Yellow Springs School Board

School breaks open 2020 plan

After a year of brainstorming, researching and discussing the wide world of education, the Yellow Springs school district presents its first draft of the Class of 2020 10-year strategic plan. The plan is a rough guide to creating an engaging and contemporary interdisciplinary curriculum for a student body that is well prepared to succeed beyond high school in today’s world. In the words of the steering committee members who drafted it, the plan is a guide to making the Yellow Springs district “a school of creativity and innovation.”

While the most intense work of implementation has yet to be done, the authors want feedback on how well the 2020 plan captures the values of the community as a guide to designing the future education system for the village’s public schools. The 118-page document starts with an overview of the district and its existing structures, summarizes the brainstorming process of getting to the 2020 plan, rolls out of the priorities of the plan and strategies to implement it, and closes with a lengthy appendix that gives a demographic profile of the current village population.

The plan is now available for review and online comment at the News Web site at ysnews.com, and for viewing at the district site, www.yellow-springs.k12.oh.us. The district invites the public to give critical feedback on the plan through Oct. 24, after which the steering committee will create a final draft for approval by the school board. According to school board president and Steering Committee co-chair Sean Creighton, public input on the plan is important in drafting the best map to guide the future of the district.

This is an opportunity for local residents to have a say in the education system they support, according to parent and 2020 Steering Committee member Steve Conn.

“This village does a good job of recognizing that the general health of the community hinges pretty dramatically on the health of our schools,” Conn said. “We want to make sure the community continues to believe their schools are worthy of their support.”

At the heart of the plan are six educational priorities that the 2020 Steering Committee established based on its year-long investigation. Each priority is fleshed out with several suggested strategies that could be employed to achieve that goal.

Priority 1: Making sure students succeed

•Expect more from students

•Train students to be active citizens

•Engage parents

•Narrow the achievement gap

•Challenge top students

•Support special needs students

•Prepare students for college and work

The strategies associated with each priority are merely suggestions that the teachers and staff will specify as they craft the new curriculum over the next several years, Superintendent Mario Basora said last week. But the plan does include initial ideas for accomplishing, for instance, the first priority, which could necessitate that each student develop an individualized education plan with personal growth objectives. Among other strategies for fostering citizenship, the plan suggests that students could create learning opportunities with local businesses and organizations. And to prepare students for the workplace, for instance, the school could hold regular career exploration workshops.

Priority 2: Create an innovative YS teaching and learning model

•Design a 21st century core curriculum

•Integrate problem-solving and critical thinking skills with inquiry-based instruction

•Adopt effective technology

•Allow for nontraditional learning, such as 12-month schooling, distance learning, and cooperative education

• Assess effectiveness of the curriculum

According to Basora, this priority promises to have the biggest impact on the schools. It could also be the objective that requires the most time and resources to accomplish successfully, given that staff and administrators will be called on to radically shift their understanding and delivery of both teaching and learning, he said.

“This is an overwhelmingly different pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, and we owe it to our staff and to our community to invest in professional development that will require a significant amount of time and resources to complete,” Basora said. “In the long run, it’s worth the investment we put in because it will allow our dream to be actualized.”

According to the outline in the plan, some of the teaching objectives could be met by designing a cross-disciplinary science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum, and asking students, parents and experts to scientifically test the curriculum.

Curriculum delivery could also occur outside the school itself, according to Steering Committee member Mark Meister, who lives in town and is president and CEO of the Dayton Society of Natural History. As the leader of a regional organization that specializes in producing education programs for schools around the country, Meister believes that as part of its future education plan, Yellow Springs has the opportunity to tap into the wealth of educational and cultural ammenities that the greater Miami Valley region has to offer. Programs through institutions such as the Dayton Art Institute, MUSE, Carillon Park, and Boonshoft Museum of Discovery would connect Yellow Springs students to the wider community and broaden curricular opportunities in disciplines the local district might not offer.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out there — the school district doesn’t need to be insular,” Meister said. “Students should be educated as citizens of the world; they should be aware of things around them, and you don’t want to run the risk of students feeling isolated in Yellow Springs.”

Changing the way teachers frame and deliver instruction facilitates all the other key elements of the plan, including student-directed and project-based learning, curriculum integration, community connectedness and learning through real-world problem solving, Basora said. To renew its pedagogical approach, school leaders plan to investigate innovative models used at schools such as New Tech schools, Asia Society schools, Expeditionary Learning schools, Montessori schools and even local places such as the Miami Valley School and the Antioch School. That exploration is also a potential action step for achieving Priority 3, developing high performing staff.

Priority 3: Developing high performing and diverse faculty, staff and administrators

•Develop collaborative school culture

•Recruit and retain best teachers, staff and administrators

•Link performance evaluation to YSS mission, outcomes and innovation

•Become an education model

The plan suggests ways to attain these goals by, for example, creating a recruitment plan, offering competitive wages and consider compensating for high performance, and reasearching 21st century education models, such as the Augsburg Public Achievement model focused on youth civic organizing.

Priority 4: Funding for the future

•Maintain balanced budget

•Develop new funding sources

•Create communication plan

•Advocate for support for public schools

Many public school districts in the area have fundraising arms, such as the Oakwood Schools Education Foundation, Stivers School for the Arts’ seedling Foundation, and National Trail School Foundation. Yellow Springs should be no different, according to Meister, who said that school funding is not unlike the nonprofit organizations he has directed.

The funding section of the 2020 plan suggests that leaders develop a comprehensive fundraising program, review existing levies, keep exploring shared services and lobby legislators for state support and more local control of operations.

Priority 5: Functional and Supportive Learning Infrastructure

•Match physical environment to mission

•Implement reduce, reuse, recycle plan

•Reduce carbon footprint

Solutions to these aspirations could include creating a facilities plan to maximize flexibility of space and learning styles, working with students to research and propose strategies to reduce, reuse and recycle as well as reducing the carbon footprint.

Priority 6: Explore new structures for the Yellow Springs education system

•Evaluate cost to benefit for alternatives such as STEAM and STEM schools

In addition to the priorities, the complete 2020 document provides budget and demographic information to contextualize the current financial picture and potential needs for the future district population. The data is comprehensive, and according to Conn, it “gives us a complete demographic profile of who we are as a community and who’s in our schools,” he said. Knowing the socioeconomic capacities and limits of the community will be helpful in making decisions about what to expect from the community and its children, he said.

“In many ways the data shows the challenges and constraints of the constituency we serve,” Conn said. “It suggests we have some pretty hard choices to make” about the finances given limited population growth in the village, he said.

Villagers may choose to comment on the plan online, and they are also invited to attend an in-person feedback session on Thurdsay, Oct. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Yellow Springs Senior Center. (Teachers, staff and students will have their own feedback sessions this month.) Feedback on the plan can also be sent via Facebook at http://on.fb.me/mZmYip or by e-mail at classof2020feedback {at} gmail(.)com.

Once the final plan is approved by the board this fall, the hard work of specifying the new curricular approach and implementing it can get started.

“What comes next is really putting flesh on these bones,” Conn said.

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