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What You Need to Know

What You Need To Know
A Guide To Understanding The Pittsfield School District Redesign
By Ross Morse, Community Advisory Council Member

(Originally published in the Suncook Valley Sun)

Part I: Introductory Overview
In an effort to better understand the Pittsfield School District Redesign process, there will be a series of articles to inform and answer the frequently asked questions from the community concerning this initiative. This is the first of those such articles. During the course of these articles your questions are welcomed.

How Did This Come About?

In January of 2009 the Pittsfield School District invited recent graduates of Pittsfield Middle High School to meet with administrators to help develop a vision of what PMHS students should be able to do upon graduation. The activity was part of the Pittsfield School District’s reconsideration of its mission as the school board and staff began work to create stronger continuity across all grades.

A Pittsfield School District Community Forum for parents and community members was also held. Participants in this Community Forum were asked (1) to reconsider the district’s mission statement and (2) to develop a vision for the school district’s future. In the process, participants described what Pittsfield’s schools will look like in the future, and what graduates will know and be able to do when they receive their diplomas. The thoughts of faculty, staff, recent graduates and community members formed the basis of mission and vision statements that were completed by that spring.

Through this process a Community Advisory Council (CAC) was formed. The CAC is comprised of students, faculty, administration, the superintendent of schools, School Board members, Pittsfield community members and greater Pittsfield community members. Its purpose as an advisory board is to recommend to the school board, a plan to satisfy the academic goals set by the district while including input from community members.

A common thread throughout the community forums in January of 2009 was that while the educational system had not changed dramatically over the years; what is expected of a 21st century graduate has. By allowing our students to continue in the traditional setting of learning we were alienating students from the ability to be able to succeed in a world that requires much more from a graduate today than it did in even more recent history.

Recognizing the need for the remodeling of our current system was the first step taken in building a system that recognizes diversity in the way students are taught and learn and promotes it through “competency-based” learning. Students are allowed to show what they know and can do through means other than pencil and paper assessments. They are able to choose and participate in performance exhibitions that provide multiple ways to demonstrate their learning. This puts the student at the center of learning.

Part II: Student-Centered Learning and What it Looks Like

 What Is Student Centered Learning?

The whole process of the Pittsfield School District’s redesign of its current educational ideology is based upon the concept of student-centered learning. Student-centered learning is an approach to education which puts students first and empowers them to take ownership of their learning. By creating rigorous individual goals and engaging in diverse relevant learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom, students develop and demonstrate mastery of 21st Century Skills.

A student-centered school creates conditions that empower and inspire students to take control of and responsibility for their own learning. Choosing from a wide array of learning opportunities such as project-based learning, service learning, inquiry-based learning and internships, students are able to tailor their educational experiences to their unique interests, talents, and aspirations. Each student is actively engaged in the development and implementation of a personal learning plan that focuses on 21st century skills such as team building, problem solving, and self-reliance along with academic growth in literacy, math and science.

Learning occurs through real world experiences that not only provides relevant content but also enables students to become personally relevant within our community.

Students are frequently asked to demonstrate what they know and can do in performance assessments, portfolio development and exhibitions. As a result they are increasingly able to assess and reflect on their skills and learning needs.

Student voice and choice are foundational components of a student-centered school. Their participation in school-wide decision-making is not only sought, but also valued. Student interests are at the heart of all the work and effort by the adults in the school community. The school has a simple mantra concerning the focus on students; this is after all about them.

Looking ahead into the future, we see students with a clear vision of their own personal growth and equipped with the tools to recognize opportunities to succeed: As a student in this school I get to plan my program based on my strengths and interests. I have a chance to choose from many types of educational opportunities that connect to real life experiences and because of that I am able to contribute to my community as I learn. My personal learning plan is designed to prepare me for my future and increase my skills.  I am given multiple opportunities to show what I can do through performance exhibitions and I am encouraged to access and reflect on my own growth. Adults in the school and community listen to me and support my efforts of discovery and personal growth. Teachers put my interests first and I feel valued at this school.

