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Mercury 7 districts share school redesign plans with Kansas State Board of Education

Posted: Jun 14, 2018
Author: Ann Bush

TOPEKA —School districts selected in August 2017 to participate in the Mercury 7 Kansans Can School Redesign Project knew that the process was going to be a challenge but well worth it because it would positively impact Kansas students. What teachers didn’t know, however, was how much this process would reignite their passion for the profession.

“I’m more nurturing and more caring,” said Andrea Dix, a fourth- and fifth-grade science teacher for Stockton Unified School District 271.

Dix runs a very “strict” classroom, she said. And while that hasn’t changed, she has learned the importance of building strong relationships with her students. Dix served on Stockton USD 271’s redesign team.

One of the programs piloted during the 2017-2018 school year was Zones of Regulation. Cards on classroom walls related to how a student was feeling – red indicated anger and not ready to learn; yellow was frustrated; blue indicated a student was sad, tired or hurt; and green indicated a student was feeling good and ready to learn.

As students entered Dix’s classroom, she would ask them how they felt at the moment. Answers ranged from red to green and were different on any given day. One day, a student asked Dix how she was feeling.

“What can we do to help you?” the student asked.

“I really took it to heart,” Dix said. “I really reflected.”

If a student’s ability to learn is impacted by feelings, so can a teacher’s ability to teach.

“It changed how I do things in my classroom,” she said. “It was my aha moment.”

Dix had tears in her eyes as she shared her story with the Kansas State Board of Education on Wednesday, June 13. It was the second day of the seven districts presenting their plans to board members for approval.

On Tuesday, June 12, Wellington USD 353, which selected Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter to represent their district, shared details of their redesign plans, followed by Coffeyville USD 445, which selected astronaut John Glenn.

Liberal USD 480, which selected astronaut Alan Shepard, kicked off Wednesday’s presentations. Stockton USD 271, which selected Deke Slayton, and McPherson USD 418, which selected astronaut Walt “Wally” Schirra, presented during the morning hours, too. Twin Valley USD 240, which selected Virgil “Gus” Grissom for its astronaut, and Olathe USD 233, which selected Gordon Cooper, shared their redesign plans in the afternoon.

While each district crafted a redesign plan based on the needs of their students and communities, several common themes emerged. Each district plan contained a strong social-emotional growth component focused on developing deeper relationships between teachers and students.
Plans provided students the opportunity for more personalized learning – when they want to learn; how they want to learn; and where they want to learn. Redesign plans also focused on the need for students to become immersed in project-based learning and to become engaged citizens in their schools and their communities.

In support of Kansas’ vision for education, Kansas leads the world in the success of each student, the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) launched the Kansans Can School Redesign Project and invited every school district in Kansas to apply for the first round, called Mercury 7. 

To be considered for the project, districts had to designate one elementary school and one secondary school to be redesigned around the five outcomes established by the Kansas State Board of Education, the five elements identified as defining a successful Kansas high school graduate and what Kansans said they want their schools to look like in the future. Each district also had to have support of their local school board, their faculty and their local Kansas National Education Association or other professional organization.

The agency received 29 applications, and on Aug. 8, 2017, the seven selected districts were announced at a State Board of Education meeting. The seven districts – 15 schools – will serve as demonstration sites for others in Kansas to study, learn and visit.

The Mercury 7 districts had to agree to launch their redesigns in the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers, administrators, community members and students gave input to the districts, and then redesign teams spent several months developing a vision, mission and goals for their schools.

During that time, KSDE developed a Gemini I Project and invited the remaining districts that applied for Mercury 7 to take part. 

Twenty-one districts decided to participate. In April 2018, KSDE announced that 19 Kansas school districts applied to take part in Gemini II: The Space Walk Begins, the next round of the school redesign project.

The Mercury 7 districts shared their presentations with board members during the June meeting. Below is a list of participating schools, their visions and goals and some of the programs they plan to implement in the fall of 2018.

Wellington USD 353
Kennedy Elementary School – Vision: Our students will be creative, achieving, respectful members of our community by building positive relationships.
Goal areas: By the time students leave Kennedy, students will be able to communicate, interact positively and build relationships with each other; students will be exposed to real-world experiences so that they can build aspirations beyond what they know; and students will be able to verbalize what they are learning and why.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Blended learning and project-based learning using the Summit Learning platform; small-group learning environments; Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) incorporated into daily routines; a therapy dog; on-site therapist; and morning meetings that provide students with time to share their thoughts and concerns.

Wellington High School – Vision: Students will be empowered to thrive, contribute and lead in a global society.
Goal area: By 2025, 100 percent of students graduating from the school will meet their Individual Plans of Study (IPS) when measured two years postsecondary, which may include an associate’s degree and/or industry-recognized certifications, military, missionary work or taking over a family business.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Personalized, blended and project-based learning through the Summit Learning platform; a social-emotional mentoring focus with weekly character education lessons and peer-to-peer mentoring groups; civic engagement; a Career and Technical (CTE) Education Center that will open in the fall of 2018; and a flexible schedule that will allow students more time to work toward college credits and certifications.

Coffeyville USD 445
Community Elementary School – Vision: Community Elementary School will empower students socially, emotionally, physically and academically, one life at a time, in order to be prepared for real-world experiences.
Goal areas: Achievement in academic and cognitive; social-emotional; health and wellness.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Improve attendance; offer early release days so teachers have collaboration time and students can take part in activities provided by local organizations; Twister Time where small groups of seven to nine students meet with an adult; possible changes to schedules; family-fitness events; calm-down rooms; and Zones of Regulation.

Roosevelt Middle School - Vision: Storming a golden path to postsecondary success.
Goal areas: Academic/cognitive; social-emotional; and employability/technical.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Academic mentoring; personalized learning; daily and hourly brain breaks; tiered behavioral interventions; weekly social skills lessons; resume-building skills; soft skills, such as learning handshakes and eye contact; mock interviews; career exploration; and job shadowing.

Field Kindley High School - Vision: Storming a golden path to postsecondary success.
Goal areas – Academic/cognitive; social-emotional; and employability/technical.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Project-based learning via Summit Learning platform; IPS; mentoring; 100 percent student involvement in school activities; students earn service learning hours each year; promotion of vocational and CTE classes; core credit for community college vo-tech classes that qualify; and teach college and career skills.

Liberal USD 480
Meadowlark Elementary School - Vision: Meadowlark students can reach their dreams.
Goal areas: Family engagement; personalized learning; and nurturing communities and experiences.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Meadowlark Innovative Time Excites Everyone (MITEE Monday), which gives students choices and exposes them to different careers and experiences; transportation services for parents and families who need it; parent cafes where parents can learn about different topics; and personalized learning times.

Liberal High School - Vision: Angry Red Advantage, which has three parts – Plan for Today. Vision for Tomorrow. Purpose for Life.
Goal areas: Attendance; problem-solving; engagement; and voter turnout.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Implementation of a flexible schedule with only a start bell and an end-of-the-day bell; large- and small-group learning sessions; maximize students’ and staff members’ time; a focus on project-based learning conceptualized by the student through an IPS; and 100 percent participation rate in school activities.

Stockton USD 271 
(This is a districtwide redesign project including an elementary school and secondary school.)
Vision: We are TIGER Ready. Touchstones. Innovative. Grit. Empowered. Relationships.
Goal areas: Social-emotional intelligence; Thinkers, Learners and Doers; and engaged and empowered.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Community groups that pair small groups of students with an adult; encourage students to take ownership of their own learning; project-based, blended and personalized learning; use of a digital portfolio for students in kindergarten through third grades, which will allow students and parents to look back over work from previous years; and Pride Day, which allows students to volunteer in the community.

