Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Week 2 Design Team Update

Model Design Teams
Week 2 Update

During the week of January 22nd, the Experiential Education Team focused on research and site visits to other experiential programs. This group did not hold an in-person meeting but will reconvene on Thursday, February 2nd in Bethel to share what they have learned and continue their planning process.

The High School Design Team worked individually and online this week, reviewing course catalogues from several other high schools and identifying areas for further exploration. The Team agreed to focus on several key areas,that include creating teacher/student advisories and designing a schedule that increases student opportunities and provides time for student support as well as teacher collaboration. The group also plans to discuss types of schedules, guidance programs, and transitioning freshman to high school in future meetings. High School Design Team members will also meet in person on February 2nd.

Middle School Design Team members devoted their meeting time to diving deeply into the essential components of a middle-level program that they had identified previously. Discussion focused on building a strong advisory program that will include dedicated meeting times at the beginning and end of every school day. Team members also agreed that a positive school climate--one that fosters belonging, efficacy, and ownership among students--should be developed through regular community building activities. Ideas considered included service learning, public speaking, and projects about local, State, and national history for different grade levels. The group held a lengthy discussion about crafting a schedule that allows for interdisciplinary work as well as significant teacher collaboration time. Moving forward, the Team plans to meet with a representative from the Tarrant Foundation and to conduct site visits to exceptional middle school programs.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Model Design Teams Begin Work on Consolidated Programs

Representatives from Bethel, Rochester, and Royalton began the next stage in the Act 46 process last week when they came together in “design teams” to begin laying out what a consolidated middle school, high school, and experiential education program will look like in our communities. The three teams consist of teachers, administrators, parents, and students from across our towns and are led by the school principals. Each team will spend the next six weeks designing new programs, consulting with experts, and visiting model schools.

Superintendent Bruce Labs encouraged the teams to be creative and think outside the box while drawing from WRVSU’s Strategic Plan and the State’s Education Quality Standards. Rochester principal Danielle Stamm likened the process to creating the trailer for a movie: the work currently being undertaken is not the full show by any means but it will provide voters with a helpful preview that will enable them to make an informed decision when the new Act 46 structures are voted on in April.

During Thursday evening’s meeting, the Middle School Design Team discussed the components they believe are essential for a robust, rigorous middle school program. The team agreed that our new program should include a strong advisory system, a safe and positive school culture, connections with the broader community and world, more hands-on learning, developmentally appropriate activities, and a gradual increase in student choice and responsibility during the middle school years. Group members also reviewed the 14 characteristics of effective middle schools from the National Middle School Association. Moving forward, the middle school team plans to work with UVM’s Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education.

During their discussion, the High School Design Team considered a series of questions, including,   
What is missing now? What would a new high school look like? What makes up a typical day? And How will we know we got it right?  The group spent considerable time discussing what we felt was missing in high school design today and brainstormed what a new high school might look like going forward. We talked about time for both teachers and students to do more collaboration, the importance of a strong guidance and counselling program, how to get students outside of the building to learn, how we get a higher rate of engagement in students, how the school day may look different. Next week, the committee will begin looking at course offerings and program changes that may be helpful.

The Experiential Design Team  was led by Rochester principal Dani Stamm and consultant Todd Finn, principal of Mill River High School in North Clarendon, both of whom have begun and worked in experiential schools. The team’s task was to describe in more detail how the experiential school would operate, who would participate, and what the curriculum would include. Group members shared their visions for the program and many common themes emerged, including a desire for a full day program, an emphasis on student presentations and real-world applications, and the use of teachers as advisors, resources, and facilitators. All agreed that starting small would better ensure excellence, rigor and quality in the programming given the short time available before it will be put in place. Team members left tasked with visiting, researching or connecting with schools, people or sources of funding.

The model design teams plan to meet each Thursday evening the next five weeks. Full minutes from the meeting are available online at wrvsu.org. For more information, please contact your school principal.