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School board praises 2020 Plan

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The Yellow Springs school district’s 2020 Plan, which aims to increase student success by enhancing innovation in teaching and learning, appears to be achieving its goals, according to District Superintendent Mario Basora at the school board’s July 9 meeting.

“We’re on a good trajectory,” Basora said at the meeting, where he delivered the district’s semi-annual report on the 2020 Plan. “We’re in a really good place compared to most schools in Ohio.”

After Basora’s presentation, board members expressed their appreciation for his leadership.

“You’re carrying this vision forward in a very proactive way,” said Evan Scott.

Critical to the 2020 Plan’s success is the district’s new hands-on curriculum model, project-based learning, or PBL, which just finished its first year. While the shift to the new teaching model was significant, requiring considerable extra work, there’s evidence that teachers are embracing the change, Basora said. He cited a recent poll of 63 local teachers who, when asked to anonymously grade PBL as a teaching model, gave it positive marks. About 32 percent gave PBL an A, 35 percent gave a B, and 20 percent rated the program a C.

“This is a big deal, to know that the staff is there with us,” he said.

Basora presented many examples of past and future PBL projects that, as part of the 2020 Plan, aim to meet such goals as fostering the skills and knowledge to help students become active citizens; expanding health and wellness opportunities; promoting creative inquiry, and preparing students to be competitive after high school and college.

Examples of past PBL projects included a Mills Lawn second-grade class butterfly reclamation project; a sixth-grade project in which students built a gaga pit; a “chili for four or 40” math project; and a Mills Lawn math project in which students studied quadrilaterals by examining how they work as part of the village. And this fall, a “Food for Thought” project will provide to YSHS freshmen a study of informed food choice, using the disciplines of biology, English, world history, art and algebra, among others.

After what they perceive as a successful first year of project-based learning, or PBL, Yellow Springs school leaders are looking ahead to one day becoming a training center for the new curriculum, according to Basora.

“It’s promising,”  he said, regarding ongoing communication with Antioch University Midwest. The university, which features a graduate program in education, is showing interest in a collaborative effort that could include developing a graduate school curriculum in PBL and/or a joint PBL lab school. However, he emphasized, the collaboration is at this point speculative.

“We’re talking,” Basora said.”It’s an exciting endeavor.”

A significant component of the 2020 Plan is providing alternative (to standardized testing) ways of assessing student progress, although that effort is taking longer than expected, according to Basora. Although in April the local district received state approval for a waiver from testing, the schools still need federal approval to opt out of state and federal tests. And the process of receiving the federal approval has been delayed, Basora said, so that it appears the first year the waiver will take effect will be 2016-2017 rather than the upcoming year.

When the district receives the state and federal waivers, it will have, as a member of the Ohio Independent Learning Network, or ILN, access to alternative assessments developed by Stanford University’s SCOPE program, and PACE out of New Hampshire. An example of an alternative PACE assessment is an assignment asking high school students to compare the main characters in The Diary of Anne Frank and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, aimed at helping young people document their original thinking and critical analysis of works of literature.

“This is a radically different way of assessing our kids,” he said.

Other components of the 2020 program include developing funding sources, which include, besides the YSCAPE fund managed by the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, the Martha Holden Jennings Fund and the state Straight A Fund. Several PBL projects have already received funding from the Jennings Fund.

To help publicize the message of the district’s innovative programs, Yellow Springs will share with the Springfield schools a communications specialist, Basora said following the meeting.

The 2020 Plan also includes the possibility of upgrading facilities at some point to better meet the needs of the new curriculum. However, Basora stated that facilities renovation should follow outreach into the community to find out whether other organizations, such as local theater groups or the senior center, have needs that could also be incorporated in planning upgraded buildings.

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