Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Giving Students More Control Over Their Time

One of the challenges most organizations struggle with is having enough time to accomplish the goals it has established. Van Meter Schools is no different. We are constantly looking at ways we can improve upon how we use the time we have with students to provide the most meaningful learning experience possible for each student.

Schools are tasked with a wide range of challenges and expectations. Not only are we an academic institution, we are trying to help develop people who will contribute as citizens in our communities. Our vision is to empower students to be learners who:
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Create
  • Innovate
  • Adapt
  • Solve Problems
  • Think Globally
  • Live Ethically
  • Persevere (GRIT)

To help increase the opportunities for students to improve skills in these areas, we will be looking at other ways we can use our time more effectively. As a Competency Based Education (CBE) pilot school for the state of Iowa, we have been tasked with developing a learning model that is more flexible and personalized for each student which is right in line with our mission. Our teachers use project based learning (PBL) as a framework to get students thinking at higher levels.

The challenge we run into is how time is distributed each day for students. Though we run a flexible block schedule, we still are constricted by our daily periods of meeting time. After winter break, we are going to implement a more flexible and project centered schedule based around what each individual student needs to complete a quality cross curricular project that demonstrates mastery of multiple standards and competencies. Students will have some classes that will meet each day, but the majority of their time will be around completing their project with their team. Students will decide how to use their time to meet their objectives instead of the system deciding for them.

We are excited about the potential, but know that this will be messy and it may not go as well as we hope. Getting students to think at the highest levels in a rich engaging learning environment is worth the risk. Even though we may  have some challenges, we are confident that this will not be our last attempt to find a way to most effectively use our most precious resource, time. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Van Meter to Receive TLC Grant

Van Meter Community School District to Receive Teacher Leadership Grant

I am pleased to announce today that the Van Meter Community School District is in the first group of Iowa school districts selected to launch teacher leadership systems next school year.

Teacher leadership systems will allow teachers to work in greater collaboration with colleagues and school administrators to improve instruction and increase student achievement. Out of Iowa’s 346 school districts, 146 applied to start teacher leadership systems in 2014-15 and 39 were selected. Of those, two districts will share teacher leadership systems. A list of all selected school districts is at the end of this press release.

We are excited for the opportunity to continue the development of our teacher leadership system. Increasing leadership capacity in our district is not only great for our teachers, but will have a positive impact on student learning. 

Teacher leadership systems are the centerpiece of Iowa’s historic 2013 education reform package. They stand to be the foundation for implementation of other state reforms, such as high academic standards. With higher expectations for all students today, it is critical to better support the complex work educators must do.

Teacher leadership systems will be phased in over the next three years across Iowa, with the goal of all districts participating by 2016-17, although whether to do so is a local decision. The Commission on Teacher Leadership and Compensation recommended which districts should be in the first group. Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck made the final decision.

Our district’s teacher leadership model includes instructional strategists, mentors, and PLC leaders who will work closely with classroom teachers to better meet the individual instructional needs of students. Teacher leaders will be paid stipends in exchange for taking on extra responsibilities.

Districts that applied were required to set a vision and goals for the teacher leadership system in their community. Requirements include setting a minimum salary of $33,500 for full-time teachers, providing intensive mentoring for new teachers, and adopting a rigorous selection process for applicants for teacher leadership roles.

Districts selected will receive about $309 per pupil next school year to implement their teacher leadership systems. The annual cost statewide is nearly $50 million in FY15, growing to about $150 million annually in the third year. After the initial year of district implementation, their teacher leadership funding rolls into the Iowa school finance formula.

The next step for school districts is selecting teacher leaders. Gov. Terry Branstad’s FY15 budget recommendations include $4 million for the Iowa Department of Education, working with Area Education Agencies, to provide technical assistance and leadership development for the districts in the first group implementing teacher leadership systems in 2014-15.

We are very excited to be one of the first district in the state to receive support from this grant. It will support our work to personalize learning for each student's success today, and tomorrow.

The selected districts, enrolling about one-third of Iowa students, are:
Cedar Rapids
Council Bluffs
East Marshall
East Union
Greene County
Humboldt (in collaboration with Twin Rivers)
Le Mars
Mount Pleasant
North Polk
Rock Valley
Sioux City
Southeast Polk
Twin Rivers (in collaboration with Humboldt)
Van Meter
West Des Moines
Western Dubuque

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014-2015 School Calendar Proposal

As some of you may or may not know, legislation was passed last year that allows schools to count 1080 hours instead of 180 days as the time needed for a school year. This gives districts flexibility to meet the needs of its students.  With that being said we have worked with a committee of teachers, administrators, and parents to develop a proposed school calendar for next year that is similar, but slightly different than the past few years' calendars. 

Similarities include:
  • Early start date with semester ending prior to winter break
  • Some full days for professional development
  • Full week of spring break
  • End date in mid May

Basically the calendar is the same in regards to the number of days, but the major difference being proposed is weekly professional development time for teachers. Many schools in the metro area including, West Des Moines, Des Moines, Johnston, Ankeny, Norwalk, and Carlisle either have a weekly late start or early out to provide time for professional development. In our proposal, the school day would start at 8:15 and end at 3:30 Monday through Thursday. Friday would start at 8:15 but dismissal for students would be at 1:30 p.m. Teachers would use this time after students are dismissed until 3:30 p.m. to meet professional development responsibilities outlined by the state, district, and their individual and team plans. Time is valuable and research indicates this added PD time will improve instruction and student learning.

We know the challenges this may cause for families and this was considered when developing the calendar.  Other communities have found ways to make the time needed to improve the quality of instruction by providing weekly PD for teachers work, so it is believed that our community can as well.

The calendar has been shared with staff, the school board, and the VMEPC.  Most of the feedback has been positive, but as with any change, challenges have been presented and we will do our best to address those concerns.  Our School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) will review the calendar in early February. Board members will have time to listen to patrons between now and February 17 when they will decide whether to approve the calendar or not at the monthly  meeting.

Linked is the proposed calendar and a letter with more information for you to consider.  As with anything, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks for taking the time to review the linked documents.


Proposed Calendar