ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
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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.

In early October, our coach returned to provide another day of support to the school leaders. The first thing we did was unpack the OPATH. This tool is a rubric designed to help explain the components of a personal mastery system and to allow the organization to identify where they are in meeting them. (Recognizing that each school had its own culture and personality, our coach had each school’s leadership team complete the processes. We were all working towards the same goal, as it was spelled out in the OPATH, but we were doing it based on what each school needed.)

After we had a better understanding of the components of the OPATH and placed our system on the appropriate level of the rubric, we began to discuss which of the eleven components required our immediate attention. We did this by first powervoting. Within this process, we each received two blue sticky dots and one green dot. The blues were worth one point and the green were worth three. We could place them all on one component of the OPATH or spread them out over several, reserving the green dot for that area we really thought was in need of attention.

After all people voted, we took the top five vote getters and then did an interrelation digraph. This process required us to put the five in a circle on a sheet of chart paper. Then we placed arrows connecting the five components. The head of the arrow pointed into the component most influenced by the other. Two-headed arrows were not allowed, as one component must always have a greater influence over the other. Once we went around the circle to determine the most influential factors, we counted the number of ‘intos’ and ‘outofs’. The one with the most ‘outofs’ was the one that had the greatest influence over the others. If we worked on this, it would help pivot the others. For Mt. Ararat Middle School, we found that Moral Purpose, the why we want to create a competency-based system, was our driving force, with four ‘outofs’ and no ‘intos’.

Next, we took our driver and created a bone diagram. In the upper right hand corner, we used the OPATH to create a description of what our future reality could look like. We then wrote a description of our current reality in the lower left corner of the bone. In the upper left corner, we placed all the things we were doing right to help us get to our new vision. In the lower right, we placed those things that would need to change to help us meet the vision.

The final step was to create a PDCA, a ReInventing School Coalition tool for goal setting. It stands for Plan, Do, Check, Adjust. The leadership team for the middle school set our goal to be “100% of our teachers will increase a step on the Customized Classroom Facilitator’s Continuum in any category those choose.” We also wanted to research and select a leadership framework that would guarantee our work would continue regardless of changes in leadership within the school.

The experience was rewarding and one of the best I have had in my time knowing ReInventing Schools. Our coach was able to customize the experience for each school by helping us to think about our school’s particular role within the system. While we are a district, we have control over our own domain within the whole. The processes he chose allowed all leaders to have a chance to weigh-in before asking them to buy-in. The PDCAs created will help each school support the entire system in making the framework a reality in our district, giving our students a consistent experience as they flow from school to school and classroom to classroom, building their capacity to be proficient and earn their diplomas.

About the Author

Bill Zima began his career as a zoo educator. Seeking something that was a bit more dynamic, he became a 7th grade science teacher. He is currently the superintendent at RSU2 in Maine. He is an original member of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, an organization of educators dedicated to the promotion of performance-based education systems in Maine. He is the author of "Learners Rule: Giving them a voice improves the culture of their classroom." You can follow him on Twitter (@zimaw) or reach him at zimaw (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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