Part III: Multiple Pathways of Learning

Last week we introduced Advisory and how its role supported the concept of Student-Centered Learning. This article continues with information pertaining to the Multiple Pathways students will have available on their road to success with the Pittsfield School District.

Multiple Pathways
The school provides a variety of learning pathways to every student including classroom embedded, co-curricular, and non-traditional learning experiences that accommodate different learning styles while demonstrating the mastery of course competencies and high expectations. 
Extended Learning Opportunities – a non-traditional learning experience which are passion, interest, and talent based that provide students opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills through hands on learning adventures outside of the classroom that are credit bearing.
• Active Learning – is a method of learning that includes discussion based classrooms, project based assignments, original research and experiment design, and student choice embedded in course work.
Authentic Assessment - students are allowed to show what they know and can do through means other than pencil and paper assessments. They are able to choose and participate in performance exhibitions that provide multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.  These assessments are scored based on a common rubric with opportunities to revise and show growth towards the mastery of course competencies.
Teachers as Facilitators - Teachers are facilitators of student learning as opposed to deliverers of content. In this model of teacher as facilitator, the student is active and takes ownership for his/her learning while the teacher provides coaching and support.
Community-based learning – an approach that enhances the curriculum by using community mentors and places as resources for learning.
Dual Credit Opportunities – students are able to participate in credit earning programs at the high school level that also allows them to earn post-secondary credits.  Students complete high school requirements and earn credit for college or vocational school work at the same time. These include articulation agreements with Career and Vocational Centers and advanced programming such as Advanced Placement courses.
Flexible Scheduling – scheduling that allows students flexibility to pursue learning opportunities in different time frames that are not constrained by a bell schedule.

Part IV: Whole Child Focus and Personalized Programs to Address All Students’ Needs

As we continue to explore what Student-Centered Learning will look like within the Pittsfield School District, this article focuses on how we might strengthen our students’ opportunity for success; be it in a post-secondary education or as a better qualified member of the workforce.

College And Career Readiness
Students are exposed to a variety of experiences and activities that not only promote college and career awareness but also develop the skills necessary for future success.

Dual Credit Opportunities
Students are able to participate in credit earning programs at the high school level that also allow them to earn post-secondary credits.  Students complete high school requirements and earn credit for college or vocational school work at the same time. These include articulation agreements with Career and Vocational Centers and advanced programming such as Advanced Placement courses. 

Literacy Across The Curriculum
Students are engaged in literacy skills across the content areas.  Curriculum is vertically and horizontally aligned across grade levels and content areas. 

Graduation Based On Mastery
Students earn a diploma by demonstrating mastery of course competencies that are aligned with standards.

Active Learning
A method of learning that includes discussion based classrooms, project based assignments, original research and experiment design, and student choice embedded in course work.

Student Exhibitions
A public presentation of student work, usually with an accompanying piece of written work; explanation and defense by a student of his or her work.

21st Century Skills
Student outcomes for the school include a strong emphasis on the development of self directed and collaborative learners, engaged and responsible citizens, effective problem solvers and communicators. 

Site Council
A decision making body composed of students, educators, parents and community members, that will review, modify and make decisions regarding areas of high interest including but not limited to procedures, practices, and policies or structures in order to have a positive impact on the educational process and school climate.

Throughout these processes our students will be able to gain real life experiences. There will be opportunities to receive college credit for courses taken in high school; reinforcement of literacy within all classes offered; engagement of our students that reflect the best way they gain knowledge; presentations that exhibit the students’ mastery of subjects similar to the way a college dissertation might be defended; and opportunities for the students to take ownership of their educational/career paths by supporting a student-led decision making body to contour these learning experiences in a way that represents the kind of learning environment all students can embrace with confidence and success.

Part V: Professional Development for Educators to Ensure the Best Possible Implementation of Student-Centered Learning

 

In order for Student-Centered learning to truly take hold and produce the high standards of success our community is seeking, it will be very important to ensure that those engaging our students and collaborating with them be supported by sound professional development. Below are some of the ideas to be implemented to achieve those goals.

