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Tag: principal and superintendent perspectives

Milestones and Benchmarks On the Way to a Proficiency-Based System

December 3, 2015 by

RSU2On numerous occasions, I have been asked, “On your journey to a proficiency-based system, what were the milestones and benchmarks that were critical to a successful transition?” In taking the time to reflect over the past few years, there are certainly points along the way that have proven to be vital as we’ve moved forward toward a solid proficiency-based learning system. (more…)

Where Students are Our Students, Not Mine or Yours

December 1, 2015 by

ShepherdThese past two weeks have reminded me of something I have always known to be true in my gut and in my heart. Growth and success in schools is built upon a solid foundation of trust and an intrinsic culture of collaboration and mutual support.

Recently, our district hosted two visits to our school and district from educators and policy makers from across the country, I listened to our teachers reiterate to our guests that it is imperative to be engaged in work in a place where you feel safe to take chances and know you will be supported. It seems so simple, yet we all know it is not something that just happens. It takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. It has traditionally been easier for people to work in isolation, rather than put themselves out there with a team and be mutually accountable for the success of ALL students. (more…)

Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions

November 4, 2015 by

Work Study Practices PictureThis is the first in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are entwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.) Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in the following article.

Article 1: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions.

Article 2: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Article 3: Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

Article 4: Student Ownership of Non-Curricular Cognitive Competencies

 Jonathan G. Vander Els, Principal; Jill Lizier, 1st Grade Teacher; and Terry Bolduc, 5th Grade Teacher are all veteran educators at Memorial School, a Pre-K to 5 elementary school within the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire.

Last year, I wrote an article discussing the importance of separating academics from behaviors in a competency-based educational system. Our experience, understanding, and knowledge related to Work Study Practices continue to evolve. We recognize as a system that these skills and dispositions are crucial to the continued progression, increased readiness, and overall success of our learners. Our teachers have worked to refine their practice within the classroom, both instructionally, how skills and dispositions are assessed, and by providing opportunities for increased ownership and engagement with for students as self-directed learners.

As I circulated throughout our building at the very beginning of this school year, I was struck by the depth and deliberate focus on WSP by our teachers. I observed the level of engagement of students within these discussions and activities, and the connections many of our students were making to their own learning. It was incredibly powerful to begin to see the impact and connection that students were making to their own learning needs and how this increased self-awareness was allowing them to better engage in their academics.

The insight of two of our teachers describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system, and how this developed understanding informs their practice in the classroom to this day. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to the beginning stages of our work, and how they began to realize that the Work Study Practices needed to become an integral component of the learning process within their respective learning environments. (more…)

It All Starts with Strong PLCs

November 2, 2015 by

BarbellJonathan Vander Els, principal at Memorial Elementary School, wrote a thoughtful piece about the power of professional learning communities in transitioning to competency education for ALLTHINGSPLC. In it, he described how the key questions guiding PLCs have shaped the progress of Memorial in re-tooling its system to ensure students are successful.

1.) What is it we expect our students to learn?

  • Our teachers are now crystal clear about what students are expected to know and demonstrate. This should never be a mystery, and through backwards design planning, the outcomes for any unit are established and made clear to learners.
  • Our teachers’ increased understanding of competencies ensures a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Our district has high-leverage competencies that guide the learning for our students. Underneath the umbrella of the competencies and within the assessment itself, teachers identify the leverage standards that will be assessed within each assessment.

2.) How will we know when students have learned it?

  • Team-designed rubrics outline precisely what students are expected to know. Competency is the ability for students to transfer their learning in and across content areas. Therefore, our teachers provide real-world problems and cross-curricular assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate this transfer of knowledge to other applicable situations.
  • Team-created common assessments are the driving force behind gathering data specific to each student’s progression of learning. This information is then collaboratively analyzed to inform the next instructional steps and learning pathways for each student.

