by Dave DeMars
“One of our most common forms of instructional practice is ‘sit and knit.’ I’m really good at that,” Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert told the Sartell school board at its March meeting at St. Stephen City Hall.
“I sit and talk to a whole group, and they are supposed to get it,” he said. “Well, for a lot of our learners, that’s not one of the most effective ways of teaching.”
That’s why the district will begin a review process to search for better methods and practices in instruction. Schwiebert told board members a review will be performed in conjunction with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota.
Schwiebert said this curriculum review is not going to be so different than many others, but it will be much larger stretching some three years into the future. The first step is to conduct an audit in conjunction with CAREI to determine what methods of instruction are being used now and to plan for implementation of new methods to better reach all of Sartell’s students.
“We have a regular population, our kids that are all in the middle, and we have kids on the bell shaped curve – some are more advanced and some are less advanced,” Schwiebert said. “One of the things we are wanting to get more help with is how do we reach all of our kids.”
The cooperative venture with CAREI was talked about briefly in December and again in January Schwiebert said, so the planning has been in the works. Schwiebert went on to explain there is a learning gap in the free- and reduced- lunch population as well as the special-education population compared with the non-free- and non-reduced-lunch population. But it is more than just a program for a small segment of the population. The hope is it will impact all 3,790 students, Schwiebert said.
“What do we do about it,” Schwiebert asked rhetorically. “Well if we just keep doing the same old, same old – we are probably going to get the same old results.”
In talking with teams of teachers, Schwiebert said he was told again and again of staff frustration in dealing with “certain types of students.” Schwiebert said the frustration was actually a good thing because it signaled a desire on the part of teachers to improve the way in which they teach. That is why the district is working with CAREI. They are experts in instructional practices.
Schwiebert said the audit is not an evaluation of individual teachers but rather an evaluation of the school district as a whole. Once the audit is complete, CAREI will work with the district during the coming three years to implement best practices and other things the district needs to do in order to be more effective with all students. The focus is on the delivery system for instruction rather than what is being delivered, Schwiebert said.
Sartell is not alone in the search to be more effective in instruction. Schwiebert said he met with six members of the Benton Stearns Education District who all expressed the same kinds of frustration.
The program comes with a pretty hefty price tag according to Schwiebert. Part of that is going to be finding ways to provide the resources to implement the best practices once they are identified. In answer to a board-members question about teacher input, Schwiebert explained teachers will be given an opportunity to have input without adding more to their workload or subtracting from teaching time or prep time.
“This will be a challenge,” Schwiebert said.
Schwiebert reported he had been contacted by members of the Sartell City Council in response to the shooting in Parkland, Fla. The council inquired as to how they might help in averting such a disaster, and how city resources might be used most effectively in the event of such an occurrence. Schwiebert suggested now would be a good time for the district Outreach Committee to meet with the council’s Safety Committee to lay some ground work and discuss the issue.
The board was updated on the building project. The warm weather has alleviated any seasonal slowdowns. Things are moving ahead on schedule. In terms of finance, the project is staying within budget. Presently there are 75 workers on site. Construction of more classrooms at the existing high school will begin June 19.
In another item, the board approved a resolution allowing the superintendent to make potential budget adjustments to maintain the spending budget. Also approved was a calendar adjustment relative to a recent snow day. Staff will make up the day at principals’ discretion. Students will not make up the snow day.
The board approved the Sartell High School Student Council and Sartell National Honor Society request to have the district host the 2020 State Convention for Minnesota Association of Student Councils and Minnesota Association of Honor Societies.