Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Striving Readers Grant is an Opportunity for the Whole Community

You may remember that Rugby Public Schools was awarded a North Dakota Striving Readers Grant this past fall. It is a federal grant aimed at improving literacy from birth to grade 12. This a wonderful opportunity for our schools, but also for our community! 

Not only do we have some exciting new things going on in K-12 due to this grant, but we are now able to provide literacy programming for children in our community who are in the birth to age five range. 

Karen Black and Gail Rham have been hired to assist us with the birth to age five literacy programming in our community.  Many of you will recognize these names as they were both teachers at Ely Elementary for many years.  They have extensive knowledge working with young students, and are very excited to start working with little ones in our community. 

The Heart of American Library and many of Rugby’s daycare providers have agreed to take part in this literacy programming.  Twice a month Karen and Gail will be doing Story Hour at the Heart of America Library.  This month’s topic will be “Rhyming, Sequencing, and Retelling.”  Story Hour is every Friday from 10:15-11:00AM. We hope to see more families attend this great opportunity!
Similar programming will be provided to our local childcare providers. Mrs. Black and Mrs. Rham will be working with the following childcare providers, Growing Place Daycare, The Kids Next Door, Mindy Stier, Connie Grove, Mandy Kuhnhenn, and Terry Lemar. 

RPS has partnered with the Heart of America Johnson Clinic and the First District Health Unit.  RPS will be providing books to both clinics.  The medical providers will provide books to babies and toddlers as they come in for their well-child visits, as well as continuing to talk about the importance of literacy at an early age. 

Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking — beginning from birth — profoundly influence literacy and language development, the foundations for all other learning! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Barrier of Time

I have been thinking about the structure of our school calendar for a long time. It is incredibly difficult to lead complex change within our current calendar. Staff development for educators often occurs during small chunks of time throughout the year (early outs and late starts). Due to our school calendar a considerable amount of time passes between each training. This makes it difficult to develop momentum and continuity from one training to the next. Quality staff development should be continuous and job-embedded. Due to our schedule and the busyness of the school day, learning something new is often placed on the back burner due to more pressing issues.

I did a small study of the large employers within our community. I wanted to see how the other large employers invest in staff development. The graph below compares the annual amount of hours for staff development for each employee classification.

Note: HAMC = Heart of America Medical Center, JD = John Deere, Bremer Bank, FIB = First International Bank, and RPSD = Rugby Public School District. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t shocked from the data in the chart above. Our teachers receive significantly less staff development than other professional positions within our community. This is a problem and schools need to build more time for staff development into their schedule. We should be investing in our teachers and support staff like the hospital, banks, and area agricultural businesses. 

Here are our core initiatives: 

Professional Learning Communities 

Teachers are grouped by grade level and subject area and these meetings occur every Wednesday from 8:00 - 9:00 AM. Each group focuses on these four questions: 1) What do we want students to know and be able to do? 2) How will we know if they can do it? 3) What will we do for students who already can do what is expected? 4) What will we do to support and help students who have not achieved the standards?

Standards-Based and Competency-Based Learning

Students at Ely Elementary have been receiving what we call a standards-based report card throughout their school experience. This method of reporting progress is helpful to parents and educators to identify weak areas for the student. It allows teachers and support staff to apply appropriate interventions to improve these identified areas. 

Social and Emotional Wellness

A recent student survey indicated that our students are less happy and have been experiencing an increase in depression. The reported increase in depression is not a localized problem that is only impacting our community. State and national survey results suggest that this is a state and national problem for adolescents and adults. To be proactive, we have recently implemented a curriculum that focuses on social and emotional wellness. All students take part in social and emotional wellness activities on a weekly basis. 

Literacy Curriculum and Instruction

Our school district was awarded a $700,000 Striving Readers Grant to focus on literacy from birth to grade 12. We have purchased a new English and Language Arts curriculum for grades K-6. We have also purchased a new intervention curriculum for struggling readers as well. These new curricula will be implemented during the 2019-2020 school year. 

Each of the above mentioned core initiatives require an immense amount of time to carry out with fidelity. For us to continue to build a great school system, we need more time. We are in the midst of developing a calendar that will address the time issue. The proposed calendar will provide 60 hours of staff development time along with approximately 30 hours of late start time for teacher collaboration. We believe the new calendar for the 2019-2020 school year will help us manage our initiatives in a more efficient way. The 2019-2020 school calendar will be approved within the next few months. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Ely Capacity Concerns

Ely Elementary has been experiencing positive enrollment growth over the past few years. Please take a few minutes to hear how growth has created space challenges at Ely Elementary.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Urgency and innovation

Our school district was invited to take part in an innovation academy led by Dr. Scott McLeod. Dr. McLeod has led several innovation academies across the country. Members from our school district will take part in seven days of training over the course of this school year. The goal is to explore innovative practices, examine current practices, and reimagine them. I came away with many questions and a sense of urgency. The challenge is how quickly are we able to lead this type of change within a school district? Like most districts, we do not have a lack of things to do. Our teachers are working extremely hard and are engaged in all types of change initiatives. The type of change described by Dr. McLeod requires us to redesign professional learning for teachers. Our current school schedule/structure is a barrier to adult learning. Teachers speed from class to class with one period dedicated to preparation. At the end of the day their plate is full and learning something new is often put on the back burner. Learning Forward provides schools with some recommendations in regard to the amount of time needed for professional learning.
Learning Forward has recommended that professional learning occur “several times per week among established teams of teachers, principals, and other instructional staff members where the teams of educators engage in a continuous cycle of improvement” (NSDC, 2009, p. 2).
Does your school have this amount of time set aside for adult learning? Unfortunately, in most schools adult learning takes a backseat due to the school schedule/structure. Along with adult learning, McLeod challenged us to think about student engagement levels, higher order thinking, and 21st century skills.

Engagement vs. compliance

Students are engaged when they are able to work on problems that are important to them and their community. Engaging classrooms are less teacher centered and more student centered. Are our students engaged or are they compliant? There is a definite difference. Do lessons include a real world impacts? Are they displayed or presented publicly? Are they engaged in the learning process? To what level are students involved in the decision making process?

Higher order thinking

Higher order thinking is extremely important to our student’s future success. They will need to be able to think for themselves. Deeper learning schools are moving away from low level thinking tasks like factual recall and procedural regurgitation. They are more focused on the 4 C’s (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration) when designing instructional programming. We should all reflect deeply on this quote, what percentage of our students think this way?
When we teach in "mother robin" fashion — trying to mentally chew up everything for our students so we can put it into their intellectual beaks to swallow — students tend to become, if I can slightly mix my metaphor, "Polly parrot" learners: 
"I can't understand anything unless you tell me exactly how and what to say and think. I need you to figure out everything for me. I shouldn't have to do more than repeat what you or the textbook say." - Foundation for Critical Thinking
Content vs. Skills

Deeper learning schools are less focused on content and more focused on the skills needed to navigate complex content. According to McLeod, “innovative schools are moving from isolated, siloed academic work to environments that provide students more opportunities to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international interdisciplinary communities.”


This really all comes down to relevance. How will we (public education) remain relevant? There are many choices for parents and students these days. These choices will only get better and more appealing for parents and students. How will we reimagine and redesign our educational systems to fit our students?

Find a few minutes to watch this video.

Check out What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith.