Student Learning and the Camp Verde Unified School District Strategic Plan
I hope you had a chance to read the earlier piece that described the underlying ideas of the district’s strategic plan. If you did not and you find you have questions, you can go to the school web site and see some of the information there. You do not need to have read the previous article to understand what will be said here.
Yes, it is perfectly obvious that student learning is a priority for any school district. But read on, because you will quickly see that there are many variables to student achievement which are not obvious at all.
Over time, I have heard teachers express their frustrations about student learning in a variety of humorous ways: “If only it would work to strap books to their heads!” “I hope the experts develop telepathy soon; then I could just transfer understanding directly into their brains.” “If time travel is ever perfected, I’m going to find this kid’s future self and send him back to talk to himself!”
But all joking aside, there are no shortcuts when it comes to student learning. Oversimplified, the art rests in knowing both the material and the learner, and finding a way to make the one accessible to the other. I make no claims of perfection, but I have every confidence our district’s teachers are highly knowledgeable in the subject matter they teach. As for the learners…well, they are an ever-changing tide.
Research shows that a student’s success in school and his/her enthusiasm for the types of learning offered in classrooms rests on a wide array of factors. Some of these are under the teachers’ control: overall elements of the environment, including whether the student feels safe and is comfortable; the tools used to present and clarify the material; follow-up work which expands student competency. A great many more are not: whether the student is hungry or distracted, how well the learner has understood necessary foundational information, questions of confidence and self-esteem, the priority the student places on academic learning, the learner’s preferred learning style…the list goes on and on. And especially in a less stable household, many of these factors change from day to day.
So what is a school district to do? Everything possible, of course. Some of the students who like school least are the ones who need it most, so excuses are not an option.
Elements of the strategic plan extend into the three elements of learning—the subject matter, the learner, and the presentation of material.
The easiest one to explain is the first: how we will improve our teachers’ knowledge of their subject matter? Research shows that the higher the combined education level of a school’s staff, the more successful its students are. In this area, we have a very educated staff of teachers with a majority of teachers holding a Master’s Degree in Education.
A sub category is how well the teachers know their students. This topic becomes more complex, since there are several directions from which the question can be approached. Standardized tests, for example, are a way the state evaluates student learning. If you are acquainted with any child who attends our schools, you have doubtless heard about the batteries of tests required by the state. If I hear from people that it would be helpful, I will make more information about these test scores available in a later piece of writing, but the big picture when it comes to state tests is that our students as a group have performed near the state average. Since, just as in Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown of Lake Woebegon, we believe all our children are above average, we want to find ways to improve the scores.
I am not a huge fan of standardized tests as I do not believe it is a reflection of the learning that students have achieved while in our classrooms. But unfortunately it is one of the measurements used to evaluate the success of our district in educating our students. Raising these scores will demand considerable effort. We must find and repair the short circuits which have kept our groups from performing at target levels. As a result of this, we are continuing to evaluate our educational models and through our strategic planning process, we will look at how best to meet the needs of our students here in Camp Verde.
In my opening article I presented the recommended mission and vision statements for our board to approve during the upcoming February board meeting. This was created through a collaborative effort of board members, community members, teachers, staff, and administration. The next level is to now evaluate educational models and concepts to advance our educational environment to a point where all of our students are successfully prepared to become productive citizens wherever they choose to live.
The next phase of planning will be carried out by a new team consisting of 12 teachers, 3 principals, community members, our business manager and myself. Our focus and goal is to take our new vision and mission statements, the data that has been collected along with the understanding of our student’s lives, and produce a plan to help our students achieve their life and academic goals.
A key aspect in providing an educational environment is first fulfilling the human needs our students have…based upon Abraham H. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. We are already seeing this be fulfilled with Capturing Kids’ Hearts taking off in our district. We already have a solid foundation of CKH at the middle school, and the elementary and high schools are embracing the many benefits in meeting our students’ foundational needs. We believe for our students to be successful in school they first must feel safe, secure, wanted, and needed…then learning can occur.
There will be more information provided in future articles about the plans for our students as they progress in their academic goals and expectations. As we continue to fulfill our mission and vision, the expectations we have for our district will become more evident to all of our families and community members: providing students with knowledge, skills and attitudes which enable them to succeed in a globally competitive society.
As before, if you are looking for more detail, please visit the school web site, where a quick glance around will show you the path to more information in a link labeled “strategic plan.” Watch, too, for future writings which will provide summaries about some of our other priorities. Thanks for taking the time to read all this…having done so shows you are just the type of person we hope to send out into the world: a lifelong learner.