Game plan: Grant benefits Mt. Angel School District

June 2016 Posted in School
Jasmine Winslow

Jasmine Winslow

By Steve Ritchie 

How does a small school district retain students and teachers, meet students’ needs and provide a first-class education?

With the help of a Department of Education School District Collaboration grant, the Mt. Angel School District is addressing these challenges. The district received $127,000 this year, and will get about $100,000 for 2016-17.

Jasmine Winslow serves half-time as a first-grade teacher at St. Mary School and the collaboration grant leader. Winslow says the grant is geared toward building collaboration among the teachers and focuses on teacher leadership and empowerment.

“We are working to not only better the school district in a variety of ways but we’re working to elevate teachers and the teaching profession,” Winslow said. “I think we’ve been quite successful so far. It’s really about what’s best for kids and what is going to make them successful. It’s a really big goal but I think we are accomplishing it.”

Winslow said there are three major goals for teachers and administrators: Improve the district’s climate and reduce turnover of students and staff; develop effective teaching strategies and create professional learning communities; and empower teachers and support teacher leadership.

Winslow says the district’s goal is student learning and growth. But, she says, there are issues how to achieve and measure growth. “We need to build that shared mission and make sure we are always focused on that,” she said.

The district will begin a strategic planning process in August by involving community members, board members, administrators and teachers with the goal of articulating that “shared mission” and how the district plans to reach its goals.

A district priority is attracting and retaining highly skilled teachers. Too often, Winslow said, teachers leave a smaller district for a larger one or decide to become an administrator. By “empowering” teachers and offering them more autonomy and opportunities, it will help make the Mt. Angel School District a great place to work, she said.

“This is a big shift,” Winslow said. “There has always been a hierarchy of decision makers (in the schools) and there still is. But at the same time, the teaching profession has changed over the last 10 years in what is expected of teachers. The administrator role is shifting from being a manager of the school to being an instructional leader for the teachers. So we’re all learning through this process. Too often teacher voices are not brought to the table… they often don’t feel their voices are valued, yet they have so much information about students and how they learn. When we’re all at the table we can get to a deeper level on the issues.”

A key issue is retaining students. The major reasons for leaving appears to be extracurricular and academic concerns.

A recent survey by the grant committee showed that while less than 10 percent of current students and their parents were certain they would not continue in the district through high school, another 15-20 percent were not sure about whether they would stay through four years of high school in Mt. Angel. Many had questions about curriculum at JFK.

Winslow said teachers are working to address students’ concerns, as well as misconceptions. Kennedy High School will offer new courses and sports next year – choir, drama, and wrestling and there are discussions about adding swimming and soccer in 2017. MASD Superintendent Troy Stoops is excited about the potential of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program to strengthen academic achievement in the district.

“We piloted the AVID program (for 10th graders) at the high school this year,” Stoops said. “Next year we are expanding it into 9th and 11th grades. Kennedy received a Nike Innovation Grant for $20,894 to train staff and implement the program.”

He said the grant and AVID are aligned to benefit the district’s three schools. According to its website, AVID trains educators to use proven, research-based practices in order to prepare students for success in high school, college and a career.

“AVID’s mission is closing the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society,” Stoops said. Implementing this program aligns with our current goals and programs.” He also notes 20 teachers and district staffers will be attending the AVID summer institute in July.

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