I hope the Holiday Break has found Mineral Point families and the community with much needed rest and opportunity to join families. As the 2014 school year draws to a close, and 2015 is upon us, now is the time to commence planning for the rest of the school year and beyond. A Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) has set forth four board approved focus areas for the district to concentrate efforts on. In this article I will briefly convey progress made to date in each area and subsequent plans for the future.
The first focus area identified by the SPC was academics. The SPC created district goals around mapping and aligning curriculum to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), investigating standards based report cards, academically outperforming school districts in southwest Wisconsin, and investigating personalized learning.
A recent editorial cartoon by Phil Hands (Wisconsin State Journal, December 27, 2014) finds one lady asking an elephant, “So what’s wrong with it (Common Core)?” To which the elephant replies, “Nothing. I just don’t know how it works.” To the credit of the teachers and administrators at Mineral Point Schools, the district does know how CCSS works and continues to press forward with the board’s strategic plan to align resources and assessments with CCSS. The lion share of the work has been completed but there is much work to be done and our teachers are working harder than ever to ensure that each student has a rich and rigorous curriculum according to their needs.
Standards based report cards move away from traditional marks of A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 for content grades and move toward reporting proficiency levels of measured standards for content areas. The elementary school has reviewed sample report cards from school districts across the state and staff continue discussions toward implementation of a different reporting system.
To outperform schools in southwest Wisconsin, Mineral Point has embraced opportunities to enhance curriculum and technology. Next year the high school will offer psychology and add world geography to the curriculum as new courses that were previously not taught or embedded in other courses. Offerings will expand for additional Advanced Placement courses taught through telepresence (HDTV). Courses will be offered and delivered through a consortium of schools including Kickapoo, Riverdale, Pecatonica, Highland, and Mineral Point. Additionally, the operations committee will recommend to the full board that the school district move toward a 1 to 1 initiative where one student will receive one technological device in grades 9 and 10. In subsequent years additional devices would be added until all high school students have a device available to take home with the possibility of middle school to follow.
Each student having one device is one way to personalize the learning for each student. Another effort to personalize learning has taken place in the district’s commitment to invest in professional learning communities (PLCs). PLCs are common time when teachers learn together about what are guaranteed outcomes that a student will learn prior to moving on to the next grade level, how teachers will know if students have learned the outcomes, and how teachers will address students that have not learned the necessary outcomes. This leads to a second area of emphasis as of late which is a response to intervention. (RTI). Teachers responding and intervening once it is learned a student is not mastering an outcome is essential to the future success of the student. Intervening right away does not allow a student to get further behind and does not allow a student to get by without eventually learning an outcome that is essential for the next grade level. Teams have been created to create a systematic approach, ensuring student learning at high levels.
A second area of focus identified by the SPC is fiscal responsibility. Goals were created around informing the school on the school budget process and school funding, eliminating inefficiencies, increasing grant writing, and marketing Mineral Point Schools to increase enrollment. In the near future the district will begin the budgeting process for 2015-2016 and will communicate the process being considered at each step of the development process. The operations committee has recommended an investigation of additional energy efficiency projects to further reduce expenditures made for energy. The district has secured a grant from DPI for instructional coaching, assisting teachers to become better teachers in their profession, and was awarded a grant from Cummins to personalize the experiences of our elementary students in Project Lead the Way. In January the district will learn if a technology grant from the Wisconsin Technology Institute will be awarded in the amount of $25,000. Although a marketing strategy to increase enrollment has yet to be deployed, the best way to market schools is to make sure that schools are performing extremely well academically in a fiscally responsible manner.
The third focus area of the SPC was communication with a goal of developing a communication plan to improve solutions to problems. The addition of a Communications Director has vastly improved the frequency and quality of communications made by the district to families. The next phase of communications will include a bolstering of communications between the school district and community partnerships. This position is making a difference as evidenced by a recent parent writing, “And by the way, we so appreciate the communication you are providing for the schools. A huge need being fulfilled.”
The final area identified as a focus for the SPC was technology. The board approved a three-year technology plan and a 1 to 1 initiative and telepresence expansion are part of the first phase of this plan. Teachers have received basic Google Applications for Education certification with more teachers attempting to receive full certification in the near future. An effort to continue to infuse Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in the classroom through Project Lead the Way at the middle school would meet with my approval.
The year of 2015 will certainly present many challenges, however even more opportunities will present themselves. Opportunities will be created to grow as an academic leader, embrace technology in the classroom, and communicate success while doing so in a fiscally efficient way.