Marshall School Board hears details about new learning center

MARSHALL – At the work session meeting on Monday, Marshall Public School board members heard about a venture that is getting set to take place at Park Side Elementary School this fall.

Park Side Principal Darci Love explained that she and a design team of 16 others are spearheading an innovative learning center that will serve as a future model of education, one that provides personalized learning plans for each participating student and is centered around a technology-rich curriculum.

Love said a number of factors played a part in the conceptualization process, including state mandates about early childhood education and about closing the achievement gap by 50 percent by 2017.

“As educators, our charge, our passion, in life is to make a difference in the lives of all students,” she said. “Unfortunately, the people who claim to have all the answers are far from the education system and the actual experts, unfortunately, have very little influence. That’s why I’m excited about the innovative learning center.”

During the presentation, Love quoted Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The same holds true with education, she said, because students now live in a world that is digitally-charged.

A few members of the design team – Sue Strauz, Alyssa Vandeputte, Sara Huesby, Mindy Schnazer, Jill Schwartz, Jennifer Hanson and Erica Hess – were also in attendance and provided additional support for the learning center.

“We have to ask if we are really doing what we say our mission says we do, which is to develop the potential of each learner,” Strauz said. “Are we getting kids ready for the 21st Century workforce? I don’t think we are, so we have to change that.”

Strauz pointed out that change can be difficult, but sometimes necessary, noting that people no longer communicate, shop or travel the same way they did years ago, so why would the model of education remain stagnant.

During the research phase, members of the design team visited Impact Academy at Orchard Lake Elementary in Lakeville, where district educators had already addressed the challenges of educating children today. The Park Side Innovative Learning Center will be structured somewhat like the toured facility.

“The key elements are personalized learning plans, service learning, integrated studies, 21st Century skills and to make sure we’re unique, structured play, which is different than at Orchard Lake,” Hess said. “Play is so important.”

Much has to be sorted out yet, but it looks like one section from each of the kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classes will participate in the learning center.

“There will be a target teacher for math and reading and an anchor teacher for science and social, which would be more at the students’ own grade level,” Vandeputte said. “We would like to get away from the K-2 grade level concept and work more with students at their own skill level.”

While they’d love to incorporate all students, the design team realizes that it is not only very costly, but it also takes time for change.

“It’s a different way of doing things,” Strauz said. “So it’ll take some time.”

Strauz and Hess are strong advocates of the elementary opportunity, having found major success in iPad piloting projects in their kindergarten classrooms last year. Schnazer’s son was in Hess’ classroom last year and saw his math skills soar through the roof. Due to the individualization, her son was able to reach third-grade math skills. This year, however, her son is back in a traditional classroom.

“How do we not nurture that ability?” Board member Ken Wilson said. “As a parent, how does that make you feel, to have your son thrown back into the system and not have his education nurtured?”

Schnazer replied: “I’m bummed.”

Knowing that it is going to take time to develop, MPS Superintendent Klint Willert applauded Love and the others for their effort.

“This is what teacher and parent leadership is all about,” he said. “It’s not just about identifying problems, but also finding solutions.”

In the Tiger Spotlight, a large number of people – all of the winter state tournament student athletes and coaches – were recognized. Boys basketball included 18 players, four managers and four coaches, while girls basketball included 16 players, three managers and four coaches. A total of 26 dancers and four coaches were recognized, as was one wrestler and three coaches. Seven national qualifiers in Business Professionals of America were honored along with their two coaches.

In other discussions, Willert gave the board members a legislative update, noting that the district will be charged with implementing new bullying policies, an unfunded mandate from the state, most likely by this fall.

“It’s going to cost $19 million across the state,” he said. “It will cost something and we’ll have to do training.”

The board also learned about the teacher development, evaluation and peer support handbook.

“It’s pretty comprehensive,” Willert said. “In working with the teachers, we landed on Charlotte Danielson’s ‘Framework for Teaching’ model.”

Ultimately, teachers will have to vote on it, with 50 percent plus one vote required to pass.

“If the teachers ratify, then it will be brought to the board for approval,” Willert said. “We do this whole process to meet legislative requirements.”

Willert noted that the teachers will be voting Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

“They’ll report it to me by Thursday afternoon or Friday morning and then I’ll bring it to you at the April 15th meeting,” he said.

The final item for discussion was budget assumptions. A number of proposed expenditures and revenues were noted, including ones that made the high priority list and others that did not. The assumptions were compiled by the administrative team with the expectation that the board would weigh in with their own thoughts. Board members did have questions and opinions so further discussions are likely in the near future.