3.) How will we respond when some students do not learn? (more…)

Innovation Springing Up in Springdale

September 28, 2015 by
Dr-Megan-Witonski

Dr. Megan Witonski

When you talk to Dr. Megan Witonski, Associate Superintendent in Springdale School District (AR), it feels like she is just about to jump out of the phone, she is that full of passion, insightfulness, and the all-important we-are-going-to-make-this-happen-ness. I couldn’t but help imagine her with a superhero cloak.

Springdale, based in Northwest Arkansas, has 23,000 students, half of whom are English Language Learners. The district is entering their second year of implementation of a new 8-12 School of Innovation. The strategy doesn’t end with a new school – Springdale is personalizing their school district by having six of their schools approved (and the waivers that come with it) under the Arkansas Department of Education School of Innovation initiative. These six schools all provide students to the School of Innovation, led by principal Joe Rollins.

We’ve all seen districts start up new innovative schools but leave the others to stagnate. Not so at Springdale. For example, they found that advisories have been instrumental in the new School for Innovation in lifting up student voice, ensuring strong relationships are built with students, and helping to personalize instruction and support so they can be confident students are learning. As a result, they’ve already introduced advisories into the other middle and high schools.

What Inspired Springdale to Personalize: Witonski explained that there were several forces at work leading them to personalization. First, they wanted to make sure they were fully preparing their students for life after high school. They wanted to reach beyond the basic requirements for graduation. Second, with half of their student body learning English and needing help to fully build up their strength in the academic use of English, they needed a model that would ensure every student was fully engaged and able to get the support he or she needed.

Witonski said, “We were doing a great job for most students, but there is a population we need to seek out new approaches to reach and help build a wider set of skills. We began by looking at the most important ingredients for what students needed to be ready for college and careers. We wanted to make sure they had all the tools in their toolbelt to be successful. From there, we looked at what a structure could look like that would help them build those skills.” (more…)

A School’s Journey to Promote Student Achievement and Ownership of Learning

May 5, 2015 by

Roger Vadeen

Our journey to a true competency-based system has been a long yet rewarding one.

It began with the stark realization that the status quo wasn’t working for our students and far too many of our kids were either not graduating from high school or receiving diplomas and finding themselves ill prepared for the twenty-first century workforce or for college. As you will find, there have been a lot of steps along the way and it has been hard work.

In 2006, a group of principals, teachers, and Adams County School District 50 leaders took a plane north headed for Anchorage, Alaska. Our destination was a small school district near Anchorage called Chugach School District. We had heard about the work of the Chugach District from the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) and we were intrigued by the possibilities. I was especially interested to learn more about how students were being authentically engaged in goal setting and making decisions on what they needed and wanted to learn. I heard that students in Chugach were highly engaged in their learning and were taking responsibility for their own learning at levels that surprised even the Chugach teachers. I traveled a long way see this approach to education in action and I was not disappointed.

Following our week-long visit to schools and workshops with the Chugach School District leaders, teachers, and students, we were convinced this approach made sense and we were determined to figure out how we could reinvigorate learning in our district and in our schools. (more…)

Communicating With Parents on the Transition to Competency Education

April 21, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

I am the Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. Our district has used a competency education model for the past five years and is one of the districts that is part of the exciting PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) pilot program for school accountability. I am often asked by administrators who are looking to transition their schools to this kind of a model what it is like to communicate it to parents and families. This is something our school tries to do on an ongoing basis. Just this week, my two assistant principals and I held an evening coffee hour sponsored by our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to discuss the topic in more detail. It was a very well-attended evening. Below is a summary of how that evening was structure. It was first written and shared on my Principal’s Blog for parents who were unable to attend, but I am also sharing it with all of you on CompetencyWorks in the event that it could help you structure a similar event in your own schools.

Last night’s PTO meeting agenda said that school administrators would be available to lead a discussion on competency-based grading, but really it was all about chocolate chip cookies. What makes for an exemplary cookie, the one that is over-fresh with a sweet, rich, buttery flavor? The one with a real chocolate taste in each bite that complements that rich and flavored dough? You can’t teach someone how to make such a cookie until you take the time to define the criteria that you would use to assess it. It was through the lens of this scenario that Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, and Assistant Principals, Ann Hadwen and Michael Turmelle, helped everyone in the room understand the big picture of competency education, grading, and assessment and how it is working to provide a more rigorous education for all students.

