Tahlequah Daily Press

September 21, 2012

Dependent schools focus on curriculum

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Area schools hit the ground running this year, as administrators look to continue academic successes while moving closer to new evaluation and curriculum standards.

Peggs School Superintendent Dr. John Cox said the year got off to great start, and they’re looking to upgrade the school’s network and technology as it prepares for another year of testing.

“We have been analyzing student test data, and our teachers, staff and students are focused in the areas that we need to improve in, and in the areas that we need to excel in to maintain a high level of proficiency on our tests,” he said. “Our programs are consistent with last year’s scheduling, but we are taking a closer look at emphasizing the use of technology in our instruction, upgrading our technology structure, and increasing our focus of instruction and curriculum towards the state tests.”

The school added another computer lab, and plans to have a third computer lab for the lower-grade students, Cox said.

“We are really proud of how our students performed on last spring’s state test. We are anticipating receiving a ‘B’ on our first report card, regardless of any appeals or questions concerning the calculations,” he said. “We are always looking to do better and specifically concerning the focus of each individual student’s educational need.”

To help with the transition to the Common Core State Standards, Cox said Peggs is partnering with the Aurora Learning Community Association, which is a data-driven instructional program.

“The ALCA’s motto is ‘Bridging Communities of Learners,’ which will help our school sort through the testing data, align our curriculum to the CCSS, and provide outside resources to use in our classrooms,” he said. “We are also using Click-n-Learn, which is a computerized database of questions similar to the state tests. This program allows and equips our students to be prepared for the format and level of questions asked under the PASS objectives and help us move toward the CCSS test objectives.”

Last week, the Oklahoma State Department of Education named 10 elementary schools a K20 STEM-Building STEM-Ready Elementary Schools. Peggs, along with Grand View Elementary, were among 10 schools to receive the grant for teacher training in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We are excited about this opportunity to help shore up our lower grade curriculum and inspire future engineers, scientists, and mathematicians,” said Cox. “Our teachers will be attending rigorous professional development to promote our success with this curriculum.”

The school year for Grand View launched without a hitch and even saw a seven percent increase in enrollment. Coupled with last year’s 15 percent jump, the school now has more than 500 students, said Grand View Superintendent Ed Kennedy.

“We are continuing to see growth in our school as housing opportunities are expanded on the north edge of Tahlequah, and the high-quality education we offer becomes more important to families,” he said. “That growth is even more amazing when you consider we monitor our transfers very closely, which means we only have a few slots open in some grades between second and eighth [grade].”

Though students are released early on Wednesdays, to create room for teachers and administration to discuss and implement the curriculum and evaluation mandates. Grand View is using the state department’s Ways to Improve School Effectiveness template to continue positive momentum, as this year’s assessment results indicate the school may receive a rating as high as a ‘B’ after being listed as a ‘Focus School’ only one year ago, said Principal Allen Rule

“Our 2010-11 report from the State Department of Education disappointed us when we were listed as a ‘Focus School.’ The Wednesday meetings help us focus on issues requiring our attention, and help us better serve our students,” he said. “The hard work from last year’s staff has already proven that intense attention to curriculum, data checks, and student growth will pay dividends immediately.”

The school is in its second year of using Alpha Plus to provide assessments to drive specific student and whole class instruction, said Kennedy.

“This and Literacy First are key components in the improved school scores Grand View has received,” he said. “For parents, teachers are stressing academic vocabulary with students and parents so that the related terms will be familiar to everyone. The school has even worked to provide report cards, newsletters, parent-teacher correspondence and conferences that reflect Common Core Standards and language. This provides better communication with parents and promotes parent engagement.”

In a word, the start of school for Shady Grove has been great, though there are always minor issues to deal with, said Superintendent Fred Ferguson.

“If you don’t have some problems, you haven’t started school yet,” he said. “[There are] no new programs. We [do] have an after-school program. Students can stay until 4 p.m. and transportation is provided. They may also stay until 5:30, but must be picked up by a parent. Students can receive tutoring, both personal and computerized, plus enjoy a snack and break on the playground.”

Ferguson said he’s talked with staff about expected curriculum changes, and the school has informed and included the parents through meetings and opportunities to provide feedback.

“Discussions are held on a regular basis during weekly faculty meetings. Parents were sent a survey last spring and several patrons were present at a spring school board meeting when questions were asked of our Common Core coordinator,” he said. “We have also had a state department employee present information at our weekly meeting.”

Ferguson said Shady Grove teachers have been observing and grading other teachers to become more familiar with the new Teacher-Leader Effectiveness Evaluation Model.

“Our teachers, in addition to Common Core training, are looking at videos of teachers in the classroom and are rating the performance of the teachers based on the TLE plan so they will be aware of how they are going to be evaluated,” he said.

Lowrey Public Schools Superintendent Brian Hix said the students and staff have enjoyed a positive start to the year, and anticipates continued progress in the transition to the state’s new academic standards and performance evaluations.

“We have had a great start to the school year. The staff here at Lowrey has hit the ground running as always,” he said. “We are into our third year of implementation of the Common Core Standards, and things are going well as the teachers are making this transition. The administration and teachers are learning and becoming familiar with the new evaluation system that we will be using this year.”