Kennedy Elementary School in Wellington Unified School District USD 353 was ready for a change, so when principal Stephanie Smith learned about the Mercury 7 school redesign project, she leapt at the opportunity.
"Our students needed something different," Smith said. "We were ready to meet our students' needs instead of our students catering to how teachers taught. We were already planning to take the stages and steps necessary to change how instruction looked and how teaching looked. When this came along, we thought it was a perfect opportunity."
Smith and the Kennedy Elementary redesign team visited the Kansas State Department of Education on Wednesday, Jan. 10, to discuss with KSDE staff members how the process is going. Elementary redesign specialist Tammy Mitchell led the two-hour meeting, and Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander stopped by the meeting to check in with the team.
The elementary school is piloting several programs during the spring semester, including moving toward small-group instruction and project-based and blended learning. The school also is trying some new online programs and doing more with "families," which are small groups of students assigned to teachers throughout the building. There are students from every grade level in each family, Smith said.
The community response has been mostly positive, the principal said.
"I would say 98 percent is positive, and those that aren't, just aren't informed enough," Smith said. "We are trying to get the information out there as much possible. Now we know this is the direction we are heading so we can start sending out that information to the public."
The Wellington district will have a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at Wellington High School, Smith said.
Kennedy staff members have been positive, too, but it has been a difficult process, she said. Prior to the redesign process, staff members already had to implement new curriculum and new initiatives.
"There have been some setbacks," Smith said. "But now to see it come to fruition, the staff is getting excited. We are seeing tremendous changes in our building - just remarkable. Teachers who have taught the same way for decades are changing, and it's making a difference with their students. I have a remarkable staff, and they have really taken this in strides. We are super excited. This is the best thing that can happen for our students."
KSDE's secondary redesign specialist Jay Scott has been busy visiting secondary schools that are taking part in the redesign process. Scott visited Field-Kindley High School and Roosevelt Middle School, Coffeyville USD 445; Wellington High School, Wellington USD 353; McPherson Middle School, McPherson USD 418; and Bennington Junior/Senior High, Twin Valley USD 240.
"Some examples of what our Mercury secondary schools are 'trying on' include a different, more flexible schedule to allow students more personalized learning time and also more one-on-one time with a staff member (mentor, advisor), more project-based learning, and building in more community service and work-based learning opportunities for students," Scott said. "These schools have put in a great deal of time and effort to redesign, and it's exciting to see their staff and students begin to actually experience, albeit on a trial basis, some of the innovative methods that will eventually transform their current system into one that places the utmost importance on each individual student."
Santa Fe Trail Middle School, Olathe USD 233, kicked off its second phase, Designing the Rocket, on Wednesday, Jan. 3. Their redesign team presented the why, what and the how of each pilot project that will be used during the spring semester, Scott said.
KSDE on Jan. 5 had its first meeting of representatives from service center, educational organizations and other partners to develop a Kansas Flight Manual for redesign, Scott said.
"The flight manual will serve as a guide for all districts/schools across the state to redesign their systems to be student-centered," Scott said. "This group will also be developing a regional training model for schools wanting to redesign. Both the manual and the training model will be ready for the 2018-2019 school year."
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