BISMARCK – Elementary School Principal Randy Crites presented a report on Professional Learning Communities at Monday’s regular monthly meeting of the Bismarck R-5 Board of Education.
Crites told board members that PLC has helped teachers in his area to work together in a way that has improved student learning beyond what can be achieved through grade and course-level expectations (GLE) or Common Core Standards.
“A lot of times the teachers would just teach a list of topics with no connections from one to the other — their little pet projects and so forth,” Crites said. “There were no common departmentalized agreed upon goals or, at the elementary level, there were no grade level agreed upon goals. The PLC process gives us the opportunity to change that mindset. It caused us to create a community of educators — much like a ball team. We might have all the positions filled, but if everybody just goes out and plays their little spot, then nothing really happens as far as the team goes.”
Crites explained that Essential Learning Outcomes has been a large stepping stone in creating a collaborative team among Bismarck Elementary educators.
“It caused us to have conversations in our departments, at our grade levels, and we found out we are professionals,” he said. “We know what we’re doing. The thing is, are we doing it in a common fashion? If two students attend different Algebra II classes, when they get to the end do they know the same things? Are they both equally prepared? We sat down and began talking about what students need to know and we do this in a collaborative fashion.”
In creating Essential Learning Objectives, Crites asked educators what five to seven basic outcomes a student must achieve to be successful at the next level.
“We actually went over to our local community college and we did a thing called backward design,” he explained. “We asked them what students need to know so they can take entry level college courses and won’t have to take remedial courses. So that’s where it ultimately started with backward design all the way down to our pre-K. We now have a binder in every classroom, a binder in our data room and a binder in my office where there are copies of those essential learning objectives.”
These changes, however, revealed something else Crites said had to be dealt with.
“We started finding some educational gaps,” he said. “Expectations from one grade to the next weren’t the same. Things we expected a student to know when they came into my grade maybe were not what the teacher thought they needed to be of the grade they were leaving. These educational gaps are the responsibility of the teachers.”
He ended his report noting that creating an environment where teachers are working together for a common goal has helped the school to begin closing these educational gaps and thereby create a more successful learning environment for students.
In other action at the board meeting, Superintendent Chuck Hasty presented the latest enrollment figures showing 509 students are currently enrolled in the school district.
“These are the latest enrollment figures as of today,” he said. “We’ll see students come and go throughout the year, but our enrollment numbers remain consistent in the lower 500s, but we’ll continue to track it.”
He also reminded the board he will be attending a state conference Wednesday evening and all day Thursday of this week. Hasty said he expected to have more information about school funding for the coming year after he returns from the conference and intends to share it with board members soon.
Board members approved the annual report on guidance and counseling programs presented by high school Counselor Lindsey Taylor, but tabled action until next month on a report given by high school Principal Jason King on the district’s Pilot Program. The program assists students in earning college credit prior to high school graduation.
The 2014-2015 school calendar was approved. It sets the first day of school on Aug. 13, 2014, and the last on May 14, 2015. Students and teachers will receive a two week Christmas break.
The dates of June 2 to 22 were approved for this year’s summer school program. Crites said 98 elementary students have signed up so far. King said he was unsure of the exact number of high school students who have pre-enrolled but added that the registration forms were “coming in hot and heavy.”
Special recognition was given during the meeting to outstanding district art students, Unitech students, band and choir members, as well as the school’s boys and girls basketball teams.
Board member Ken Wakefield was recognized with a plaque for his years of service to the school district. Because he is not running for re-election in April, this is the last meeting he attended as a member of the board.
Crites recognized Tyler Mork as student of the month and Crystal Diffee as staff member of the month for the elementary school in March.
King recognized Mandy Carroll as student of the month and Terry Skinner as staff member of the month for the high school in March.
Next month’s meeting has been moved to April 14 so as not to conflict with the district’s spring break.