Common Planning Time - teachers are provided regularly scheduled time to meet and collaborate in teams.  This time is used for the planning of curriculum and interdisciplinary units, looking at student work, organizing support for students, providing collegial support and sharing best practices. 

Peer Supported Professional Development – teacher growth and learning is pursued in a manner that allows for collaboration and action research to occur utilizing the skills of the faculty in addition to the traditional professional development.  It allows for teachers to work on teams and grow through mentoring and the sharing of best practices.

Common Rubrics and Assessments – The school engages the entire faculty to collaboratively create common rubrics and assessments that promote greater coherence and compatibility across grade levels and course curricula. The faculty continually validates their relevance, suitability and consistent application.

Teachers as Facilitators - Teachers are facilitators of student learning as opposed to deliverers of content. In this model of teacher as facilitator, the student is active and takes ownership for his/her learning while the teacher provides coaching and support.

Differentiation and Student Choice - The school provides professional development to see that every teacher has the tools to meet individual student needs.  Teachers develop and implement intervention strategies to maximize students learning and growth.   

Teacher Evaluation System – The teacher evaluation system is designed to promote professional growth and student learning.

School Visits – Students, teachers and community members participate in visits to regional schools to observe and discuss best practices.

When our educators are supported through professional development and collaborate with one another to best provide our students and themselves with the tools necessary to succeed,  results are positive. Best practices are simply that; the best way to practice our day-to-day collaborations with educators, students, administration and community members. Best practices equals best results.

We have addressed what student-centered is, what it looks like and how it will be implemented in our schools. There is one more piece that is integral to this reformation that cannot be overlooked. That is the role of the community.

 

 Part VI: A Guide To Understanding The Pittsfield School District Redesign

Community
Community in the sense of student-centered learning is about the school community AND the general community supporting it, that is to say, Pittsfield.
Having the tools in place to help our students succeed may lay the foundation for a better system, but successful sustainability comes through community support. Below are a few ways the school community will support this initiative and how Pittsfield as a whole can be proactive in its success.
• Student led Conferences – a conference that the student and his or her advisor plans a presentation that articulates the students’ academic, personal and and social growth as outlined in their Personal Learning Plan, which is contained in their portfolio. During the presentation the students are in the lead role regarding this conversation about their learning.
• Site Council – a decision making body composed of students, educators, parents and community members, that will review, modify and make decisions regarding areas of high interest including but not limited to procedures, practices, and policies or structures in order to have a positive impact on the educational process and school climate.
• Community Advisory Council – A group of community and greater community individuals brought together to draw on the diverse perspectives of school, community, and students to help shape and communicate the student-centered learning redesign that will lead to maximized student success.
The bottom line is that in order to be the school district we all expect it to be, producing high-achieving, successful graduates, the community needs to support the district in a way that represents its awareness to its responsibilities and ownership of the common goal.
A better school system produces so much more than its intentions. It produces a higher value of real estate, a thriving marketplace and an environment others will want us to share.
Many of the topics discussed over the summer have already been implemented in some form at the Middle High School. Personally, I have had the pleasure of partnering in an ELO (Extended Learning Opportunity) with students interested in publishing and graphic design.
I recently heard back from a student who graduated last June and is now attending college. She was requesting that I forward her some files we worked on together while she was here at The Sun. The project she is currently working on requested that she take something she was proud of and produce a Kindle format of it to sell for a limited time on Amazon. She chose the project we had worked on during her ELO.
The email also went on to say “I also thought you would be happy to know I’m putting the skills you taught me to good use in this class, even though, before I worked with you I thought I would never need to know about newspapers and such. It seems every day I learn a new reason to be grateful to you :)
The work of the Community Advisory Council in collaboration with the School District has produced many positive avenues that will engage students, teachers, administrators and community members. Some of the rewards are already being realized.
Without a committed community like Pittsfield, this would not be possible.