By focusing on just one facet of curriculum, the administration of Delta County Joint School District #50 has been able to allay many of the fears expressed by teachers and parents when the curriculum alignment process was launched two years ago.
The goal was to ensure that every student at every grade level, regardless of school or community, was being taught the same core state standards at the same time.
Previously, each school was allowed to chart its own path to student achievement. The changes sweeping through the school district left some teachers feeling threatened, and they shared their concerns with parents. After hearing from both teachers and parents, school board members put out a brief survey to determine whether the process should be put on hold. In the end, they voted to proceed and with a new leadership team in place at the district office, the effort was broken down into more manageable pieces.
This school year the focus is on assessments; in 2013-14 the focus will shift to gathering and assessing data. The third-year goal is to change instruction based on that data.
The result is less stress and anxiety districtwide. The tone is totally different from that expressed in a December 2011 DCI article titled "District curriculum effort creates anxiety."
"Our pace didn't slow down," said Connie Vincent, district curriculum/instructional coordinator. "We're just getting more focused on smaller pieces of it, not trying to do the whole thing at once."
"When we started the work, we had in mind that it would be a three- to five-year process," said assistant superintendent Kurt Clay. "We're still on that plan, but we're trying to be more specific about the target."
Some schools are moving toward that target more quickly than others, but all are working collaboratively in the same direction, Clay said. The school district has taken advantage of that momentum during early release days, bringing together teachers from across the district by grade level and subject.
"It's exciting listening to them share ideas," said Vincent, who sat in with a group of fifth grade teachers when they got together during the most recent early release day.
Clay watched as secondary science teachers shared what's working and what isn't in their classrooms.
"When we had autonomy across the district, each community did its own thing," Clay said. "That resulted in isolation and we couldn't use our people effectively. This is just the beginning of tapping into that collaboration to fully utilize our resources."
While teachers are being told what to teach and when to teach it, Clay said they will never be told how to teach.
The how is completely up to the teacher because the school district understands each teacher has his or her own unique teaching style, based largely on the relationships they've formed with the students in their classroom.
"Our master teachers don't need the how. We need to find out what they're doing and, if it's successful, share it with others."
Schools like Paonia Elementary, which have embraced CORE Knowledge sequence, can still use elements of that program to meet state standards.
The district philosophy mirrors the state approach, Clay said. For example, the state standards specify what a fifth grade student should know, not how they should be taught the subject matter. Delta County takes that approach a bit farther by outlining when each standard should be taught. That provides consistency across the school district, so when kids move from one community to another they don't miss a unit or double up on a topic.
Secondly, data can be gathered and measured simultaneously across the district — and that's what ultimately drives the curriculum alignment effort.
"Our goal is changing instruction based off our data," Clay said. "That's the reason you implement curriculum changes."
"We can't wait for TCAP results to make changes," Vincent said. TCAPs do drive some districtwide changes when trends are noted, she said, but by the time those test results are in hand, students have moved on to the next grade level.
The quicker teachers figure out what's working and what's not, the quicker their students gain mastery. The question ideally becomes one of "How do we change our lesson tomorrow based on what we did today?"
Early in the curriculum alignment process, writing lesson plans was a huge undertaking. Again, Vincent emphasized teachers are not required to follow those lesson plans but they can be valuable tools, particularly for new teachers.
That process continues to evolve, first as teachers put the lesson plans into practice in the classroom, and second as their effectiveness is measured. Then, as more resources become available and better teaching practices come into play, those documents can be tweaked.
"Our very best people are putting a lot of time and effort into making this work," Clay said. "We have some phenomenal teachers and administrators in this district and it's exciting to glean all that knowledge from these people. They're truly the ones who are going to make this work."blog comments powered by Disqus