2019-02-15 / Columns

Schools embrace personalized learning

Superintendent’s Spotlight
By Dr. Kathryn Hawes Special to the Post

In many ways, the field of education still looks very similar to the way that it did in the industrial era.

We operate on a bell schedule, move classrooms of students through the same task, and expect a singular correct answer or product.

We measure our schools and students on a standardized bell curve, again expecting an improvement in the business – referenced, “bottom line.”

The issue is that we no longer live in the industrial era. Our students are entering a workforce where 70 percent of the jobs they will have, do not yet exist. Most of those jobs do not require an employer to punch a clock, work on a bell schedule, or for mass numbers of workers to have one correct answer or complete one correct product.

Further, public schools are not businesses. Unlike businesses, we do not start with a uniform set of raw materials to develop into a standardized bottom line.

Each year we open our doors to a new group of students; students with disabilities, those who are gifted, others who are homeless or refugees learning the English language and our culture, some who are abused, scared or hungry.

They enter our doors with a wide range of needs and abilities, each individually different. It is no longer our job to meet the needs of all learners. It is our job to meet the needs of each learner and to prepare them for success in a complex and unknown future workforce.

This mission is the foundation of our work in Regional School Unit 21.

Most importantly, we have expanded our personnel, resources and programs to meet the basic needs of our students and families.

Our special education teachers and educational technicians meet the individual needs of approximately 460 students each day. Gifted and talented provides direct instruction to approximately 100 students and our teachers of English language learners support the nine different native languages spoken in our schools.

Each school has a team that consists of a school counselor, social worker, principal/assistant principal, resource officer and nurse to monitor and attend to the social/emotional needs of our children.

Those teams meet at least weekly to plan for students and families who are struggling. We provide breakfast and lunch onsite and partner with Community Outreach Services to send home backpacks of food to certain families over the weekends and vacations.

Last year, we established our Village Fund, allowing community members to make a tax-exempt donation to our cafeterias for students who are unable to afford school lunch but do not quite qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program.

Over the past two to three years, each of our elementary schools has embraced a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model.

We have hired instructional strategists for each of our elementary schools to help teachers look at assessment information on each student and develop individualized interventions, resources, and extensions, and to provide coaching and support for teachers in meeting the individual needs of each learner.

It is through understanding and meeting the needs of each learner that we will continue to advance teaching and learning.

We have exceptional teachers in our district. And, like Tom Brady, they continue to improve through coaching and teaming.

In this budget development cycle, we are requesting a similar position for our middle school and have found some federal money to help offset the initial cost.

In this same time period, we have expanded offerings at middle and high school in the arts and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and in world languages.

Our work focuses on project-based learning, collaborative problem-solving, and complex thinking. We still require a core academic foundation but also provide many pathways for students to explore their interests.

Our partnerships with local businesses, articulation agreements with Maine colleges and service learning projects provide our students with authentic, real-world, experiences beyond the classroom.

We still have bell schedules, standardized assessments and grades.

External entities like the state and federal government, businesses and even some community members still measure our success by a score on a standardized test. That’s fine.

Our schools consistently perform well on these “bottom-line” measures. However, our true success, is measured in the individual growth of each and every child who enters our doors and in the post-secondary success of our graduates.

Kathryn Hawes is superintendent of schools for Regional School Unit 21.

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