DMPS Readies Schools for Rigor Pilot Project

Leaders from six DMPS schools gathered for a workshop as part of preparing to pilot the district's Schools for Rigor initiative.

Leaders from six DMPS schools gathered for a workshop as part of preparing to pilot the district’s Schools for Rigor initiative.

In March we reported on the presentation to the school board of a plan by district administrators to officially remake all 60 DMPS schools into “Schools for Rigor” over the course of the next three years.

A pilot cohort of the following six schools begins that implementation in 2016-17:

  • North High
  • Weeks Middle
  • Findley Elementary
  • Howe Elementary
  • Lovejoy Elementary
  • Perkins Elementary

Leadership teams from those buildings spent all day Wednesday in Ballroom A at the Iowa Events Center in an intense workshop coordinated by consultants from Learning Sciences International. Next year LSI will conduct a series of RigorWalks at the pilot schools to gauge progress. But a lot of preparation has to happen to take the plan from ballroom to classroom and Wednesday it began in earnest.

During a breakout exercise that was part of the afternoon session the group from North huddled to envision how relentless tracking of student performance that’s central to the SOR model might actually look when teachers are using LSI tech tools like the growth tracker that will enable real-time updates and reviews of student performance.

Any apprehension that the new approach will require too frequent evaluation of students by teachers is dispelled by the fact that the “data will be meaningful,” as one teacher put it. No longer will teachers feel hamstrung by having to “teach to the test,” i.e. standardized measurements like the annual Iowa Assessments. They will be harvesting daily data for their own use and analysis. It will guide their instruction instead of being potentially misinterpreted by policymakers who are not educators.

“We are so ready for this at North,” said School Improvement Leader Ben Graeber. “Schools of Rigor elements like PLCs (professional learning communities for teachers) we’re already doing. We call them data teams but they’re essentially the same thing.”

The Schools of Rigor implementation will capitalize on momentum that’s already evident at schools like North and Findley where ongoing turnaround efforts got underway thanks to previous federal grants.

While the six pilot SOR schools were upstairs prepping for the launch next fall of a program that will scale up districtwide by the 2108-19 school year, officials from the other 54 district buildings were convened downstairs for training in revamped school environments. Led by DMPS Director of Climate and Culture Jake Troja, the workshop introduced a new district behavior framework called a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. MTSS is used to guide the implementation of a data-based model that integrates academic and behavioral instruction and intervention.

It was another preliminary step toward a major event being planned for late summer before the 2016-17 year begins. The 1st Annual Summit on School Climate and Culture is planned for August 8th and 9th and designed to build on research showing that healthy, positive, “culturally proficient” building environments are a vital component of school improvement. Professional development training sessions like the event yesterday are one of the ways those are created.

Ingredients including more focused training and supervision of principals, a common K-12 instructional/behavioral framework (Wallace Grant), enhanced learning environments (Federal School Climate Transformation Grant), more culturally proficient teachers (customized DMPS master’s degree) and adoption of standards referenced grading districtwide are being mixed into a rich recipe for improved student outcomes. Instruction, discipline and grading are becoming more uniform and effective across all levels. The cake is baking. It will be eaten, too, in celebration when THE model for urban education is completed.

Photos from Schools for Rigor Workshop

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