March 2000 / High School Qualifying Exam

Question Mark
Ask the Superintendent: High School Qualifying Exam
Superintendent's Column
Peninsula Clarion
D. Peterson

March 2000

QUESTION: With all of the emphasis on getting kids ready for the benchmark exams and High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, what about my child who is doing okay in school?

This question is being asked more frequently as it is perceived that the majority of attention, and perhaps dollars, are being focused on students who might not have the skills to meet the benchmarks.

I think the question is really much larger … how does one teacher in a classroom of twenty-five students, meet the needs of each and every student? First of all, I believe that is the goal of education – providing a quality education for all students. The issue is how do we make that happen.

First, the single most critical factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher. The District and schools are well aware of the need to recruit, hire, support and provide professional development opportunities for all staff members. One of the advantages of my position is that I have the opportunity to be in the classrooms in our thirty-nine sites – there are great things happening! In reading through the site council minutes from each site I’m continually impressed by the community partnerships and creative ideas/programs that are occurring throughout this peninsula to improve student learning. This year we are taking steps to review and assure that all of our district practices, procedures and policies are aligned and make sense in this ever changing world of education. We are also concentrating on making sure our experienced, as well as our sixteen new-to-position administrators, have the information and tools to lead their schools.

Second, we know that class size makes a difference. With the help of a Federal grant, most KPBSD schools will have an 18:1 student to teacher ratio at the first grade for the 2000-2001 school year. This focus on meeting the needs of every student in first grade will make a big difference because early intervention will have huge benefits later on. Would we love to do this for every grade level? Yes. We simply can’t afford it. However, this significant decrease in the pupil-teacher ratio formula at a primary grade will have a lasting impact, and stretches our dollars the furthest.

Third, we have taken steps this year to start up a program for our most severely disruptive emotionally handicapped students. As a public school, we are responsible for educating all students. As a moral citizenry, we have an obligation to all children. However, the line is often blurred as to when the rights to an education are disrupted by student behavior. You are likely to be seeing more stringent discipline policies at schools. The goal is a safe, secure optimal learning environment for all students and when behavior distracts from that mission, consequences occur. We piloted a program this year that provided services for our most severely disruptive students outside of their regular school setting. The program worked and will be expanded next year.

Finally, for those parents who wish to explore alternatives for their child, we are actively strategizing as to how to best use technology, and other resources to improve learning. Our Connections program was the first step. As we work with the Borough Assembly on the technology plan we see the advantages to alternate delivery in some educational areas. Technology won’t replace teachers, but technology may well overcome the distances between our schools. We believe that schools in the next five years will change dramatically and we are poised to take advantage of those changes that extend learning beyond the walls of a building.

The review of what we’re doing wouldn’t be complete without my jumping on the soapbox of individual accountability. As we prepare learners for the world of work as it is today, businesses are telling us over and over that they need workers with skills, with an excellent work ethic, with the ability to communicate and work as part of a team, and who are self-motivated and can think on their feet and solve problems without being told exactly what to do in every situation. Our schools of today have to have projects and learning opportunities that are structured to provide practice in these skills needed by businesses. Students need to work to their potential and some of that responsibility lies with the students themselves. The teacher is responsible for setting up the learning opportunity for success, the student is responsible for taking and applying that learning to the best of their ability; being motivated to go beyond the minimum expectations of completion. We see students going beyond the minimum in many areas – sports, music, areas of interest – now the trick is getting is motivating them to learn things they may not be as interested in for the sheer love of learning. As they stretch the talents and skills of their teachers and their peers, all will benefit.

So, back to the question about the higher than average student possibly getting “shorted” in the classroom equation - we have a two-pronged approach. First in the short term, I know of many classrooms in this district where, formally or informally, instruction is differentiated for differing student abilities/ interests/needs every single day. We want to have teachers with the tools to make that happen everywhere. In the longer term, by addressing the needs in first grade we believe the diagnosis and intervention in the early years will make a positive difference for the rest of the students’ educational career. If all students can read on grade level, teachers throughout the grades will be thrilled. By finding alternative ways/settings to meet the behavioral/academic needs of students at all ends of the spectrum, and by having students taking personal responsibility for their learning, we beli