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Workshops Focus on Best Practices for Student Achievement

Alliance Districts Focus on Data

What gets measured gets done. That was the message today from top education officials who encouraged educators in the Alliance Districts to focus their priorities on maintaining and investing in things that increase student success.

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Dr. Heidi Ramirez, a speaker at the SDE Alliance District conference, talked about the importance of data.

“Think about the things that matter most and the factors that influence student achievement and put your focus there,” said Dr. Heidi Ramirez, a speaker at the State Department of Education Alliance District conference held in New Britain today.

She said the best strategies won’t work unless you align and tailor monitoring to the goals and priorities established by the district and ensure that it’s frequent, ongoing and at the forefront of all activities.

“You have to watch the data, pay attention to what’s happening, and be able to respond to it quickly,” said Ramirez.

Success can be measured in a variety of ways and should be recognized. Ramirez said, “Identify and celebrate early wins that align with district priorities.”

Implementing the Common Core

Dr. Dianna Roberge-Wentzell conducted a workshop on implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). She said the standards, adopted by 45 states, are fewer and clearer than earlier standards used in our schools. But she said the new standards are more rigorous.  She urged workshop participants to consider the school days in their districts. “We have to look at how time is spent or we will come up short. There are no easy answers.”

She said the state will be providing training to Common Core coaches in local school districts. Today she talked about getting good practice in front of key stakeholders, including students, as soon as possible. Educators should ask:

Are students persevering in solving problems?
Are they reasoning abstractly and quantitatively?
Can students construct viable arguments?
Can they critique the reasoning of others?
Are students attending to precision?

Roberge-Wentzell said, “Some of this is really great stuff that teachers have done for a long time.” She encouraged districts to videotape teachers who have already aligned instruction to the Common Core standards well, so it can be provided as professional development to other teachers.

At Roberge-Wentzell’s workshop, teams from the Alliance Districts worked on ideas to assess implementation of CCSS in their schools. Derby Superintendent Matthew Conway said a key goal is supporting teachers. “What support do they need to ensure success when it comes to CCSS?” he said. As professional development is rolled out in the coming months, Conway says he’ll be looking at any additional training that may be needed. The Derby district is tapping the services of two state Regional Education Centers. Nine days of small group professional development is in the works with up to 20 days per school, one on one, with trainers doing embedded professional development with teachers.

Changing School Structures Through Time

In some schools, the structure of public schools hasn’t changed in decades, and today educators from the state’s 30 Alliance Districts heard how examining school structural changes can make a difference in student learning and achievement.

“Public schools aren’t failing—teachers and administrators are succeeding but our structure is outdated,” said Rob Travaglini, director of school and district support at the National Center on Time and Learning.

Last year, five Connecticut schools in three districts began working with the Time Collaborative, a multi-state, public-private partnership, to create more and better learning environments.

The first cohort of schools in New London, East Hartford, and Meriden began with two goals to change school structure: adding time and creating enrichment opportunities.

While schools have reported success, it wasn’t without difficulties and compromises.

“Schools typically operate from the top down. This process allows each school to act and design schedules that meet their needs.  It happens at the building level which develops direct ownership as it moves forward,” said Travaglini.

Mark Benigni, Meriden Superintendent, said it’s important to have buy-in from teachers, board of education members, and parents.

“Our plan was led by our union, so it’s the teachers’ initiative first and formulated by teachers,” said Benigni. “It’s opened up creativity and flexibility for teachers. It’s still a work in progress, but students love it and despite the push back from parents and the board.  It’s all working.”

Bridgeport, Windham, and two additional schools in Meriden joined the Time Collaborative this year and are in the planning stages of implementation.

Early literacy

The 17 Alliance Districts that selected early literacy as one of their year two priorities attended sessions that detailed what will be expected of them, and eventually of all Alliance Districts, when it comes to rolling out the state’s new framework for early literacy.

This year, the first in a four-year roll-out process, the 17 districts will nominate one elementary school to take part in the state’s literacy model. Over the subsequent three years the districts, with support from the state, will roll out the program in the rest of their k-2 schools.

Ellen Cohn, the SDE’s director of standards, curriculum and instruction, said, “We need to balance the urgency of the mission against how much change any system can take without buckling under the weight of the change. That’s why we have a four-year expansion plan until this becomes the model for every k-2 school in the Alliance Districts.”

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