Category: District Redesign

Breaking Ranks Showcase Schools: Nashua High School North and South

April 13, 2015 by

NSDThis spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR Newsletter.

While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”

The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content. (more…)

It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning

March 30, 2015 by
Elements of a Blended Learning Environment

Click to Enlarge

This is the fifth post in a series on Lindsay Unified High School. See the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts. 

The first thing you need to know about blended learning at Lindsay Unified School District is that they never use the term blended learning.

Joe Vagt, Director of 21st Century Learning and Technology, explains:

In our process of developing a personalized, performance-based system, we have had rich conversations about pedagogy, instruction, and assessment. We didn’t see blended learning as something new or different – it’s just a way for us to use technology in a way that provides even more opportunities for our learners.

When I went to the pre-conference workshop with Heather Staker at the iNACOL Symposium, it confirmed for me that we had the pedagogical pieces in place. We also already had a strong orientation to learner ownership, offering students choice in how they convey their learning. Essentially, the philosophy of performance-based learning was the same as that of blended learning.

The question we have to ask ourselves now is how to leverage technology to make our philosophy even more viable throughout the district. Technology is another tool to make PBS (performance-based system) a reality.

How is LUSD thinking about using technology to support learning and teaching?  (more…)

An Interview with Brett Grimm: How Lindsay Unified Serves ELL Students

March 25, 2015 by
LUSD

From the LUSD website

This is the fourth post in a series on Lindsay Unified High School. See the first, secondthird, and fifth posts. 

Tom Rooney, Superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD), tells the story of how a father came to the high school after his son had graduated, demanding to know how it happened that his son couldn’t read. It was one of the turning points for Lindsay Unified School District, sparking the transformation to a performance-based system that wouldn’t allow the situation to develop ever again.

I had the opportunity to interview Brett Grimm, Assistant Principal of Curriculum & Instruction at Lindsay High School, on how the district approaches English language learners. His candidness and willingness to share insights is greatly appreciated. Over 30 percent of students at LHS are English language learners. Of the six K8 schools in LUSD, two are dual language.

What does your ELL program look like in a performance-based district? (more…)

Preparing Students for Life….Not Just College and Careers

March 10, 2015 by

LUSDThis is the second post in a series on Lindsay Unified High School. Click here for the first, third, fourth, and fifth posts.

Lindsay Unified School District has moved beyond preparing students for college and careers – they want to prepare their students for life. Chugach School District also thinks more broadly than the next step to college or careers. Focusing on the skills students will need for life is a good example of personalizing education, as the college/career goal is easily flipped to emphasize what our businesses and economy need for the future: the dynamic, ever-developing, wonderfully imperfect human beings who will shape the next generation of consumers.

Here are a few of the ways Lindsay is creating the capacity to prepare students for life: lifelong learning competencies, plans, projects, and transitional support.

Lifelong Learning Competencies

One of the big – perhaps I should say HUGE – advancements at Lindsay Unified School District is the effort they’ve put into clarifying the lifelong learning competencies they want students to develop before they graduate.

First, they’ve thought about the competencies developmentally with six phases: (more…)

Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

March 2, 2015 by
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

This is the first post in a series on Lindsay Unified School District. Read the second, third, fourth, and fifth posts here. 

If your district is thinking seriously about converting to competency education, you should definitely bring a team to visit to Lindsay Unified School District. When I was last there, they had forty-plus educators from two districts in California, seven from Colorado, and one from Florida. You can register here for a site visit. (For funders out there – it’s worth considering figuring out how to do a virtual tour, as more people want to visit than Lindsay can accommodate and it’s expensive for districts to send a team. Just think how we could also reduce our carbon footprint if videos were available.)

One of the highlights of the visit was Superintendent Tom Rooney’s opening talk. I’ve known Tom for several years but have never heard him as sharp, urgent, and impassioned. After watching the video Transformational Learning (available in Spanish, as well), Rooney talked about graduation day as a great day for students. “This is a great day for educators, as well. We are saying to the world, ‘We’ve had them for twelve or thirteen years and we’re sending them out into society. They are our product, our contribution to society.’” He then continued, “The reality for many of our graduates is that they soon find out they didn’t get what they needed. Some of the kids fall into deep despair when they realize they have been betrayed. They were told that they are ready, but they’re not.”

