James, board review school district’s goals for 2012-13

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

Meeting the state’s College and Career Readiness expectations and requirements remains the focus at Carroll County’s schools.

Superintendent Lisa James outlined all of her goals for the district to the Board of Education during a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 2.

“We are working hard to infuse critical thinking in the classroom,” she said. “This is a pivotal point in education; [teaching is] no longer [done] the way we were taught.”

Each of the school site-based councils is working to create 30-, 60- and 90- plans that will help determine a course for improving technology and integrating it into the classroom, she said.

The primary goal is “to become a district of innovation,” she said.

The district is working to become more “product-oriented” in teaching. Through STEM fairs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students will take part in working together to develop products – starting from an original idea and following through from the design process to actually manufacturing a product, James said.

She showed a video on “High-Tech High” in San Diego, Calif., which uses the Denver Thinking Strategies Model. The video shows how students at a vocational high school participate in hands-on, college-level learning in which they collaborate in teams, integrating what they’ve learned in science, math, engineering and technology to complete projects.

James said Oldham County schools are pioneering the model locally.

Because districtwide training is expensive, James said the administration has devised a three-year plan for getting all teachers on board.

The primary benefit to the model, she explained, is that it encourages a deeper level of understanding for students, and forces them to ask better questions and work in a team environment – much like adults do in the workplace.

James said the district is starting small, integrating two to three of the model’s units each year, “but we’ve got to get to the next level. … This is what’s next. We’ve got to keep pushing the envelope.”

James said that her work over the past four years to improve technology at the schools has positioned the district to work toward this goal.

She said the board’s commitment “ to improving technology in the schools has been very meaningful,” and cited this year’s roll-out of providing Mac laptops to all juniors and seniors, as well as ensuring one computer for every two students in third through eighth grades and providing “Smart Tables” for primary students.

“We’re on the cutting edge,” she said. “The districts around us are not even close to where we are in technology.”

James said she would like to see the MacBook laptop program expanded to freshmen and sophomores and to provide iPads for elementary school students. “That’s our hope. We plan to do it in four years. This is our second year; it takes time to do it.”

She added that the district also is considering allowing students who have them to bring their own laptops or smartphones into the classroom to use during instruction. “We can’t require it, of course. The goal is not to create a bigger [achievement] gap [between lower and middle- to high-income students]. The goal is to lessen the gap, and there are kids who can’t afford their own MacBook.”

“I’ll be happy when we start pushing the arts,” said board member Carolyn Jones.

James said the district has been working to add arts back into education, and mentioned the the STEAM program, which adds the letter “A” for arts to the STEM model. She said one achievement has been to add choir back into the curriculum for all grades in the district.

Jones said she would like to see more visual arts added, as well, such as painting.

James said she would add that to her long-range plans for the district.

Other goals this year are to encourage health and wellness among staff and students. Every staff member will have a water bottle to use daily and a pedometer to keep track of how many steps they take. Those will be tallied weekly, along with cumulative weight loss for staff who wish to participate, so that each of the schools can compete against each other.

Students also will have access to bottled water throughout the day, as well, James said, adding that there are a lot of studies now that show how hydration assists with brain function.

“We want to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” she said.

Board chairman Mona Kindoll said she also wants the district to continue striving to improve the percentage of students taking – and passing – advance placement tests. Though the district posted a 33 percent passing rate this past year, which is above the 21-percent rate the previous year, “we are not increasing at the rate I would like to see.”