Greensburg Community Schools “All About Learning”

Tom Hunter, Superintendent
Greensburg Community Schools (IN)
Indiana Superintendent of the Year (2011)

SanaghanIn these trying times where public education is being attacked on all fronts, I want to make a few comments on some of the great things going on in Greensburg Schools. Greensburg Schools was similar to many districts across the country when we began developing a Professional Learning Community two years ago. We had an abundance of data about all sorts of things ranging from academic progress to attendance information. We shared this data with one another for a multitude of reasons but not always with a plan in mind that would lead to the data being used to improve student learning. We complained about things we could not always control such as some students’ apparent lack of effort and some parents’ lack of motivating their child to understand the importance of education . We even agreed we needed to improve, but we went back to our classrooms and our offices and continued to do things the same way we always did them. We were a good school system, so why did we need to change?

We started to see real change when we began to align how we do things from a leadership perspective. The change developed and evolved within our own teaching staff. They were for years being bombarded by the Departments of Education (state and federal) on the No Child Left Behind laws, the PL 221 initiative, the importance of addressing the achievement gap, the need for preparing our students for the 21st century, the need for inclusion of all students into the regular education population regardless of disabilities, what to do with high ability students, how to initiate the new RTI compliance laws, and most obvious to our teachers how do they deal with the changing demographics of our community. To address these concerns Greensburg Schools took a critical look at how we were doing business. Our District Improvement Team using the Professional Learning Community initiative set a new direction that shifted us from “teaching” to “learning.” This shift really puts the importance on the child and what they are learning. To do this we needed to examine all aspects of our programs and our curriculum within those programs.

We realized all the data we had at our fingertips, needed to be used to plan informed instruction. We have begun to change how we operate. Teachers who had not in the past focused on instruction and on core standards have now began developing curricular maps to articulate and coordinate the curriculum between grade levels and within subject areas. In what is probably our most critical change we have started providing job-embedded time in the school day for the staff to share and work together for a common purpose. Teachers have begun sharing programs and instructional techniques that are working; and just as important to the improvement process programs and teaching strategies that are not working are being discarded. We focused our efforts on advancing literacy across the district. We have this year introduced new reading programs that span grades K-8. The Elementary and Junior High are designing and implementing literacy walls to track each student’s progress over the year. For the first time in our district’s history we now know the reading level of each K-10 student. Knowing our students’ reading level has allowed us to set up remediation and re-teaching for students who are struggling and below grade level as well as challenging students performing above grade level. We have hired reading interventionists for each grade level and provided time for students to get the needed instructional boost that they require to be successful readers. It is at this point we are really beginning to see a shift from teaching to learning. Our overall goal is for student success, not just a student sorting process.

While we have been working toward a Professional Learning Community we have developed shared values and set goals focused on those values. The leadership is now being shared with the staff in the learning progress. Collaborative teams at each grade level focus on instruction, and literacy is embedded in this instruction. During this past year we have had school-wide book studies and numerous in-service activities to promote collective inquiry into best practice. This collective inquiry has led to a commitment to continuous improvement. Our school staffs cannot any longer ignore the data and move on, because sharing this data has become part of every school day. Our school staffs accept learning as the fundamental purpose of our school and are willing to examine all practices in light of their impact on learning. We are committed to working together to achieve our collective purpose. We have begun cultivating a collaborative culture by developing high-performing teams. As our Core Values state we assess our effectiveness on results – rather than what we think (or hope) is happening. Individuals, teams and schools seek data and then use it to promote continuous improvement. We have begun to ask the tough questions. What should each student know and be able to do? What systems can monitor a student’s learning in a timely manner? How do we respond when a student does not learn? What do we do when a student already knows the content? Where do we spend our time and resources?

We don’t know the answer to all of these questions but we are working hard each day to get to the point where we do for each student. This next fall as we move into our third year of the Quality Schools Initiative we will continue to focus on:

  • Updating and aligning curriculum, vertically and horizontally for all subject areas
  • Developing pacing guides for all subject areas
  • Developing common assessments for all grade levels and subject areas
  • Implementing progress monitoring
  • Implementing reading intervention programs where needed
  • Providing daily collaboration time for teachers
  • Providing proactive support for struggling students.

 

Greensburg Schools’ commitment to student learning can be exemplified by looking at how our schools have changed expectations of what students can accomplish academically. If the end result is a measure of success with college and career readiness then we need only look at Greensburg High School. In the past few years our school system has added a total of eight AP classes and 23 dual college-credit classes to the high school curriculum, added Project Lead the Way Engineering and Bio- Tech classes, added an agriculture program to focus on agri-business, and added remediation and credit recovery programs to make sure all student graduate from high school. All of these programs are possible when we set high expectations for our students and at the same time hold ourselves as educators responsible for “learning”. Our new brand for Greensburg Schools is “All About Learning” and that seems to sum up the approach we have adopted.