May 2017 Articles

5/25/2017

GUEST BLOG: Finding the Balance - Amy Harker, Perry Local Schools

By: Guest Blogger

Perry-20Tout8.jpgPerry Local Schools, located in Northeast Ohio, is a small, rural district with a mission to inspire all students to achieve personal excellence, pursue world-class standards and become self-directed lifelong learners. We want all students to leave Perry Local Schools with hope and a skill set to be prepared for life. Authentic learning experiences are key to helping our students become workforce ready. To reach this goal of readiness, we are creating personalized learning opportunities for our students to ensure they have the tools necessary to be successful. At Perry, we want to find the right balance of traditional education and evaluation measures, along with authentic experiences, that have a performance-based assessment component. Student voice and choice play a key role in helping students have an awareness of their learning and understanding of their strengths and areas of growth.

We want our students to be able to answer the following questions as they navigate through their educational journeys:

  1. What are my strengths and interests?
  2. What do I want to be?
  3. How do I get there?
  4. Will I be successful once I get there? 

Pathways at Perry, spearheaded by Todd Porcello, Perry High School principal, shows the educational pathways available at Perry High School. In addition, we began a Learning Through Internship course that provides real-world career experiences, along with building employability skills. Our Virtual Career Center has the information for parents, students and community partners. High school teacher Rita Soeder has worked to ensure that the course guides students toward career readiness. Robert Knisely, the principal at Perry Middle School, has led his school to ensure the students have a balance of academic, behavior and career skills. The scope and sequence is found here: Middle School Pathways to Success.

In order to move forward with authentic learning, we need to have assessment systems in place that will support authentic learning initiatives. Working toward that balance, Perry Schools has been part of two grants that focused on competency-based education.

First, we are part of the consortium (Perry Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools and Springfield City Schools), through the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, that received a grant from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to create an innovative and scalable competency-based assessment system. Knowing that students must leave our schools with the abilities to learn at deep levels, pursue personal passions and strengths, and build skills to be career ready, we have been working to establish an assessment system that will capture components that standardized tests do not. Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) supported this effort throughout the year. Perry Local has begun the implementation of our learning Six Practices for Self-Directed, Authentic Instruction (adapted from the Buck Institute and SCALE) and aligned it with the Formative Instructional Practices, which include the following:

  1. Setting a Clear task — focus, clarity and coherence; [FIP 2]
  2. Proficiency rubric clarifies expectations, measures progress and supports feedback/goal setting; [FIP 2/4/5]
  3. Relevant, challenging issue/question-connecting curriculum through life skills in real-world, worthwhile work;
  4. Student agency: voice, choice, decision-making and growth mindset; [FIP 5]
  5. Learning is personalized to student strengths and interests; [FIP 5] 
  6. Exhibition: product is critiqued by public/experts to include clear feedback. [FIP 4]

One of the goals of our work with the Competency-Based Education Pilot grant is to have more valid, varied and richer measures of student learning. We have paired that with creating authentic learning experiences that are vetted to meet rigorous criteria for measuring the learning objectives. During this grant period, two cohorts of teachers received professional development, where our teachers created performance tasks in four content areas. We learned methods and components that are included to ensure that these types of tasks ask students to think and produce to demonstrate their learning. These tasks could be authentic to the discipline and/or the real world. We learned about the four types of assessments but concentrated on three: curriculum-based, on-demand and constructive response.

A highlight of our consortium team’s work included a critical dialogue between higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand each other’s work, so we can begin to align and transition our students as they matriculate to postsecondary work. 

As we looked closely at our instructional practices, we wanted to include not only content (cognitive learning), but also to begin to intentionally teach life competencies (noncognitive factors). Our second area of work for this year is collaborating with seven school districts (Perry Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Fairport Harbor Exempted Village Schools, Mayfield City Schools, North Olmsted City Schools, Olmsted Falls City Schools and Wickliffe City Schools) to identify, define and determine how to monitor and evaluate life competency skills (otherwise known as noncognitive factors, 21st century skills or employability skills). The district’s cohorts of 10-12 teachers worked with Camille Farrington, from the University of Chicago and EdLeader21, to identify, define and build the strategies of “how” we can embed life competencies into our instruction. In addition, using information gathered during the EdLeader21 Professional Development and the Competency-Based Education grant work, we are creating our graduate profile.

