Category: District Exemplars

Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

October 7, 2014 by

rsu 2This is a two-part series on RSU2. Come back tomorrow for a conversation with Virgel Hammonds on leadership.

I crossed paths with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine, on a Digital Promise  call about competency education. We hadn’t had a chance to talk for a while, so we scheduled another quick call. I asked Virgel about what they had been learning and how they had been enhancing their proficiency-based approach (Maine uses the term proficiency-based learning). Some of the changes are evident on their website, such as replacing the term “school” with “learning community.” Knowing the strength of the team at RSU2, I knew that there would be valuable insights or new approaches that we could all learn from.

Hammonds reminded me of the elements that they have implemented throughout their school district:

  •  Shared vision emphasizing student voice and choice, development of strong habits of learning, variation in how students learn, and development of higher-level skills.
  • Transparent measurement topics and learning targets. (Measurement topics are the standards for learning.  They are the curriculum frameworks that guide teachers in their instruction and lesson planning. They are the standards that all students must achieve.)
  • Shared understanding of proficiency within school and across schools.
  • Information system (Educate) to support and provide transparency for tracking student progress and pace.

Three areas of insights and advancement are described below.

Aligning Instruction and Assessment to Higher Levels

Hammonds explained that a big aha! for educators at RSU2 over the past year was the importance of aligning instruction as well as assessment to the specific performance levels in the knowledge taxonomy.  RSU2 uses the Marzano taxonomy (Retrieval, Comprehension, Analysis, Knowledge Utilization, Metacognition, Self-system thinking). At RSU2, learning targets identify at which performance level students need to be able to show proficiency based on Marzano’s taxonomy and assessments are aligned accordingly. Over the past year, teachers had realized that their instruction was sometimes lower than the performance level, and they’ve been working to improve their instruction so it fully aligns with the learning targets. (more…)

Sanborn Regional School District Flips District Reform

March 17, 2014 by
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Sanborn Superintendent Brian Blake

This is the first in a series on Sanborn Regional School District. Read Part 2 and Part 3.

“We know more about our students than ever before.” At Sanborn Regional School District (SRSD), competency education is about relationships.  It’s also about common sense, finding practical solutions to make education work for kids.  This post and the two following it will provide a look into Sanborn Regional School District.

Background on Sanborn Regional School District

Our site visit began with a conversation with Ellen Hume-Howard, Curriculum Director for SRSD, Brian Stack, Principal of Sanborn Regional High School (SRHS), Michael Turmelle, Assistant Principal/Curriculum Director at SRHS, and Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School.

Hume-Howard began with the story of the district’s journey towards competency education. “Before the arrival of Dr. Brian Blake as superintendent in 2009, the district was paralyzed and unable to work as a system.  Dr. Blake brought focus to the district and provided a clear and ambitious goal for us to reach.” One of the first things the district decided to tackle was the misalignment of curriculum.  Hume-Howard explained, “We became experts in standards,” by embracing the New Hampshire state standards and Understanding by Design, developed by Tighe and Wiggins. They learned what was required to operate a standards-based school, including the calibration that happens as teachers use weekly meetings and professional development to talk about how they know when students are proficient. (more…)

Implementation Insights from Pittsfield School District

March 4, 2014 by

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(This is the last of a four-part series on Pittsfield:  See Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.)

We are on a journey, and sometimes it’s a bumpy one. That’s a constant refrain when talking to districts converting from traditional curriculum/time-based systems to student-centered systems.  Below are a handful of insights shared by the Pittsfield School District leadership team about their redesign process and the challenges they are encountering.

1. Community as Authentic Partner: Superintendent John Freeman explained that, “We took direction from the community about the kind of graduates they wanted and the type of school they wanted.  As we began the high school redesign process, we have never backed off from engaging our community. Our community is in the driver’s seat.”  Everyone we spoke with throughout the site visit reinforced the value that the broader community and students are partners.  As PSD began implementation, they alerted their Community Advisory Council (now the Good to Great Team) as they hit implementation issues and engaged them in problem-solving around mid-course corrections.

2. Project Management:  PSD says they couldn’t have done it without assigning staff to be the project managers. It’s just too much for district staff and principals to manage daily operations and the redesign process.  Building project management capacity is more than dedicating staff – it’s also about building the capacity of the district to use project management tools such as process analysis. Even students are learning to create process analysis maps. Tobi Chassie, Co-Project Manger of the Systems Change Initiative, was grateful for the insistence of Nellie Mae Education Foundation, PSD invested in building out the districts project management capacity. (more…)

Pittsfield Rethinks Adult Roles

March 3, 2014 by

(This is the third part of a series on Pittsfield: See Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.)

One of the big questions that we have barely begun to tackle is how do districts have to be transformed within a personalized, competency-based environment?

Supt. John Freeman

Supt. John Freeman

In preparing to transform the Pittsfield Middle and High School to a personalized, competency-based school, Pittsfield School District established a five-part logic model that included “redefine adult roles”. (Read more about Pittsfield’s competency education infrastructure, personalized approaches, and implementation insights.)

