The bottom-line goal became maximizing the vehicles for teachers to work together to learn new approaches.
In education news over the last year some have been concerned that there are too many changes happening in schools while others have questioned a need for any change at all. But in our district, we welcomed the new challenges brought by the implementation of the higher standards. We saw the need for fundamental change over six years ago. While any change is challenging, we have been turning the corner and our students are experiencing growth in their learning. To remain static would have meant being left behind.
We know that at Shenendehowa Central School District our goals are ambitious and aspirational. By picturing what the future would hold for not only our local students but also for those across the state and country, we considered the question: How will our students be prepared for the rapid changes happening in the economy, in our region, and with the world suddenly at their doorstep?
Even before the Regents acted to pass the new standards, Shenendehowa started moving forward. Since 2008, with the approval of the “20/20 Vision - Academic Retooling” plan, we brought our goals in touch with our everyday reality. We were guided by what we knew was a strong need for change punctuated by a sense of urgency stemming from both rapid technological advancements and a heightened sense of accountability for performance. We recognized that preparing our students with 21st century skills and to reach higher learning standards would require a major shift from the traditional educational model to which so many of us have been accustomed to experiencing.
Our classrooms look different than they did a few years ago. One teacher explains, “The focus is on integration of quality, cognitive-engagement practices, such as questioning and inquiry-based learning methodology, making learning more personalized.”
By investing heavily in our staff, teachers and administrators, they have worked to discuss, problem-solve and implement research-based practices that directly correlate to student achievement, making the necessary changes in instruction to impact student performance.
The fundamental question of “why” retool was asked and answered by pointing to the preeminent objective of ensuring the district stays on track for continued growth. The corollary question of “what” needs to be done rests in the challenge of ensuring rigor, relevance and relationship in curricula offerings and pedagogical approaches that align how we teach with the way students learn.
At the end of the day, it is student learning that is most important. This would be accomplished by students meeting or exceeding the challenging learning standards approved by the Board of Regents in 2010 and students maximizing their individual academic potential.
The just-released test score results help us feel that we are headed in the right direction. When parents ask, "Are our children learning what they need to know to be successful?", we are not only able to point to the double digit growth that students have shown in many of our schools just since last year but also to the high-level of learning shown in countless everyday ways in the classrooms.
So what can we say to those struggling to understand whether change is necessary? It’s worth it. It has taken six years but our district’s focus on developing students’ 21st century learning skills has enabled us to stimulate our students’ intellectual curiosity and provide dynamic and engaging experiences for each and every one of our students…that is the real SHIFT!
Dr. L. Oliver Robinson is the Superintendent of Shenendehowa Central Schools (Clifton Park, NY) in NY’s Capital Region outside of Albany.