Category: District Exemplars

Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

May 3, 2016 by

New HavenThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Despite snow days and flus and deadlines, I had the chance to visit with the leadership teams at New Haven Public Schools and New Haven Academy in March.

At New Haven Public Schools, I met with Superintendent Garth Harries; Imma Canelli, Deputy Superintendent; and Suzanne Lyons, Project Manager. Click here to read about New Haven Academy.

New Haven Public Schools is interested in mastery-based learning as it is a natural progression from the standards movement. Once standards are established, the question becomes, “How do we help students reach them, and how do we know if they reach them?” New Haven sees mastery-based learning as the framework to help create purposeful, meaningful instruction.

Lyons expanded this by adding, “Mastery-based learning is all about helping students become successful. Competencies are a starting point, but if your approach to mastery-based learning is just about competencies and grading, you are missing out on the purpose. It’s about instruction and additional instructional support when students need.”

About five years ago, New Haven joined the League of Innovation Schools and began to get exposed to the concept of competency-based learning. The next step was that five of the ten high schools began to participate as a PLC with Great Schools Partnership, including monthly meetings of the principals. The participating schools are High School in the Community, New Haven Academy, Metropolitan Business Academy, Cooperative Arts and Humanities, and Sound School. (more…)

Charleston: Progression of Implementation for Personalized Learning

March 29, 2016 by

mindsetThis is the second post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework here.

One of the big—no, huge—takeaways from Charleston County School District was the framework the district has created and the structure for personalized professional development. Thanks to Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning;

Sherry Kirkland, Professional Development Administrator; Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research; and Personalized Learning coaches Kimberly Kascak, Kayela Clark, Hannah Studemeyer, Jessica Lucas, and Erin Abner for sharing their powerful insights.

Personalizing Learning for Teachers

CCSD has made two big advancements in the field of competency-based education. The first is a very strong framework of personalized learning that integrates competency-based learning, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments (see the first post on CCSD for more information). The second is their “Personalized PD Model” (pictured below) for PL coaches to support teachers in building the capacity and developing the skills to implement the personalized learning framework. This progression allows the PL coaches to personalize the learning for teachers just as teachers will personalize for students. (more…)

Charleston County School District: Breaking Ground for Personalized Learning in Big Districts

March 28, 2016 by

CCSDThis post kicks off my tour of Charleston County School District in South Carolina. The next post looks more deeply at implementation strategies.

A few times during my visit to Charleston County School District (CCSD), I felt my jaw hit the ground. Even though, at the time, they were just entering into the third year of implementation, the team of district staff, personalized learning coaches, principals, teachers, and partners engaged in this work are advancing our understanding of how we can effectively introduce personalized, competency-based education in medium- to large-sized districts.

In this series—which is based on my two days with Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning; Sherry Kirkland, Personalized Learning Professional Development Administrator; and a team of personalized learning coaches, principals, and teachers—I’ll share some of the most important things I learned, including:

  • CCSD’s powerful Personalized Learning Framework
  • CCSD’s Personalized Learning Progression
  • Strategies for change
  • Focus on student agency and achievement

CCSD is making tremendous progress even though they are still in the early stages of implementation. They provide support to approximately twenty of the district’s eighty-six schools. Although they are not yet engaged in whole district implementation, they have been building the supports, tools, and best practices to make this vision a reality. The district is moving to a more personalized approach to professional development via initiatives such as their Read to Succeed District Literacy Plan. It is well worth the visit to Charleston if you are a medium or large (or even small!) district contemplating the move to personalized, competency-based learning. For more information about learning tours please contact Christina_Counts (at) Charleston (dot) k12 (dot) sc (dot) us. (Lake County in Florida and Henry County in Georgia are also districts that can be helpful in thinking through medium-sized district strategies.) (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.

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…)

Henry County Schools: What All of This Means for Schools

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carla montgomery_HCS4

Carla Montgomery

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the fourth 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.

During my visit to Henry County Schools (HCS), we stopped off at two schools for conversations with principals and teachers about their experience to date. Luella Elementary, led by Carla Montgomery, is in the planning stage. The nearby Luella High School was in its fourth month of implementation.

Luella Elementary

Principal Carla Montgomery walked us to the fifth grade math classroom of Ms. Davis to provide an example of what she hoped their entire school might look like in a few years. As I watched students work independently, in small groups, at computers lined up against the wall, or with Ms. Davis, my first thought was that I was observing a station rotation model. However, as I talked to students and watched them change where they were working or the tools they were using to learn, I realized they were moving around as needed. Montgomery noted, “It seemed very chaotic at first, but Mrs. Davis continued working with kids, acclimating them to making decisions based on their learning needs, and now they know what is expected.” (more…)

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…)

RSU2: Moving Beyond the Test Score with Hope

January 13, 2016 by

hopeThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the fourth post on my conversations at RSU2 in Maine. The first post is on lessons learned, the second is a look at Richmond Middle and High School, and the third looks at meeting students where they are.

Several times during the day with the RSU2 team, we touched on how important it is to think of what we want for students beyond test scores. Zima emphasized that he wants the students at RSU2 to be filled with hope – to have the skills they need to change their own environments and shape their futures. He referred to a video of Brandon Busteed, Education Director of Gallup, as he spoke before an Iowa Business Summit to Drive Education Reform. Busteed’s argument is that we are aiming at the wrong things in education. Our focus is all on academic test scores when the more important focus should be on building hope and engagement within the long-term goal of building well-being. (more…)

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