Innovation by local educators! Reading of it was like a personal Christmas present to me. The background dates from 2002, when I began an exciting journey in understanding our schools by entering an educational leadership program sponsored by Boulder Public Schools and presented by the University of Colorado at Denver. Every Wednesday I trekked to planet Boulder to be trained as a school principal. At that time, UCD even allowed non-educators, like me, to enroll if a spot was available. There was a spot and my eyes were soon opened to the terminology and day-to-day life of an educator. Most of my colleagues were from Boulder Valley School District. That in itself was a truly a learning experience, yet I found most of my fellow classmates unusually open-minded to others’ points of view.
On our first day of class, our professor from UCD asked us to imagine what kind of school we would like to lead. She gave us clay and other craft objects to physically design our ideas. I was surprised that most of the class designed schools similar to traditional schools. I, on the other hand not having much experience in traditional K-12 schools, designed a school based on performance standards.
In my model, students were differentiated by their ability to meet performance benchmarks. The classes were multi-aged so a bright first-grader could be educated with typical fourth graders if that was what was needed; conversely, a student struggling with literacy, could work at his/her own pace with like students. When a student surpassed building grades’ benchmarks, he/she could log on to a web-based program to continue meeting and surpassing appropriate benchmarks even though he or she may not be developmentally ready to progress to middle or high school.
Many schools are providing instruction for students who are not appropriately meeting benchmarks by adding a Response to Intervention model, but remain the same organizationally. Adams 50 (the five star folks) School District has tried to think outside of the box in some of its pilot schools and is requiring students to meet benchmarks with differentiated classes based on student needs, according to the Denver Post on 12/21.
They are basing this pilot program on Alaska’s Chugach District. Some teachers, where this model was tried in other school districts, complained that tracking student progress was cumbersome, but Adams 50 is teaching students to track themselves on personal charts. When performance standards and district benchmarks were implemented in Aurora Public Schools, many schools showed students how to track their progress and the students learned what each standard or benchmark meant. Voila! Student engagement equals student buy-in. Unfortunately, most of the schools remained traditionally organized.
In Joe Williams’ book, Cheating our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education, he sites anecdotal information how over and over again; students’ needs are rarely placed as a primary priority in many schools. This time, Adams 50 School District appears to be doing just that! I can not applaud them enough for thinking outside of the box for students’ sakes.