Two Kansas State Department of Education redesign specialists, as well as other KSDE staff members, received a first-hand look at how other states are changing the face of education.
Jay Scott, who is leading secondary school redesign, and Tammy Mitchell, who is leading the elementary school redesign, traveled to Wilder, Idaho, and Evanston, Wyoming, earlier this month to find out what is happening in their school districts.
“The visits were really good,” Scott said.
The Wilder School District in Wilder, Idaho, was the smaller of the two districts that Scott and Mitchell visited. It serves about 500 students and is located about 40 miles west of Boise, Idaho.
The district uses a personalized learning approach.
“The biggest highlight is they don’t use bells,” Scott said of the secondary schools. “They have a soft schedule.”
While some students select a more traditional route, about 90 percent of the student body are learning via technology at their own pace.
At the elementary level, Mitchell said students also are receiving lessons on iPads. Most of the classrooms feature flexible seating, too. The students are broken into “learning studios” as opposed to grade levels.
“That has revolutionized special education,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and Scott said that while students spend a lot of time on their iPads, there is still human interaction with teachers.
“There is no replacement for a classroom teacher,” Scott said.
At Uinta County School District No. 1, which is located in Evanston, Wyoming, students are taught using blended learning incorporating a combination of technology and social interaction.
During the 2014-2015 school year, Uinta partnered with Education Elements to provide Blended Learning Fellowship to 54 teachers across the district. Last school year, Uinta offered a second fellowship, and 65 teachers volunteered to take part.
Since beginning the project, Uinta has had a 146 percent growth in Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) math and a 140 percent growth in NWEA reading during the 2015-2016 school year; and an increase of 23 percent in average math growth and a 5 percent increase in average reading growth during the past three years.
Scott and Mitchell began the second Mercury Redesign support cycle on Tuesday, Sept. 12, with a visit to Coffeyville Unified School District 445, followed by Wellington USD 353 on Sept. 13. They traveled to McPherson USD 418 on Sept. 14, followed by trips to Olathe USD 233 on Sept. 15, Twin Valley USD 240 on Sept. 19, Stockton USD 271 on Sept. 20 and Liberal USD 480 on Sept. 21.
“The focus of this visit was to discover their why,” Scott said. “Why do they want to do this? They’re also developing a vision statement for each of their buildings. They’re taking those visions out to their local school boards and community events for input.”
Both Mitchell and Scott are reiterating to each district how important it is to have teachers and the districts leading the redesign projects.
“They have to lead it,” Mitchell said. “It can’t be the state coming in and leading it. That’s not sustainable. They have to lead it locally. They have to go out and talk to the community.”
Districts have used various methods to get input from community members and businesses. One district had a pizza party for families and asked for feedback, while another district canvassed neighborhoods around the school.
While Jay and Mitchell are enjoying visiting schools, there have been some challenges, such as the long drives across Kansas and having all of the answers to districts’ questions.
“Part of the challenge is having a response to, ‘What is all of this about,’ ” Scott said. “They want us to tell them what to do, but we can’t. We don’t know the community like they do.”
“We are pushing their thinking,” she said. “But we’re not going to tell them how to do it.”
The redesign specialists began visiting districts for the third time on Sept. 25. This is their schedule:
• Monday, Sept. 25: In office
• Tuesday, Sept. 26: Coffeyville
• Wednesday, Sept. 27: Wellington
• Thursday, Sept. 28: McPherson
• Friday, Sept. 29: Olathe
• Monday, Oct. 2: In office
• Tuesday, Oct. 3: Twin Valley
• Wednesday, Oct. 4: Stockton
• Thursday, Oct. 5: Liberal
• Friday, Oct. 6: In office
Mitchell and Scott had a virtual meeting Friday, Sept. 22, with the 21 Gemini Project districts. While the districts participating in the Gemini Project won’t receive onsite coaching from Mitchell and Scott, they will participate in video Professional Learning Community sessions together and periodic Zoom meetings with the redesign specialists. The Gemini Project districts are required to attend the Zoom virtual meetings.
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