifth and final post in a series about the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Farmington Tigers MascotInnovations in school scheduling are key elements in shifting to competency-based education. They can enable “anytime, anywhere” learning, ensure that students receive frequent personalized support, and support deeper learning such as high-quality, project-based work. Innovative scheduling is an essential component of increasing organizational flexibility, one of the competency-based education quality principles. Two scheduling innovations in the Farmington school district are Flexible Learning Days and Academic Support Periods.

Working from Anywhere But the School Building

Farmington implemented flexible learning days or “flex days” several years ago. On these days, students don’t come to school but are expected to work via the school’s digital platform. Teachers are available and provide online “office hours.”

One advantage is that school days that in the past would have been cancelled due to inclement weather can now be productive learning days that don’t result in disrupted schedules and extended school years. The district also believes that it’s a great way to learn. Executive Director of Educational Services Jason Berg explained, “Students need to learn how to manage their own time, so we have to set up some experiences to let them learn that—to see that they don’t have to be in school to do learning.”

Flex days aren’t just to prevent school cancellations, however. The district also has two scheduled flex days each year with activities that teachers set up and post online for students to complete on their own schedule. Students can reach teachers digitally during school hours, although they’re also free to complete the work on their own schedules. Some students do group work electronically, and some classes that require out-of-school work, such as a photography class, schedule special activities on flex days. If students have several different activities that they need to get done that day, it is up to them to develop a plan to get it done, with teacher support as needed.

To help caregivers plan for the two pre-scheduled annual flex days, the district announces the dates at the beginning of the school year. The community has also set up some child care opportunities for those days for families who need it, and some of the older students go to the community centers and serve as tutors. Students are not permitted to go to the elementary or middle schools on the planned flex days, but high school students who have work that they can only do in the building are permitted to come if they have their own transporation. (Buses are cancelled on flex days.) The Farmington website provides more information about their flexible learning days. (more…)

“Radical Trust” and Teacher Agency Drive Deeper Change in Farmington

June 13, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the other posts are provided at the end of this article.

Jay Haugen, Farmington

Jay Haugen

Jay Haugen is Minnesota’s 2019 Superintendent of the Year, and his leadership has helped the Farmington Area Public Schools make great strides in advancing competency-based education. After 30 years in administration, Haugen has adopted a philosophy of “radical trust” in his staff, based on his experience that top-down initiatives fail to bring deep and lasting change.

During visits to Farmington High School and Boeckman Middle School, about 20 miles south of Minneapolis, I spoke with Haugen and Jason Berg, Farmington’s Executive Director of Educational Services. This post focuses on their philosophy and experiences with moving toward more personalized learning. Other posts in the series will explore specific changes in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling.

Jason Berg, Farmington

Jason Berg

Promoting Agency, Not Compliance

Jay Haugen: I’ve tried to make big change my whole career, but for decades I’ve watched all the right stuff come to nothing. So we don’t talk about “rolling out” changes anymore. That hasn’t been our language for the past seven years. We don’t “run initiatives.” The central office doesn’t decide what people should do and then schedule staff development for everyone on those topics. It’s very organic. We invite people to innovate, we get them inspired about our direction, and we unleash our staff and provide the supports they need. This has led to many types of competency-based innovations in our different schools, disciplines, and grade levels.

One of our top words is “agency,” and that’s for both students and staff. We do not tell staff what to do and how to do it. I think that’s what been wrong forever. Everything emanates from our strategic plan, and our purpose—to ‘ensure that every student reaches their highest aspirations while embracing responsibility to community.’ As long as staff are connecting to our purpose, we’re going to honor their agency and their ability to bring about that result.

We need to go slow to go fast. District offices tend to wish that people would all just get on board with mandates, but what you get is compliance. Then five years later you wonder what happened to your initiative. So the issue is how you go about it. You need to realize that you can’t tell a human what to do and how to do it. You just can’t! We won’t accept it! We will pretend. We will comply. Compliance is the 10% solution, because it makes your big initiatives become tiny increments that don’t keep pace at all with our world. So we need to do something different. The leap is radical trust—preserve people’s agency, and let them self-organize.

(more…)

District-wide Transformation in Harrisburg, South Dakota

May 22, 2019 by

Harrisburg Girls WorkingThis is the first post in a series about the Harrisburg School District. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

The Harrisburg School District has made major shifts toward competency-based education in several schools in recent years. With 2,000 visitors from 10 states over the past two years, it’s clear that their successful implementation has made them a model for districts around the country that want to observe and discuss strong competency-based practices.

The district’s goal is to deepen personalized learning (their name for the initiative) over time across the high school, two middle schools, and six elementary schools in the district, which is located in Sioux Falls and Harrisburg. This article focuses on district-wide implementation; a subsequent post will focus on how personalized learning is carried out within individual schools.

Launching Personalized Learning in Multiple Schools

The transformation to personalized learning was driven by school and district personnel who saw the need for change, but parent choice has also played a key role. Harrisburg’s first elementary school to make the shift, Freedom Elementary, kept one cohort of students in a traditional model while phasing in two personalized cohorts in two years. The district kept a traditional cohort to accommodate parents who didn’t want their children to switch to personalized learning. In the third year, the district surveyed the remaining parents, and 94% wanted their child to join the personalized model, so the school eliminated the traditional cohort. Two other schools in the district, Journey Elementary School and South Middle School, are using a similar approach—starting with both personalized and traditional cohorts.

Harrisburg Work ChartWhen Harrisburg began its transformation, seven years ago, they started with the high school. The district’s Innovative Programs Director, Travis Lape, says “We had a group of educators and building leaders at the high school willing to be bold and think differently. Along their journey, we learned a lot, but we know without them being bold we would not be where we are today.”

