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Is it about time?

September 29, 2012
By Klint Willert - Marshall Schools superintendent , Marshall Independent

The school year is well under way. Students are already into the 5th week of the 2012-13 school year. It has been a wonderful start to the school year for the students and staff alike.

As you know, the Marshall Public Schools is in the third year of a three year flexible learning year. The Flexible Learning Year, also known as the FLY, was a combined effort of 25 school districts across Southwest Minnesota. One major goal of the FLY was to develop an environment of high quality professional development that could be shared among the 25 districts.

Another goal of the FLY was to shift the school calendar to provide additional instructional days prior to the high stakes assessments in Minnesota known as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs.

There have been indicators that the FLY effort has made a difference for the schools and districts of Southwestern Minnesota.

First, every school district has started to implement or has implemented professional learning communities in their schools. The professional learning communities (PLCs) are small groups of teachers meeting on a regular basis to evaluate instructional practices, curriculum, and the state academic standards. These PLCs foster collaboration among teachers and allow teachers to learn from each other on an ongoing and regular basis. The weekly release time in Marshall Public Schools is used for this very reason.

Additionally, by shifting the academic calendar forward two weeks, the districts have essentially added instructional time before high stakes assessments.

While it is far from being conclusive, there are some indicators that this shift in the academic year has provided some better alignment within our schools to the assessment calendar. Ending the first semester of the school year in conjunction with the traditional December holiday break is certainly a benefit.

Furthermore, by moving our calendars forward, not only does the school calendar better match the State MCA testing schedule, it also aligns with the advanced placement assessment schedules for students enrolled in advanced placement courses. This is an added benefit as well.

Along with the benefits of the Flexible Learning Year, we also know that there are concerns. Some concerns include impacts on activity schedules and some impacts to family travel and summer vacation plans. These are certainly valid concerns.

As we look forward, the community will be presented with an opportunity to weigh in on the possibility of a new three year flexible learning year application. As we consider a new application, there are several factors that will ultimately influence whether or not Marshall Public Schools will continue in the next flexible learning year application. First, one of the considerations is the goals and objectives of the application.

The efforts need to support the mission of Marshall Public Schools to "develop the potential of each learner for success in a changing world."

The application needs to be compelling enough for Marshall Public Schools to continue in the joint effort with the other 24 school districts. Additionally, the application needs to align to our community values and interests. Finally, and most importantly, the application needs to provide a convincing vision for the future of education. It is important to think about how students learn, where they learn, and how we recognize student learning.

We know that students can learn and do learn beyond the four walls of the school or classroom. We know that students can use technologies to explore their world in ways that were never possible before. We know that we need to ask ourselves if education is really just about time or if it is about student learning and student performance. We need to talk about education and student learning in a way that doesn't limit us to just a calendar.

We really talk about what students learn, how our school districts acknowledge what students learn, and how we can credit students for learning that occurs both within our schools as well as outside of the formal educational environment.

These are all important considerations that our community, school board, administration, teachers, and students need to consider as we contemplate a new FLY application and our communities involvement in the next FLY application.

Is it really about time or is it about student learning? I look forward to discussing this more in the weeks and months ahead.

And remember, it is a great day to be a Tiger!



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