Three years ago, we began Authentic Learning Personalized for Higher Achievement (ALPHA), which is a twist on learning how to do the project-based learning process. This project not only provides instruction in the process, it is a collaborative between school districts where students are teaching students about project-based learning with teachers participating by having the process modeled for them. This is a great way to begin a slow introduction of project-based learning.

Career mentoring is an articulated plan from grades 5-12 that allows students to explore interests and passions; take assessments, interest inventories and job skill identifiers; and find a career pathway(s) for selection of coursework.

Personalized Learning at Perry Schools highlights the details of our ALPHA project and our career mentoring program, along with additional information on our Life Competency Grant work, which are just a few ways we are working to individually tailor the learning process for our students.

Amy Harker has been an educator for thirty-one years. Currently she is the Director of Student Services and College and Career Readiness at Perry Local School District. In 2017-2018, she will assume the role of Northeast Regional Career and Innovation Specialist. You can contact Amy by clicking here.

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5/17/2017

Get 2 School. You Can Make It! – Cleveland Addresses Chronic Absenteeism

By: Chris Woolard

Get-2-School.jpgIt is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.  

“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.

Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.

A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.

As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.

The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.

To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

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5/11/2017

Superintendent's Blog: Our Thank You on This Teacher Appreciation Week

By: Paolo DeMaria

Ohio is blessed with fantastic teachers. Many of them have been in our K-12 classrooms during this National Teacher Appreciation Week, teaching our children the knowledge and skills they’ll need for success in higher education, careers, and future learning and life.

Each day, they greet their children with smiles and energy and help them discover the joy of learning. They care for their students and nurture hope and enthusiasm.

Take Dustin Weaver at Chillicothe High School, for example. This English teacher’s passion for making learning engaging and positive is one of the many reasons the State Board of Education named him 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year. Dedicated to continually improving, Dustin invites his colleagues to critique his videotaped lessons as they work together to hone their teaching skills. Dustin exemplifies teaching excellence, and he’s not alone. As teacher of the year, he simply shines light on the outstanding work thousands of Ohio teachers are doing each day to make a difference in their students’ lives. Does anyone deserve our gratitude more than these committed men and women?

I congratulate and thank these professionals for their hard work, their dedication and for serving such a vitally important purpose. I’m grateful to them, because the hard work they do means successive generations of Ohioans can live prosperous, satisfying lives and keep our communities, state and nation strong in the future. We need our teachers. Thank you – all of you – for what you do. Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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5/9/2017

Reach Out to a Teacher Who Made a Difference

By: Julia Simmerer

Apple-hand.jpgTeacher Appreciation Week is an important time to take a moment to reflect and reach out to a teacher who has made a difference in your life. As senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession, my daily work focuses on ensuring educators have the support and development they need to work with all students in our schools, so educators loom dearly in my heart on a daily basis. It is nice to take a personal moment to step back and reflect on my own experience with a teacher who made a difference in my life, my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sharon Tobe. My experience as her student shaped both my academic and personal life, and I am grateful I had her as a teacher.

I remember Ms. Tobe as a teacher who saw positive aspects of every student in our class. She found potential in students that they may not have seen in themselves — establishing an environment of high expectations for all. I was a very quiet and shy student who often flew under the radar of my teachers, until I entered Ms. Tobe’s room. She connected to me, as well as each and every student in that classroom and built an undeniable repertoire. For me, it was the continued encouragement that I was capable of great things and was encouraged to always do my best that stood out the most. She took a student who did not necessarily like math and helped me find a love for and confidence in myself that I could do math. She encouraged continual improvement, that I could do even one more problem correct than I did before. My confidence grew and a love for math developed.

Turn the clock forward, I myself became a teacher. I did not fully realize the significance of teacher recognition until I experienced it firsthand. I had a student, Mike, when I was a sixth grade teacher, and little did I know the impact I had on him at that time. When he graduated medical school, I received a kind message from Mike and his family about what I had done for him as his sixth grade teacher — blowing me away. The importance of his message to me cannot be understated. Even though many years had passed, his message had a profound impact and filled my heart.

