Our Trip to Washington DC

This past week, 9th grade SRHS Social Studies teacher Brian Gray and I were asked to participate in a “think tank” in Washington DC. We were invited by Deputy Commissioner of Education for New Hampshire Paul Leather. Our invitation came as a result for our school’s recent work over the last year in high school redesign and our school’s efforts to better meet the needs of our students with instruction that focuses on higher levels of learning and assessments that are competency-based. We were honored to attend and represent our state. For us, it was an opportunity to see where Sanborn is nationally on the high school redesign spectrum. It was also an opportunity for us to actively participate in the discussion and planning of what needs to happen next in our country to help better prepare our students to compete globally.

The “think tank” was run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a professional organization for state-level school administrators. The objectives for our two days were as follows:

• Develop an awareness of thinking and approaches to assuring that graduates are college and career ready and begin development of a consensus college- and career-readiness framework
• Unpack the critical attributes of Next Generation Learning to a point of shared vision, next steps and work plans, with special emphasis on world-class knowledge and skills, personalization, and performance-based learning
• Identify the kinds of tools and resources that states need to assure college and career readiness of graduates

So, what does this all mean? First, you have to understand the overarching ideas of high school redesign. Loosely speaking, the redesign movement is about the restructuring of high schools to allow for more personalized learning for all students that is relevant, rigorous, and designed to help better prepare them for college and the workplace.

The New Hampshire Department of Education defines the redesign movement as follows:

"New Hampshire is deeply engaged in a vision for high school redesign that encompasses the creation of learning communities in which every participant is actively involved in the process of learning. New Hampshire’s goal is that each student will receive a rigorous and personalized education. Every student deserves a course of study that allows him or her to learn in a deep, meaningful and practical way. Not only do students need to know facts, they need to know how to apply those facts to new situations, how to solve problems, and how to expand their knowledge and opportunities. All students deserve a rigorous secondary education that prepares them for post-secondary education and meaningful careers. "

Many schools engaged in redesign have been doing so for many years. Sanborn is unique in that we came onto the scene just last year. We made a conscious decision to join the movement and take several steps quickly to get “caught up” with the latest research. Last year, you saw us adopt a new competency-based grading system that included some significant philosophical changes in the way we grade students. Our focus, of course, is focusing our grades on what it is we want our students to know and be able to do. This year, our freshman team made a radical shift in their schedule and structure to allow for the creation of the Freshman Learning Community, better known to us as the “FLC”. The emphasis of this initiative was to support learning for all students. We are building structures to answer two important questions: What do we do for our students who haven’t yet learned? What do we do for our students who have already learned?

This now brings us back to the think tank. Mr. Gray and I quickly learned that Sanborn has successfully caught up with the redesign movement. We discovered that the steps we have taken in the last two years have provided the correct foundation to begin to engage in the next piece of redesign: Ensuring that all of our students are college and career ready. We had some fantastic discussions with teams of administrators, teachers, and state officers from places like Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New York, and Maine. We also partnered with Newfound High School in New Hampshire, another school who has been a leader in the high school redesign movement for many years.

As we come back home from this discussion, I see us having more organized and meaningful conversations with our staff about project-based learning. I’d like to see us find a way to develop capstone projects as a graduation requirement for all students, perhaps even as a requirement for each grade-level. I also see us continuing to develop a new way of thinking about course credit. As we refine our competencies, perhaps they can be the key to helping us settle the debate of whether or not our kids can earn credit once they have demonstrated proficiency in each competency. Perhaps the idea of the elimination of grade-levels (9, 10, 11, and 12) is not too far off the mark. We will continue to talk with the State on that topic.

I am excited to return to New Hampshire and continue our work. I truly believe we are building a great school that will provide our students to be college and career leaders in the twenty first century.


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