There was a good crowd that came out to the Wellington High School auditorium Wednesday, Jan. 17. Superintendent of Schools Mark Whitener lead the discussion about the forthcoming redesign of how things will be done for students at certain schools in Wellington this fall.
First off, Whitener spoke of the things that will not change. Grades and credits will still be at the secondary level. Eligibility for regent schools will not change. Electives will still be set at the traditional format, at least for a few years. For juniors and seniors, nothing will change. Some freshmen and sophomores will continue on the traditional track. Teachers will still teach a lesson every day.
Among the things that will change are that students will work at their own pace and may work ahead. If students have mastered a skill, they won’t have to sit through the teacher-led lesson in the core subjects. Secondary students may choose starting time, the learning location, and teacher. Secondary students may also choose to work exclusively on one subject for an entire day, week, etc.
Whitener then went on to talk about how Wellington schools got to this point. In the fall of 2016, USD 353 held focus groups, and provided surveys with twenty questions, asking citizens what direction they thought the district should go. Over 600 responded, including parents, business owners, teachers, and staff.
In the summer of 2017, Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) offered competitive apps for school redesign. It was a competitive field with over 300 districts in the state. In the end, only seven were chosen.
Why do it, Whitener asks? The world has changed. The Carnegie learning formula, that has been in play for over a hundred years, is outdated. It was based on the idea of Henry Ford’s assembly line, designed to get people at least a 6th grade education. The theory was that at least 20% of students were needed to go on to high school and beyond for society to truly thrive.
Automation has been a real game changer for education. The success of a company like Amazon has made our lives so much different than it was over a decade ago. The great speed at which automation has brought our society has changed the employment picture dramatically. Retail jobs that were once plentiful are now being replaced by machines at a rapid rate.
“Things are changing rapidly,” Whitener points out. “We need to change to meet our kids’ needs.”
Technology is evolving. Tesla is developing a self-driving car. GM announced their self-driving vehicles for the market next year. This type of automation will eliminate most non-skilled jobs. In fact, the majority of jobs paying 20$ or less will be lost in the next few years due to automation.
By 2020, 71% of Kansas jobs will require additional training beyond high school. Currently, that rate is 44%. The economy needs people with the skills to be electricians, HVAC techs, plumbers, nurses, commercial pilots, etc.
Whitener believes the schools should teach soft skills, including: perseverance, good character, dependability, being on time, working hard, etc. They should be learning real world skills through project based learning. Whitener believes that the people of Wellington want students to learn 21st century skills, experience real world learning, and engage in teamwork or collaboration.
How will we take care of our kids and prepare for the 21st century, Whitener asks? There will be a personalized learning, still with a teacher, consisting of character education, including soft skills such as dependability, honesty, hard work, and being on time.
There will be learning flexibility, so students can participate in job shadowing and utilizing opportunities such as internships and apprenticeships in the community. A renewed or increased focus on vocational education will make use of the new Cowley College campus’ close proximity to the high school.
High School Principal John Buckendorff spoke of the Mercury Endeavor. It consists of the personalized blended learning, internships and job shadowing, college credits, and industry certifications.
“We want to take it to another level,” Buckendorff said proudly. “We want well-rounded students with the soft skills where they can go into the work force and be contributing citizens to the world economy.”
Kennedy Elementary Principal Stephanie Smith spoke of the work also being done at her school that she hopes “will hopefully trickle down to other schools.”
“There is a focus on online platforms with project based learning, prefacing them to build their knowledge and curiosity and experience.” She goes on to say, “We want to get them out into the community, but move at their own pace.” There will be a move to small group instruction. Right now, they have almost totally moved away from large group instruction. Right now, we see a remarkable change in students. We are tailoring their learning to their needs.”
All throughout the program, members of the audience were encouraged to text in with questions they might have . What follows is a sampling of these questions.
How does redesign combat the “snapchatization” of students? Will students not be capable of interpersonal communication?
Kids have to be able to think and problem solve. In GE, they work in teams and have to be able to communicate. They have to work with each other and talk. Get them out of the school and into the work place and learn how to interact and work and put the phone down.
When will it be implemented to the entire high school?
High School Principal Buckendorf was “ unsure.” Right now the plan is to start with the freshmen and sophomores and in 3-4 years implement it to the entire high school.
How will the 100 freshmen and sophomore be chosen to participate in the program?
There will be an application process, which will attempt to have a crossection of every kind of kid.
Will it have the support of the state and consequence for college eligibility?
Students will still be taking the same classes (math, science, social studies, language arts), still getting grades, still taking electives, and transcripts will still look the same.
How does this affect sports eligibility and access?
Exactly the same. Policy remains the same. We are still keeping grade structure per age.
Can they be removed from the program if it is taken advantage of? Picking their own hours, etc?
If that happens, we will assign you to a teacher certain hours of a day to get you back on track, then give options to get back into the program to try again. We will also give them more structure.
Focus only on blue collar jobs? Advantage for going into medical fields?
There are larger needs for them in the economy. That is where the dollars are. We still need 25% of kids to get a bachelors or higher. The really driven students tend to finish in their junior year and start to focus on college courses.
How will the teachers deal with the challenges of all of this?
Teachers adjust and adapt to program. There will be professional development this summer. One idea is to fly them to California—all paid trip. That is a possibility. There will be work during the summer to bring teachers up to speed who are going to get professional development.
Will students be held back if they are not ready to move on? They will not be held back per se. There will be summer opportunities to help them catch up, use personalized learning, working at their level. There will be no need to hold them back.
Will students test out of courses for credit?
That is correct. If they can show they know it, they can test out of it.
Can students work from home?
Absolutely. 24-7 help will be available.