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Raising the Bar at Sanborn Regional High School

March 19, 2014 by

srhs

This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”

Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”

SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit.  (more…)

Addressing Root Causes at Memorial Elementary School

March 18, 2014 by
Writing Continuum, 2012-2013-Tri. 1

The Wall at Memorial Elementary School

This is the second of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Sanborn Regional School District had already embraced standards in their elementary, middle and high schools before the state policies calling for competency-based high school credits were introduced. Now that Sanborn Regional High School is well on its way to converting to competency education, other schools in SRSD are exploring what it means to take the step from standards-referenced to competency-based.

Creating a competency-based culture has already brought about changes, Memorial Elementary School Principal Jon Vander Els said, including ensuring that teachers have adequate time together for planning, a greater emphasis on differentiation in all grades, and the introduction of the concept of re-teaching when students don’t master the material in the first learning cycle.

Charting Student Progress on ‘The Wall’

If schools are going to ensure that all students become proficient in the standards, teachers have to share an understanding of what proficiency looks like. This is often referred to as calibration or tuning. Memorial has created two techniques to support this in writing. First is the Writing Continuum, which breaks down by developmental level the expectations for the types of texts, content and traits, process, mechanics and conventions, and attitudes. (more…)

Sanborn Regional School District Flips District Reform

March 17, 2014 by
sanborn district-brian blake

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…)

Five Big Take-Aways on Implementation from New Hampshire

February 19, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

I just got back from amazing travels to five districts/charter schools in New Hampshire – Making Community Connections Charter School, Pittsfield School District, Rochester School District, Sanborn Regional School District, and Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Truly it was a delight to see what it looks like as an entire state moves down the path to transformation. To all the New Hampshire educators and leaders — thank you for your courage, creativity and persevering leadership! Here are my five big take-aways with more detailed posts to follow:

 1.Personalization Required

I don’t think competency education works well without personalization. They go hand in hand. Personalization requires an infrastructure that enables us to understand how students are progressing and to keep a keen eye on equity. Competency education requires us to personalize education to make sure students are getting the help they need when they need it. (more…)

The Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Honors in Our Competency-Based System

February 18, 2014 by

 

The Need For Change: Brian’s Uh-huh! Momenthonors

I was watching a cooking competition on the Food Network the other day. The contestants were asked to create the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich for a panel of judges to sample. The judges then assessed the sandwiches on a variety of characteristics including overall taste, texture, presentation, and what they called a “wow factor” that included the use of unique ingredients.

This competition really got me thinking. Brady and Cameron, my 8- and 6-year-old sons, and I make grilled cheese sandwiches all the time. Through trial and error, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. Some of our discoveries have included what kinds of cheeses melt best, how much butter to use to get a crispy crust, what kinds of breads produce the best flavors, and how hot to make our pan to get the right sandwich. We’ve made plenty of mediocre sandwiches along the way – overcooked or undercooked, not enough cheese, not enough butter, soggy, or just too dry. Still, even the mediocre sandwiches satisfied our hunger at that moment. (more…)

Our School’s Pathway to Competency-Based Learning

January 14, 2014 by
Jonathan Vander Els

Jonathan Vander Els

In our continued quest to gain more information about students’ learning, growth and progress, a standards/competency-based grading system has provided our school and our district with timely, detailed information regarding the specific competencies that students have (or have not) demonstrated proficiency in.

Our district transitioned to a competency-based grading system four years ago, and now that we are fully implemented, I can’t imagine assessing in any other way. However, this has been and will continue to be a learning process. There have been a number of bumps in the road during this journey, but the end result is that, as one teacher stated, we, “know more about our students now than we have ever known”.

There was a significant amount of discussion at the leadership level prior to moving to this system, and many questions had to be answered, like ‘should we do this by level (elementary, middle and then high school) or do we make the decision as a district to move to this system in grades K-12?’ A number of our staff (myself included) had the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli in Boston and the information gleaned and the resulting discussions began to pave the way for the work we were going to undertake. (more…)

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