Superintendents learn strategies for student success

Participants in the 101st annual Maine Superintendents’ Conference last week attended five of nine possible workshop sessions addressing one overarching topic: strategies to help each individual learner meet proficiency. State educators, Maine DOE staff and outside program leaders conducted sessions on subjects such as student-centered data management and the Maine Schools for Excellence teacher evaluation initiative. Here is a closer look at three of the workshops offered:

Expanded Learning Opportunities: After School Network
The Maine After School Network encourages students to expand on topics they have learned in school by offering Expanded Learning Opportunities – project-based, experiential learning activities outside of the traditional classroom.

The University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond is one such ELO option, which served seventh- and eighth-grade STEM students from Oxford County during its four-week summer pilot program in 2010. Directors engaged the program’s low-performing, high-risk students by combining real-life, applied learning curricula with popular literature, such as The Hunger Games.

“We wouldn’t hear, ‘How am I going to use this in my life?’” said Susan Jennings, extension educator at the Learning Center. “This program has changed students’ whole self-esteem around learning.”

The Bryant Pond program has successfully integrated math and literacy to curb summer learning loss. After the 2011-2012 school year, 17 of 35  students improved their NWEA scores by more than 12 points in reading and language arts.

ELOs are also effective during the regular school day, such as in the case of Ferry Beach Ecology School in Saco. (Commissioner Bowen visited the school in May.) FBES’s hands-on work, offered at both the program’s coastal campus and Maine schools, has helped nearly 5,000 Maine students in grades K-8 better understand ecology and sustainability.

You Can Get There From Here: Using data, professional learning communities and teacher leadership to drive school improvement
Deer Isle-Stonington High School is a model for school success. Labeled one of Maine’s 10 “persistently low-achieving schools” in 2010, Deer Isle has made visible progress in the past two years by establishing a distributed leadership structure and using annual and monthly data to track student improvement.

Principal Todd West assigned teachers to one of two Professional Learning Communities, which give teachers more voice and make them part of the leadership structure. As a team, the staff devised a school improvement action plan with the ambitious goal of a 95-percent graduation rate (at 57 percent in 2009). By 2010-11, Deer Isle’s test scores were up, and its graduation rate ranked among the top one-third of Maine schools, suggesting that progress is possible for any struggling institution. “You may not see immediate results in a year or two, but you’ve got to stick with it,” West said.

MLTI and Online Learning: Anytime Everywhere – Learning Exemplars
The Maine Learning Technology Initiative was revolutionary in providing all seventh- and eighth-grade students with one-to-one laptops, starting in 2001. More than a decade later, MLTI is still ahead of the curve with its strategies for learning through technology.

“Not only does online learning bridge the gap of time and place, but it’s a different way of teaching,” said David Patterson, instructional technology specialist for Maine DOE.

Educators can create video podcasts of themselves teaching, which give on-demand support to students. Other resources, such as, move the entire classroom discussion to the web. Kids use laptops in class to engage in real-time instructional forums, which produce transcripts that double as study tools. MLTI’s online learning platforms ensure that all students have a voice – they don’t have to raise their hands to share ideas, after all – and enhance the value of face-to-face learning

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