McPherson USD 418
Eisenhower Elementary School - Vision; Jaguars are ready to experience, explore and serve.
Goal areas: To provide rich experiences to students; service; and social-emotional learning.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Addition of a full-time music teacher, which has allowed teachers to bring music into the curriculum; addition of two innovation coaches who will help analyze data and offer instructional support for project-based learning; implementation of the Summit Learning platform; Jag program, which brings every person at the school together at the beginning of the school day for a positive start; and student mentoring programs between McPherson High School students and Eisenhower students.

McPherson Middle School - Vision: Students will be future ready through balanced, personalized learning.
Goal areas: Social-emotional learning; academic success; and civic engagement.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Implementation of the Summit Learning platform to help individualize learning for students and to help meet the school’s goal of increasing the use of project-based learning; a new adjusted bell schedule that includes a 12-minute Pack Time at the beginning of each day to help build positive relationships between students and staff members; integration of civic engagement lessons into curriculum;  student service hours; Capturing Kids’ Hearts, which is a researched-based curriculum that addresses the social-emotional needs of students and staff members; and measurement of students’ social-emotional learning using the ACT Tessera assessment.

Twin Valley USD 240
Bennington Junior-Senior High School - Vision: Twin Valley future graduates will possess expert learning capacities and real-world employability skills developed through intentional exposure to trainings and interventions, allowing them to become competent and competitive members of society and the workplace in a postsecondary world.
Goal areas for students: Students will progress according to their validated skills and abilities; students can and will develop the capacity to become expert learners; all students have access to training, interventions and opportunities to participate in activities that promote community; real-world opportunities that will allow them to be competent and competitive members of society; and all students have access to training and interventions as needed to be socially and emotionally capable to thrive in the postsecondary world. There also are goal areas for staff members and parents.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Student-led conferences; explore career interests; blended learning through the Summit Learning platform that allows students to determine path and pace; campus visits; flexible schedule, including a Power Hour each day during lunch time; extended personalized learning time one day per week; and service projects.

Tescott School - Vision: Fostering tolerance and scholarship in every student.
Goals: Personalized learning; social-emotional learning; and family and community engagement.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Co-teaching; implementation of the Summit Learning platform for personalized learning; Zearn, a math-learning program for kindergarten through third-grade students; student-led conferences; parent camps; and mentoring.

Olathe USD 233
Westview Elementary School - Vision: Inspire. Cultivate. Create.
Goal areas: Personalized learning; project-based learning; social-emotional learning; and community.
Ways to reach vision/goals: Small groups for learning; goal setting for students; increased movement; combined grade levels (K-1, 2-3 and 4-5); more student choice; flexible learning spaces; professional development for staff; community business involvement; co-teaching; students eat lunch with small groups and an adult; addition of one counselor, bringing the total number of full-time counselors to two; leadership opportunities for students; kindergarten readiness; and home visits for young children.

Santa Fe Trail Middle School - Vision: Empowering ALL learners to explore.
Goal areas: Social-emotional (decrease discipline referrals, chronic absences; and increase a student’s ability to emotionally regulate); academics (increase student assessment scores and self-efficacy); and engagement (implement seventh-grade job-shadowing program and increase active participation in Exploration Days).
Ways to reach vision/goals: Positive programs at the beginning and end of each school day (Cyclone Start-Up and Cyclone Wrap-Up); interventions offered four times per week that are related to content, social-emotional learning and enrichment; implement seventh-grade job-shadowing experiences; and Exploration Days where students can dive deeper into careers, receive hands-on learning and take part in service projects.

State Board of Education members approved each district’s redesign plan, and schools will launch their redesigns in the fall.

While there were challenges during the redesign planning process – such as disagreements between staff members and getting buy-in from some – the overall process has brought caring, excitement and passion back into the teaching career field, teachers and administrators told the board.

“You gave dreamers a chance to dream,” said Shelly Swayne, superintendent of Stockton USD 271. “Thank you for doing that in Stockton. Thank you for doing that across the state.”


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