Rooney then told a story that occurred when Virgel Hammonds was a new principal at Lindsay Unified High School (Hammonds is now the superintendent at RSU2 in Maine). It was late spring and Hammonds was just getting settled into his office, when in walked a father and his son who had graduated the week before. The father took a newspaper off the desk and gave it to his son, asking him to read it. After a few minutes of silence, the young man looked up with his tears in his eyes. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”

Betrayal indeed. This is a betrayal that occurs all across our country. (more…)

ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.58 AM

Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

Is There Enough Time for Learning?

November 4, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.

Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.

The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System

We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.

Teaching Learning Cycle (more…)

RSU Students Now Proficiency-Based

October 29, 2014 by
School District RSU #14

School District RSU #14 Web

This post was originally published in the RSU14 Maine Fall Newsletter.

The students who are entering kindergarten this year will be working until around the year 2100.

Think about it. Did your head just explode?

In a very real and somewhat scary sense, the future that we’re preparing our kids for hasn’t been invented yet. Employers and colleges throughout Maine and throughout the country say they need graduates who not only know specific things – the content of our classes – they need graduates who know how to learn independently; graduates who are active citizens; graduates who can persevere; graduates who work collaboratively; graduates who can approach problems with both critical and creative thinking; and graduates who can communicate effectively with different audiences.

And it isn’t just some graduates. It’s every graduate.

Every Kid: John Davis, an educator in Maine, puts it very simply, “We are here for every kid.” He says it, rightly, as a moral argument: we have an obligation to every child in our care.

That means something different than it used to. In the past, schools were here to help sort kids and send them off to their particular professions. Some would go to college, some to skilled professions, and many to the mills. That was enough. Schools today have a different mission. Because of conditions in Maine and throughout the world, we need every student succeeding to the highest level possible. RSU 14 is committed to that. It’s necessary for our community, and it’s necessary for our kids. We act on this commitment in a number of ways. (more…)

Virgel Hammonds’ Six Insights into Leadership

October 8, 2014 by

virgelThis is the second in a two part series on RSU2 in Maine. The first post is A Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

We all know that the magic ingredient to successfully bringing about any systemic reform is leadership. We know it, we talk about it, but what exact leadership style and strategies are needed?

I’ve listened to superintendents, district teams, principals, and teacher-leaders talk about the importance of leadership in converting schools to competency education. There seems to be something special about the type of leadership that is needed, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I spoke with Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine.

Hammonds issued a caveat at the beginning of our conversation on leadership, reminding me that he considered himself a new superintendent and that he was still figuring out the role. He then laid out six insights about what is required of district leadership in proficiency-based systems that struck me as coming from the voice of experience.

1. No One Has All the Answers

Hammonds described the trap that captures educators as they ascend the career ladder. As authority increases, education leaders are positioned as the ones who have the answer. The trap is that having the final say can easily come to mean “the one who has the right answer.” Leaders can start to feel that they have to have the right answer, or worse, that they in fact do have the answer.

Hammonds explained that leaders have to move away from this thinking, “As districts and schools convert to proficiency-based learning, they are knocking down load-bearing walls. It’s impossible to have all the answers because any organizational change often has multiple consequences.” He said learning to be a superintendent in a proficiency-based district meant he had to let go of the pride of having all the answers. “No one person is going to do this all by themselves or be able to figure it all out entirely by themselves. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we take a position of trust and respect that can harness the collective intelligence needed to bring about transformative change?’”

2.  Make Decisions Around the Best Interest of Students

Hammonds said that he is often asked about the Lindsay story (he was a high school principal in that California district) or the RSU2 story, as if there is a step-by-step process that other districts can follow. “It’s not about one method. Every district and school has its own history and culture. They need to be able to tap into the assets of their communities and schools to develop the vision, guiding principles, and process that is right for them.” (more…)

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…)

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