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Improving student learning | GUEST OPINION
As we begin this new school year, we celebrate the progress we’ve made, address the challenges ahead (also known as “probletunities”) and we commit to providing the time, tools and talent needed to ensure every child, every hour, every day learns to high standards.
There is much to celebrate and here are just a few recent examples: increased graduation rates; full-time kindergarten; our four-year levy passed; Kent Prairie is rated as a “Reward” School; professional learning communities; master facility planning; perfect State Patrol Inspection; Weston accreditation; and our finances are much improved to name a few.
These are very dynamic, challenging and exciting times in public education. Many key components of our work are in flux. A few examples include State standards changing to the Common Core; state assessments changing from HSPE/MSP to the Smarter Balanced Assessment; accountability is now measured by AMO (Annual Measurable Objectives) rather than AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress); the evaluation system for teachers and principals is changing from a 30-year-old system.
We have become all too familiar with the quote, “The only thing constant in life is change.” We have built a system that is resilient — that can adapt — while keeping a laser focus on our mission. This focus and this resilience requires a strong commitment to providing the time, tools and talent to do our best work.
Educators need time to work in teams. We have committed to all members of our organization belonging to a professional learning community/high-performing team. These high-performing teams exhibit the characteristics of trusting one another; engaging in unfiltered conflict; committing to decisions and plans of action; holding one another accountable; and focusing on achievement of collective results.
These teams focus their work on four critical questions: (1) What do we expect students to learn? (2) How will we know if they learn it? (3) How do we respond when students experience difficulty in learning? (4) How do we respond when students do learn? They collaborate on building unit and lesson designs including the following process: Identify essential standards; write learning targets; create quick checks for understanding; create the assessment; give the assessment; analyze the assessment; examine data and student work; and apply interventions and extensions.
We have restructured our calendar to provide opportunities for these teams. Consistent blocks of time are critical for these teams to do their work. There are six half days built into the calendar to support the work of these professional learning communities. These teams are committed to the use of this time and they are accountable — they realize what an important resource this is and they appreciate the community’s support.
It is also imperative that we provide the tools necessary for each of our staff. For our teaching staff, one of those essential tools is a guaranteed and viable curriculum (GVC).
We have made remarkable progress in these past few years defining our essential content standards, aligning with national standards (Common Core), developing benchmark assessments and providing resources and professional development. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure each of our staff have the “tools” they need.
Finally, we need talent to do this “world’s most important, challenging and rewarding work.” At Arlington Public Schools, we are so fortunate to have 557 of the most dedicated, caring and hard working individuals anywhere!
They: teach the children; assist families; drive the buses; clean the buildings; answer the phones; pay the bills; bandage the knees; feed the children; supervise recess and parking lots; maintain our schools; keep our computers running and much, much more. We are so proud of all of our team and we celebrate each of them as we begin this wonderful new year.
We are making great progress as a school system and that is resulting in measurable improvements in student learning. These are exciting times in public education. Thank you for entrusting us with our community’s most valuable resource.
Dr. Kristine McDuffy is the Superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.