Competency Education – The Big Picture (more…)

An Interview with Principal Jaime Robles, Lindsay High School

March 18, 2015 by
Jaime Robles

Jaime Robles

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

“I could have used the personalized, performance-based system growing up.”

Jaime Robles, Principal of Lindsay High School, understands why we need to transform our schools. He grew up just a bit south of Lindsay in an agricultural community, a first-generation resident and the first in his family to go to college. He saw many of his high school friends disengage from school.

Here are a few of the highlights of our conversation. You can also hear from Robles directly on this video.

What does it mean to be a principal in a performance-based system?

As an instructional leader, I focus my job on three goals. First, my job is to keep the compelling purpose of supporting our learners alive. It’s easy to slip back into doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. Second, my job is to empower our staff. They need to have the freedom to do their jobs in supporting our learners. Third, I operate from a position of service and collaboration. This is very important because if I used top-down leadership, I wouldn’t be able to empower staff. These three elements go hand in hand.  (more…)

Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

January 20, 2015 by
Bob Crumley

Bob Crumley

This is the fourth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecond, and third posts here.

In October, I had the chance to meet with Bob Crumley, Superintendent of the Chugach School District. He’s worked his way up, starting as a teacher in the village of Whittier, becoming the assistant superintendent in 1999 and superintendent in 2005. Crumley has a powerful story to share, as he’s been part of the team that transformed Chugach into a performance-based system and sustained it for twenty years.

Crumley has tremendous insights into every aspect of creating and managing a personalized, performance-based system. The emphasis on empowerment, situational leadership-management styles, and courage reminded me of my conversation with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine. Below, Crumley addresses several key elements of managing a performance-based system:

Personalized is Community-Based: On the Importance of Community Engagement

Creating a personalized, performance-based system starts with engaging the community in an authentic way. Our entire transformation started with the communities and school board challenging us – they wanted to know why their children were not reading at grade level. Our communities were not sure they trusted the schools and teachers. This was partially based on the history of Alaska and how Native Alaskan communities were treated. However, it was also based on the fact that we were not currently effective in helping our children to learn the basics or preparing them for success in their lives. We had to find a way to overcome that.

The superintendent at the time, Roger Sampson, was committed to responding to the community and implemented a top-down reading program. Reading skills did improve, but it also raised questions for all of us about what we needed to do to respond to students to help them learn. With the leadership of Sampson and Richard DeLorenzo, Assistant Superintendent, we took a step back in order to redesign our system. (more…)

Navigators of Learning

January 8, 2015 by

CompassImprovement comes from knowing where you are going, where you are starting, and the strategic steps to get you there. This is true whether you are retooling a business or choosing towels for a newly redecorated bathroom. When my district began to move to a learner-centered, proficiency-based educational system, we met with the community of parents, learners, educators, and business leaders to set the vision for the school. We now use this vision to create the action plans we will follow to get us to the vision.

But when working with students, we stray from this plan. Teachers’ goals are simple: improve students in their thinking and skills. The execution is the tough part. Giving students a letter grade is not a strategy for improvement. It is as helpful as a coach telling a team they lost without reflecting on why the loss occurred. Athletes know the goal of the game is to win, and reminding them of this is not a strategy.

Tony Dungy, the former head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts (as described in Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries for Leaders), knew that if he was going to win the Super Bowl, he would need to not just measure how many wins or losses the team had. Instead he would need to measure penalty yards and turnovers. He then gave the athletes strategies on how to improve those areas. If they executed the strategies, he theorized they would win. He was right. Teachers need to do the same. We cannot simply give students a final grade when they are not even sure what strategies they can use to improve – or worse, aren’t even clear on what they are trying to improve. A well-crafted progression of competencies can give the teacher and the student the guidebook needed to create successful strategies for continuous improvement. (more…)

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