One of the lessons they learned in that first year is that “after eight years of being told what to do all the time, the learners needed more scaffolding. They weren’t prepared enough for getting organized and managing their time, and they started falling behind.” In subsequent years, the schools have provided more scaffolding. (more…)

The Mastery Collaborative: Dozens of NYC Schools Support Each Other’s Reforms

April 1, 2019 by

Mastery Collaborative LogoThe Mastery Collaborative (MC) is a network of public middle and high schools in New York City that are shifting and working together toward greater implementation of mastery/competency-based and culturally responsive education practices. The network is led by the New York City Department of Education, currently with two full-time staff members and two part-time consultants, who support the work of dozens of member schools. Detailed background information about the Mastery Collaborative is available in past CompetencyWorks posts (see links below).

This is the first in a series of posts based on iNACOL’s recent visit to two MC member schools, participation in a roundtable discussion with faculty and students from several schools, and attendance at a professional development workshop on culturally responsive education.

Shifting to Mastery-Based and Culturally Responsive Education Takes Time

Map of Mastery Collaborative Schools

Mastery Collaborative Schools

The Mastery Collaborative’s structure makes explicit an essential aspect of shifting to mastery-based and culturally responsive education (CRE)—that schools transform at different paces and to varying degrees. The 37 member schools span three tiers with different levels of implementation:

  1. Living Lab Schools have “effective schoolwide mastery systems with exemplary aspects to share with others.”
  2. Active Member Schools are “engaged in strengthening and spreading mastery/CRE practices, with a goal of ever-more-effective schoolwide implementation.”
  3. Incubator Schools are “in early stages of shifting to the MC’s mastery/CRE model.”

A fourth group, called the Friends of Mastery Collaborative (FOMC), contains hundreds of educators from 80 additional New York City schools, plus other states and countries, that are invited to participate in (more…)

Updated: Competency-Based Education Across America

September 25, 2018 by

Updated: September 2018.

We recently updated the map of competency education because so many states  have taken steps forward for state policies to enable and invest in competency-based education. In reflecting upon how competency-based education is developing, we pulled together all the “case studies” we have done based on site visits and interviews in seventeen states. As soon as we can, we want to visit Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont. We should probably swing back and visit some of the places like Maine and New Hampshire to see what they are up to as well in the leading districts.

For those of you trying to learn more about competency education, we are hearing that some districts are using the case studies as discussion tools. Everyone reads about one school and then talks about what is challenging, how their understanding of the traditional system is changing, and what ideas they think might be valuable. It’s just a warm-up to embracing the values and assumptions that are the roots of competency education. (more…)

The Sharp Ones: A Few Takeaways from Idaho

September 5, 2018 by

Click Image to Enlarge

This is the tenth article in the series on Mastery Education in Idaho. Links to the other articles can be found below.

Oh, there is so much to learn in Idaho. Where to start?

1) Learning from others and making it your own.

Too often we recreate the wheel. It’s fun to be so creative and to think it through. It’s also a lot of work to investigate what others have done and try to make sense of it. However, the cost is huge to start from scratch. You’ll make mistakes. The designs will most likely only represent the limits of your own knowledge and imagination at that point in time. Usually, we can only design around a few strands or concepts – it’s hard to create robust models straight out of the gate. Reiteration takes time, and there is a risk that there will be pushback on the big idea if early models are too limited or shallow.

Idaho seems to have mastered being “a sharp one” in the language of the “pencil metaphor.” In other words, they saw what early adopters had done, grabbed the best of it, and learned from the mistakes of others to do the best they can for their students. At every stop, people would refer to other schools and resources, describing which parts they were using and which parts they have modified. In Kuna Middle School, the teachers at Synergy had taken the Summit platform and pillars as the foundation for a fully interdisciplinary, project-based approach. At Central Academy, they had drawn from Building 21 and Bronx Arena in terms of approaches and information systems. Columbia High School has been pulling pieces from Marzano Research Lab, Summit, and Buck Institute. The team from reDesign has been a strong partner throughout the development of the Idaho Mastery Education Network. (more…)

Mastery-Based Learning in Idaho

July 16, 2018 by

This is the first post in a series on Mastery Education in Idaho. 

In April 2018, I went on a whirlwind tour of seven schools in four districts in Idaho in an effort to understand how mastery-based learning was advancing there. Idaho is a big, beautiful state with several different geographical regions. My site visits were all within the large river valley extending from Boise, land that was originally of the Shoshone and Bannock people. The districts we visited were all transforming their schools to mastery-based learning while their communities were shifting from an agricultural area into an extended metropolitan area. (more…)

How One New Hampshire District is Leveraging Success Skills in a Competency-Based System

May 17, 2018 by

Sarah Kiley

By Jonathan G. Vander Els, Director of Innovative Projects for the New Hampshire Learning Initiative and Sarah Kiley, Epping School District Teacher and Work Study Practices Coordinator.

New Hampshire Overview:

Over the past three years, a number of New Hampshire schools have been focusing on how the integration of success skills (or Work Study Practices, as they’re called in New Hampshire) can be levers for students’ success. The intent was to intentionally integrate these deeper learning competencies into instruction, assessment, and curriculum to increase student agency as a lever for equity. (more…)

Supporting Practitioners in McComb

April 23, 2018 by

Image from the McComb website.

This is the eighth post on a series about McComb School District in McComb, Mississippi. Start here.

How is McComb School District supporting practitioners (teachers) in the transition to a personalized, competency-based system? They are trying out different strategies to figure out what might work best. (more…)

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