Portage schools develop individual student goals for this year
Seeing every student accomplish at least one year of growth in every course area is one of three goals in the Portage Community School District for 2018-19.
Setting goals as high as possible is intentional.
“All goals need to be challenging,” Superintendent Margaret Rudolph said of the districtwide objectives she presented to the school board on Sept. 17. “They give you something to work toward and hold us all accountable, no matter who we are.”
Every school in the district is evaluating baseline curriculum data, developing its own goals for achieving the curriculum objective. The district’s other two goals for 2018-19 focus on improving student behaviors and providing more professional development for staff. All three goals complement each other and center on student learning, Rudolph said.
Building administrators will present their own goals to the school board during the school year and report their progress once the school year is concluded.
“If we only focused on students reading in the third grade, what about the other grades?” Rudolph said of the curriculum goal, which was designed to account for every student.
One year of growth for students is measured in a variety of ways depending on grade level, including, for example, state assessments and a building’s own classroom assessments, said Assistant Superintendent Peter Hibner. More than anything, achieving growth requires schools to understand their students individually.
“You need to monitor each student’s progress so you know that they’re growing. You need a thorough understanding of where each child is relative to the time of year and how do they demonstrate their level of learning?” said Hibner, who served as curriculum director prior to taking over as the district’s business manager this year.
“It takes a lot. It’s not easy. This is difficult work.”
“Some people might interpret it as a lofty goal because you’re talking about every student,” Hibner said of the district’s more than 2,300 students. “But that should be our goal. They get a year of instruction and learning from us and we should be able to demonstrate that they grew over the course of that time period.”
Individualized attention doesn’t lessen when a student is performing at or above grade level and, ideally, students will experience more than a year of growth, Hibner said.
“If they’re above grade level, we want them to stay above,” he said.
Conversations among staff remain critical to accomplishing curriculum goals, Hibner said, leading educators to ask, “What do we need to do differently?” and helping the district refine its practices where necessary. The adaptable approach should help the district get “better and better” as the year goes on, he added.
“The main thing is our teachers are thinking about how the children demonstrate that they’ve learned what we want them to learn. They’re thinking about the individual students,” Hibner said.
The three primary goals replace the district’s five-year Strategic Plan set to run through 2019 that was set during the tenure of the previous superintendent, Charles Poches.
Included in the eight primary goals of the strategic plan were specific items like considering a year-round, balanced calendar for Endeavor Elementary, as well as broader objectives like retaining staff. Goals in the strategic plan, Rudolph said, were either achieved prior to 2018-19, such as the balanced calendar study, or they were incorporated into the district’s new goals.
Regarding the district’s goals of improving student behaviors and providing professional development for staff, Rudolph noted a recent teacher in-service day when the district invited author Alex Kajitani to speak to educators on the subject of positive cultures.
“One of the pieces he talked about is building trust — and to do that you need to say please, say thank you, and do what you say you’re going to do,” Rudolph said. “We reinforce all of those things throughout the district.”
All Portage elementary schools, for example, instituted “community circles” this year during which classrooms take about 10 minutes away from the curriculum to talk as a group.
“When we’re positive, we’re more productive,” Rudolph said. “We become better problem solvers.”