Summers are busy times in all school districts. The summer passes by so quickly that there is not much time to exhale and reflect upon all of the successes of the previous school year before it is time to turn our attention to the new school year.
This year was no exception, as we have been working diligently over the summer to prepare for the 2019-2020 school year.
Each year we center our instruction around a theme, and every year that theme builds upon the previous year. Three years ago we began with a belief that “All Learners Grow,” followed by “Our Instruction Is GREAT (Guided by instruction, Rigorous, Engaging, Assessment to guide instruction, Tailored through flexible grouping.)”
Last year’s theme, based on George Couros’ “Innovative Mindsets,” helped us create four focus areas: to provide Universal Design for Learning Opportunities and learning supports for all students; to incorporate Reflective Teaching Practices; to continue to teach 21st Century Learning Skills to all students; and to provide a Safe and Supportive School Environment.
We have spent the last three years building a solid foundation around our annual vision. This year our focus is “Digging Deeper for Student Achievement,” where we will look at the foundation established by last year’s four focus areas and develop SMART Goals for each of these areas.
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. We have asked our building leadership to develop narrowly-focused, school-specific SMART Goals for each of their buildings.
To that end, we have challenged our principals to identify what specifically they want to achieve at their schools and to provide honest and detailed assessments of what worked well and what they need to do to improve. We have also asked our principals to familiarize themselves with Evidence-Based Practices, and to incorporate those scientifically tried and tested educational strategies in their schools, to not only increase student engagement, but to also increase student output and achievement.
Each school’s goals may not be exactly the same as other schools. We are giving our principals the flexibility to personalize their goals, but we are also requiring continuity throughout the District when it comes to achievement. Our principals spent time meeting as a group this summer to discuss what high achieving schools do and to share best practices with one another. We will continue these talks throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
When we look at the area of 21st Century Skills, we need to make sure our goals focus not only on college-readiness, but also on career readiness. Project-Based Learning is an example of 21st Century Skills, where students are given the freedom to independently explore areas of interest, with the teacher serving as a guide throughout the process, rather than as the driver of the learning.
Universal Design for Learning is an approach to learning that takes into account the “why” (interest and motivation), the “what” (presenting content and information in different ways), and the “how” of learning (differentiating for students to demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways). Supportive strategies such as co-teaching and using evidence-based interventions within this approach are designed to enhance student performance and growth.
In addition to conversations around data, Reflective Teaching Practices should encompass things such as Formative Assessment and Differentiation to facilitate student success in the classroom.
Our Safe and Supportive Schools goals will expand beyond the establishment of a School Police Force to include family engagement, wellness and cultural awareness activities, with continued partnerships for mental health services.
I hope this gives you an idea of where we are headed this school year. It is our continual mission to provide students and staff with the tools they need to increase student achievement. Whether a student plans to go to college, a trade school, the military or directly into the workforce, we need to give them a solid foundation and the skills necessary to reach whatever goals they set for themselves.
We have much to be proud of in the Bethel Park School District. If you have children who attend our schools, you know what I am talking about, because you see it first-hand with your children every day. If you do not have children in the District, we invite you to attend one of the many music and athletic events in our schools. Attend one of the Gold Card Lunches organized by the Bethel Park Recreation Department. Follow the District at www.bpsd.org. We know you will be proud of all that our students are accomplishing under the guidance of our talented and committed staff. I look forward to seeing you at events.
Wednesday, August 21 will be here before you know it, and another school year will be underway.
As always, it is an honor to serve you and your children. Here’s to a great school year!
This message appeared in the August 2019 issue of the Bethel Park Chronicles.