Often teachers work hard without knowing how they are influencing the future. This is why Teacher Appreciation Week is so important — the profession helps shape the future in many unknown ways. Take a moment to reach out to teachers who have made a difference in your life and let them know what they have done for you. This is the true reward for the hard work and effort teachers put into their classrooms year in and year out. It is never too late to let teachers know this.

I can’t thank Ms. Tobe enough for the difference she made for me in those early years of schooling and beyond. It is the perfect time to reach out to her and let her know. I encourage you to do the same.

Julia Simmerer is senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession at the Ohio Department of Education, where she oversees the implementation of policies and programs that support Ohio’s teacher and leader corps. You can learn more about Julia by clicking here.

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5/4/2017

Hooked on Education: A Personalized Learning Project

By: Steve Gratz

Fish on prototype lure.jpgA few months ago, Dan Keenan, executive director, Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, called and asked if he could send my contact information to Fairport Harbor School District superintendent, Domenic Paolo. I agreed and had a wonderful phone conversation with Dr. Paolo about the schools’ Hooked on Education project. Domenic invited me to Fairport Harbor to witness the project and visit with teachers and students.

Hooked on Education is a personalized learning project that had an authentic beginning that started with a 3-D printer, a student-centered teacher and a struggling student with a great idea. Fairport Harbor is located next to Lake Erie and much of the economic development of the region is stimulated by the lake. The Fairport Harbor School District has a K-12 enrollment of around 750 students. It is a unique district as they do not have a transportation department — all students walk to school.

One of the students at Fairport Harbor had a history of consistently being in trouble during his middle grade years. Domenic indicated that the student’s discipline was such a challenge that many teachers confronted him on how best to handle the student. It just so happened that one teacher was finally able to connect with the student due to a shared interest in fishing. The teacher encouraged the student to use the district’s 3-D printer to create his own fishing lure. Fortunately, the student accepted the challenge, and that’s how the Hooked on Education project was born.

After several weeks of work, the student provided Domenic, who is also an avid fisherman, with his prototype lure. Visually, it left a lot be desired, but Domenic was positive and told the student he would give it a try on his next excursion. Domenic shared with me that he pulled that lure out toward the end of his last fishing trip and much to his surprise, the student created a lure that worked!

Fundamental to the success of Hooked on Learning is the need for excellent teaching, which places students at the center of the instruction; and deeper learning where inquiry and higher order thinking are incorporated into relevant curricula. Today, the project has 30 students learning Ohio’s Learning Standards that are embedded in their project-based learning lessons. Observing the classroom where students and teachers were engaged in multiple disciplines and at various grade levels was refreshing. The teacher’s enthusiasm for being part of this unique culture left a smile on my face and feeling as giddy as I was when I was in the classroom. Moreover, the Hooked on Learning project has been designed to give students a better and deeper learning experience by developing community connections, increasing access to excellent teaching and engaging student talents and interests by personalizing their learning, so they can develop all their “intelligences.”

Domenic commented that, “personalized learning makes our project possible.” He shared that the power of the district’s model of personalized learning grows out of four interdependent components used to develop personalized learning plans:

  1. A detailed understanding or profile of each learner;

  2. A clear set of standards toward which each learner is progressing;

  3. Collaboration with each learner to construct a customized learning plan;

  4. A well-chosen project that is relevant, embedded in the community and developed around the talents and interests of our students.

Domenic and I wrapped up my visit by tagging along with a few students and one of the project-based learning teachers to visit MJM Industries, where students were negotiating the final specs on their initial production-quality mold that will be used to launch the manufacturing of their first line of fishing lures. After the brief review of documents, the CEO and the teacher discussed the process more thoroughly to enrich the learning experience for the students.

What a rewarding visit, and how lucky these students and teachers are to be engaged in the educational system at Fairport Harbor. Domenic has more planned for the future and is hoping to share the lessons that he has learned throughout this process and to learn from other educators. This summer, Fairport Harbor and Mentor Schools will host a symposium for blended and personalized learning at Mentor’s Paradigm Building, and participation is free for Ohio school district personnel. The objective of the symposium is to learn from the nation’s best practitioners and create a foundation for Ohio to harness the power of personalized learning. Contact Domenic Paolo for more information at dpaolo@fhevs.org.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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