Reed: School improvement 'not an event'
Superintendent Brad Reed said the end result of new programs being implemented at Great Bend USD 428 is “raising the level of teaching and raising the level of student achievement.”
“We’ve been talking about this for about a year,” Reed told school board members Thursday. “You see how it’s all fitting together now. It really is a process. ... It’s not an event.”
The process began with developing a vision for Great Bend schools, he said. The next question was, “How do we get there?”
A district-wide audit of certified employees showed what teachers do and how that could become more efficient.
This year, 21 instructional coaching jobs were created, so that each school would have three coaches. Even with the new positions, however, the district was able to reduce its total teaching staff by four positions. This saved the district more than $200,000.
“Nobody lost their jobs,” Reed said. “That was one of our main goals.”
The certified employee audit was so successful that a similar process is planned for classified personnel.
The Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education has been learning about the district’s shift to the Multi-Tier System of Supports, and on Thursday board members saw MTSS in action.
The board held a noon meeting at Lincoln Elementary School, where Principal Misty Straub brought in students and teachers for a live demonstration of reading and literacy instruction.
Each group of students received a lesson on skills they need to master, based on earlier assessments. While beginning readers learned about phonics, more advanced readers worked in pairs, offering feedback to each other.
MTSS acknowledges that children in the same grade may be at widely different levels, Straub said. Teachers take stock of the students’ abilities often, with quick assessments that may only take a minute or two for each child. Simply playing a rhyming game with the students can show a teacher who needs extra help mastering phonics.
No teacher does this alone. As of this year, each school has an English language arts (ELA) coach, a math coach and a technology coach. The coaches work with both students and teachers. Educators form Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, that crunch data, hone in on areas that need attention, and learn new teaching methods.
“Students, parents and teachers say we’re making progress that we couldn’t make in the past,” Straub said.
Lincoln Elementary’s ELA coach, Miriam Buckley, agreed. “It’s a lot of work but we’ve seen so much improvement,” she said.
Regular blocks of time, called “Win Time,” are set aside for ELA instruction from the team. During this time, students may work one-on-one with a teacher, or in pairs or small groups. Some children can pick up the pace and move to larger enrichment groups; those may have 10-12 students.
“That’s where we are with literacy, and we hope to be there in math in one year,” Straub said, introducing the school’s other coaches.
Math coach Carol McAtee said teachers are learning and implementing the innovative enVision Math program, written specifically to address Common Core education standards.
“The way that we all learned math is different,” McAtee said. Students start by “getting acquainted with number sense.”
Sometimes students pick up the concepts easier than their parents, or even some teachers, but the results are positive.
“When we look at Common Core, it’s pretty amazing,” McAtee said. Students are required to “think deeper.” Instead of just coming up with the correct answer to a math problem, they may be asked to explain their answers or prove their answers.
Teachers hope to offer a Math Night sometime after Christmas for parents who want to learn more about the program.
Meanwhile, technology coach Stephanie Webster is helping students and teachers become more comfortable using technology in education. Students have weekly typing lessons and learn how to be safe and responsible on the Internet.
“I’ve been working with teachers and parents as well,” Webster said. “We hope that using technology becomes an everyday process.”
During Tuesday’s meeting the school board voted to accept two donations to the playground project at Park Elementary School. Thomas Quality Homes and Improvements donated $250 and an anonymous donor contributed $1,500.
The board also accepted two Cox Communications of Kansas Charitable Fund grants that teachers applied for. Lincoln Elementary School (teacher Connie Ward) received $1,000 and Great Bend High School (teacher Ken Botzung) received $5,000.