Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Transformation

Today I will finish the topic of transformation in the school system. Transformation of the system means that public education will “look” fundamentally different then it does today. The basic assumptions that we hold for how students are taught should change. Deep transformation will take some time, but I will briefly explain how Ridgway Area School District will position itself to start the transformation process.

How will Ridgway Area School District start the transformation process?

1. Organizations must become more open and transparent and that includes public education. People demand to know how public institutions are operated and demand to have more input then in the past. With that in mind, the elementary school will institute a parent academy next year which will offer a space for parents to interact more informally with the school. The elementary principal, Mrs. Herzing, is also exploring “parent liaison committees” which will be another way for parents to have more input into what goes on in the school. At the high school Mrs. Vargas has started a student advisory group which has been very influential in making suggestions concerning the governance of the school. The student’s suggestions can be found in my blog on May 12th.

2. There must be a focus on student achievement. It goes without saying that a focus on student achievement is also a focus on student learning and teacher instruction. The school district has focused on instruction this year through intense training of the teaching staff on research-based instructional strategies that improve student achievement. The school district is also asking all teachers to create “benchmark assessments”. Benchmark assessments are a fancy name for creating a local test that truly measures what was taught in the classroom. Benchmark assessments are created by grade level or subject area teams of teachers working together so each student will be judged on the same criteria regardless of what teacher they may have had. In the best of all possible worlds, benchmark assessments are used to adjust instruction throughout the year. In other words, if too many students do not do well on the assessment, then the teacher will need to re-teach the concept using different instructional strategies.

3. Fostering student creativity and problem solving must be a focus for Ridgway Area School District. I hear from community members as well as teachers about the lack of problem solving capabilities of students. The school must start to adjust the way we think about being creative and solving problems. Creativity is not something that must be confined to music or art classes. All curriculum areas in all grade levels must offer opportunities for students to show their creative side. The school district shows off our music and art students’ creativity through concerts and exhibitions. The schools must now do the same for the student who finds a creative solution to a problem in math, social studies, foreign language and all curricular areas. Stanford University has a great model in their K-12 lab. The students and teachers all follow “design thinking” which centers on identifying and solving real world problems. That model would be great for Ridgway Area School District. The school district currently uses community resources to try to help students become more creative (Appalachian Arts Studio) but expanding the school’s reach into other community venues is a must.

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