Best of the best: Part I

Rick Hanes

June 13, 2014

Now that we have finished our school year we have started evaluating our effectiveness. Based on quantitative data we analyze numbers to determine student, teacher, building and district success. From that analysis we apply the data results to our strategic plan goals for measurements of completion. Based on the qualitative side of statistics we look inward for reflection of the year. While data is important I feel the human insight from reflection is just as valuable. I have asked principals throughout our district to assemble the qualitative data and determine the “best of the best” from the year. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing a series of “Best of the best” articles starting with our primary schools.

Our kindergarten learning center is a wonderful child-centered school with a phenomenal staff. Mallory Isaacs, a member of our kindergarten staff, summed the year up well: “My students made fabulous growth this year! I’m walking away with a feeling of success!” Wow … this is exactly what we want all of our staff members to say at the end of the year. Imagine the confidence instilled in every student in Mallory’s class knowing their teacher believes they have made fabulous growth. Isn’t this exactly what we want all of our students to feel after completing their first year of formal education?

Volunteers also help to instill confidence in our students and our kindergarten learning center has a tremendous volunteer core. Our volunteers read to students, listen to students read, and review foundational skills such as letters and numbers. They also perform critical behind the scenes activities such as copying, laminating materials, decorating bulletin boards, prepping for family literacy nights,and providing classroom clerical support. These behind the scenes duties performed by volunteers allow for our staff members to spend more instructional time directly with our students. Thank you volunteers for being a “best of the best” this year.

These same volunteers often shared with me throughout the year that everyone needs to spend time at our kindergarten learning center to understand the challenge associated with being a kindergarten teacher. I agree wholeheartedly considering today’s demands on both kindergarten student and teacher. I also appreciate the common sense and practicality of teacher Brittney Heitman who shared “Even with all of the constant changes coming down from the state, the students remained our number one priority.” Our teachers get it. They understand what is important.

Importance was placed on improving the reading skills of all of our primary students. All of our primary teachers “went back to school” to receive additional training on a balanced literacy model including instructional strategies with phonetics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. From this training an additional opportunity was established for students through The Expanded Learning Program which was established after school for students to work on skills needed to become successful readers. This program proved to be a very successful deterrent. Our reading emphasis continues in all of our primary schools with the KidsReadNow summer program.

Walking into any of our four primary schools one will notice that our students at this level are true digital natives. They easily manipulate everything from hand-held devices to SmartBoards. PowerPoint presentations are “no problem” for our second graders who develop and present animal reports through this media. “Hour of Code” was instituted in a Springcreek Primary classroom to develop basic computer programming skills and encourage an interest in computer science. Students even created a classroom blog at Favorite Hill.

Technology provided a basic knowledge foundation for our students which was further enhanced through partnerships. The Miami County Park District had several classes participating in the “Quest” program. We also had over 80 students engaged in the “After School Nature Hour Program” with the park district. These hands-on experiences combined with the instructional strategies gained by staff members participating in iDiscovery, an on-line inquiry based science program in partnership with Miami University, helped provide a catalyst for student recycling debates and worm composting projects!

The arts came alive in all of our primary schools this year with presentations including John Henry by MadRiver Theatre Company, Fabulous Fairy Tales by MadCap Puppet Company, mural projects with the Piqua Arts Council, Muse Machine Artist in Residence program, and our own musical programs.

Students were challenged to take ownership of their education through more self-directed activities and stations this year. Journaling was utilized to document learning. Student created surveys and graphs were used to draw conclusions and respond to questions about their learning. At Favorite Hill Primary students communicated with parents each week concerning academic progress, behavior, class work and other school activities through the use of a reflection sheet. Third grade “testimonies” were also written to document information and skills prioritized by students as important and what they remembered.

Along with academic memories our students reflected on the importance of their work for others. Springcreek students raised $2,146 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and $1,832 for the American Heart Association. All of our primary schools joined in an “orange out” to raise awareness and support for one of our high school students who has cancer. Participation in these types of activities brings out the “best of the best” in everyone!

Rick Hanes is the superintendent of the Piqua City School District. Rick continues to ensure that the Piqua City Schools show residents the “Good Schools, Good Value” that they are each day. You can follow him directly on Twitter @raheducator.