MARSHALL - Marshall School Board members heard from QComp coordinator Amy Eckart about the progress made in professional learning communities within the district at a work session Monday at the Marshall Middle School.
Currently, there are 23 teacher teams, 29 peer coaches and eight coordinating teachers in the PLC configuration, with a 6-to-1 ratio, although Eckart said changes will be made in the future.
"The teams are broken up by grade level or content area," she said. "Some are cross-district. We won't have coordinating teachers next year, though. They'll be peer coaches. Moving to having one person overseeing everything will work much better."
Eckart explained that there were six essential elements of a PLC: a focus on learning for all students, collaborative culture, collective inquiry into best practice, action-orientation, commitment to continuous improvement and a focus on results.
Four guiding questions keep the district on task. The first determines what it is the district wants the students to learn, followed by the question of how the district will know if each student is learning each of the essential skills, concepts and dispositions identified and how the district will respond when some of its students do not learn.
"We're making progress towards meeting the objectives, but we're not there yet," she said. "There are pieces of No. 3, but it's not fully realized yet."
One of the biggest challenges, Eckart said, is working through changes, including the transition from the previous education model where teachers operated individually in their own classrooms to working collaboratively for the good of the entire student population.
For example, she said, there might be eight second-grade teachers who have to filter through 30-plus language arts standards and decide which ones are the most important for students to know.
"You have to come to a consensus with eight people, on what the focus of second-grade is," Eckart said. "Everyone gets to participate and figure out what that means. Education used to be set up where it was all very individual, but now it's very collaborative."
Despite teachers' efforts, it's impossible to teach everything, Eckart said, so it's sometimes difficult for a teacher to give up teaching a certain unit that they feel comfortable instructing on. The district also moved from a monthly PLC meeting to weekly, 60-minute meetings.
"These are big shifts for people to be able to make right away," she said. "It's a slow process of setting up important content areas in classrooms."
Charts shows satisfaction rates for the first three quarters of the 2011-12 school year, with student achievement gaining the most approval. Overall, 70 percent of staff were satisfied. Board member Bill Mulso asked what negative comments staff members had made and Eckart responded that the majority of them revolved around logistical issues, like the time involved or travel conflicts. Some felt that they did not fit properly into a particular PLC, which will likely result in some shuffling for next year.
"Some special education teachers were not comfortable in grade levels so we'll pull them out for next year," she said.
Beginning with the start of the flexible learning year nearly two years ago, the PLC concept has continued to progress. Following the PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) guide, the district intends to keep working towards common goals, which includes closing the achievement gap.
"It's not just about discussing something, but as a group, it's figuring out how we are going to address this," Eckart said. "It's a unified approach. It's a different way of thinking about things. And then it's about how teachers are going to involve students and get them more involved in their educational journey."
MHS Superintendent Klint Willert said that, building on the foundation that has been laid the past two years, the district will be moving away from the idea of re-teaching students at the beginning of each school year.
"It's about establishing expectations and what we expect students to know," Willert said. "We're no longer going to spend 2-3 weeks on re-teaching. That's going out the door."
Willert announced he had good news for taxpayers, pointing out that the bond refunding proposal had hit the district's pre-determined parameters. The sale will be taking place on May 16, with an estimated savings of $2,287,000 for taxpayers.
"I feel very good about this," Willert said. "Anytime we can save our taxpayers over $2 million, we can be proud of that."
A cheerleading proposal was also the topic of discussion, though no action was taken. Willert expressed concerns over the cost model, potential questions about bringing the program back in relationship to other programs or classes that were cut and sustainability.
"All of these things need to be considered before making a decision," he said.
Mulso said he's also like additional information.
"I'm all for it if we can get another group of students involved, but I'd want to make sure there are the numbers to sustain it past two years," Mulso said. "I'd like to see some financial specifics."
More positive news came with the announcement of the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative network consortium agreement. The board will be asked to take action at the next meeting.
"We're going to be getting more capacity for less cost," Willert said. "The increased bandwidth we'll have in the district is going from 90 megabits per second to 600 Mbps. And, it's a cost savings of almost $12,000 annually."