Organizational Changes: Superintendent John Freeman explained that they needed a flatter or more distributed organizational management structure.  Even in a small district, silos existed, with the elementary schools and Pittsfield Middle and High School operating very independently. More people are reporting to him now, allowing him to ensure that the core values are at the heart of implementation decisions.

In looking at the job requirements of the principal, PSD confronted one of the issues we all know to be true – the job of principal requires an enormous set of expertise and skills.  The instructional knowledge and skills are distinctly different from those of operating a facility. So PSD has replaced the principal positions with two deans – the Dean of Instruction and the Dean of Operations.  In addition, they created the position of Director of College and Career Readiness (DCCR) to direct more attention to the preparation and transition of students for graduation. The ELO coordinator and counselors report to the DCCR

Using Data:  Data is used increasingly to help guide decisions at PSD, building upon the work of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. Given that PowerSchool has yet to make the necessary changes for a personalized, competency-based district to monitor student progress, there is a limit on how much real-time data can be used to help PSD improve their services. PSD’s small size is an advantage, however, as teachers can identify students who are struggling or not making adequate progress and engage the students other teachers as needed.

Revisiting Job Descriptions:  With the support of William Bryan, PSD began a process of revisiting jobs.  In an inclusive process, they agreed upon the purpose of the position, success measures, critical interdependencies, contact priorities, and a position description that includes basic and advanced knowledge, skills and talents, and performance measures.  Here are some of the expectations of a PMHS teacher: (more…)

Hand in Hand: Pittsfield Integrates Personalized Learning and Competency Education

February 27, 2014 by

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(This is the second in a series about Pittsfield. See Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4.)

One of my big takeaways from my visit to New Hampshire is that personalized learning and competency education go hand in hand.  When personalizing education, you can’t be sure you are helping kids reach proficiency without the competency-based infrastructure and you can’t help each and every student become proficient without personalization.

Pittsfield School District (PSD) understands this. Building upon their competency education infrastructure, they are personalizing the educational experience for students in at least these four ways:

#1 Taking Student Voice Seriously

PSD focuses on student voice as much as choice.  As described in the first post, there is a pervasive belief that engagement is core to academic success and sustainability.  Engagement starts with respecting and listening to different perspectives – so much of the engagement is directed at including student voice and investing in their leadership development.

PSD has prepared for student voice in two ways. First, structurally, they are creating formal avenues for youth participation. At the Pittsfield Middle and High School (PMHS), the majority of the School Council members are students.  PMHS also has brought in consultants to help the school support students and adults in working collaboratively on the Council. It doesn’t stop there – students have the majority on the school’s Advisory Council, Impact Team, and Justice Committee.  These all give students the voice to make changes in the school so that it develops into the school they wish it to be. (more…)

Redesign at Pittsfield School District

February 21, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 7.26.32 AM(This is the first of a series on Pittsfield: See Part 2,  Part 3 and Part 4.)

It was a delight to visit Pittsfield School District (PSD) to learn about the redesign of the district starting with the Pittsfield Middle High School. It’s a comprehensive design:  Keep “students at the center” using personalized learning strategies that build upon a competency-based infrastructure to ensure students master twenty-first century skills and demonstrate academic content and skills. It’s a mouthful for sure – and this district is doing it.

Tobi Chassie and Susan Bradley, Co-Project Managers of the Systems Change Initiative shared their impressive results.  The percent of students being accepted to college has jumped from 20% to 80%. Chassie explained, “There is a palpable difference among faculty and the community in enthusiasm and hope. And their expectations for the kids have increased.” Bradley emphasized, “A lot of the difference is in student voice – they just had to let it out. They just needed a system and process that allowed them to express their voice. Their voice has motivated the teachers.”

How It Started: The redesign started after faculty and staff agreed that the status quo wasn’t acceptable and committed to do better for their kids. The district had been forced to reduce staff due to the economic downturn and dropping enrollment due to redistricting.  Pittsfield Middle High School (PMHS)was a SIG school and the community saw it as a problem. They also agreed that incremental cuts or reducing programs wasn’t an option. The school board wanted a coherent system of education.

Starting in 2008 with a community-wide dialogue, a shared vision was created for a student-centered redesign based on five principles:

  1. Learning is personalized
  2. Teaching is focused on coaching and facilitating
  3. Learning reaches beyond the school walls
  4. Progress is measured by mastery, not by age or the number of classroom hours, and
  5. Time is a flexible resource

Note that the competency-based elements are captured in “measured by mastery” and “time is a flexible resource.”  The others focus on personalization, valuing learning wherever it takes place, and the changing roles of educators.

Their Community Engagement Strategy: PSD doesn’t do “buy in” or input when they discuss community engagement. PSD’s active community demanded that it be an authentic partner, not passive observers satisfied with updates.  In order to ensure the community is a partner in considering and shaping new ideas all along the way, PSD has created formal structures.  (more…)

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