RANDOLPH – State education dignitaries like the approach to Common Core instruction at Randolph Academy Union Free School District.
The academy recently hosted Chancellor Emeritus Robert M. Bennett, state Board of Regents, and Kenneth G. Slentz, New York State deputy education commissioner.
Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz, along with Lynda M. Quick, Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES superintendent and CEO, came to observe Common Core instruction at the academy. The guests toured the classrooms where they talked with teachers and students about their progress with the Common Core curriculum. Afterward, in a short conference, they discussed their observations and offered great praise to academy officials for their approach to Common Core instruction.
The Common Core is bringing major instructional shifts to New York state schools with a new curriculum, new tests and new ways of teaching. School officials and parents are more attentive than ever to the issues involving the Common Core curriculum. Randolph Academy has been taking a proactive approach toward implementing the Common Core.
Slentz said the academy has a very unique teaching situation. He said knowing the work they do and the challenges they face, the dedication is clearly there. It’s remarkable to think they can make Common Core instruction happen.
Superintendent Lori DeCarlo is proud of what the academy is accomplishing and said their mission is to support, empower and educate. The empower part is teaching respect, but more powerful is goal-directed behavior. She said it’s a real life-changing event for the students to learn they can set and achieve a goal every day, and then, the goals grow bigger.
“When we started ‘Normative Culture,’ we didn’t know the power of that piece,” she said. “We had about zero kids going to college – a trickle of 10 percent. Now, 50-60 percent of our kids go on to post-secondary education.”
Randolph Academy bases its “Normative Culture” on the fact that everyone is part of a community, including the school setting where staff and students are part of a daily community together. DeCarlo said Normative Culture builds because of “Positive Peer Influence.”
According to DeCarlo, the academy currently has 11 seniors and five are certain to earn a Regents Diploma. Three of those are retaking several tests to get the Regents Diploma, and one is certain to get a Local Diploma.
She said from this cohort, there are six students going on. Two are going to four-year schools, two are going to community college and two are going to cosmetology school. Of the remaining students, one is going into the military, one straight to employment and a couple are undecided.
An impressed Bennett said it’s amazing what the academy has done and it’s also true, next door, at Randolph Central School. He said the state education department has known about the success in Randolph and they’ve seen it dramatically this year.
“Leadership really matters a great deal,” he said. “If you have a leader who understands teaching and learning, as you do and Superintendent Kimberly Moritz at Randolph Central does, then the Common Core is embraced and welcome.”
“When you engage students, as you both do, it really has an impact,” he continued. “Engaging students is crucial – and in this school, there’s no giving up on any child.”
Bennett said these students are just as capable of learning how to think critically, cite sources, and transfer that knowledge from one subject to another. He said it’s because the instruction is so good at the academy and their knowledge is so in-depth about what the kids can and cannot do. There’s great potential with every child and the teachers know that very well.
Slentz commented that regardless of the challenges of the students at the academy, those challenges are only as much of a stumbling block as they are allowed to be.
“It’s very clear that the school board and the administration have made very deliberate choices to provide appropriate scaffolds for the kids, whether it’s therapeutic behavioral intervention or the Guided Group Interaction (GGI) program where the kids are essentially debriefing at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s in real-world fashion – how they did, self-evaluation, complimenting their peers and working on goals. These are all things that professionals should be doing and the kids are doing it here.”
Bennett added that it reinforces the value of a small class and praises the slightest progress each student has made.
“Progress is built on progress,” he said. “There again, it’s the result of good leadership and setting the tone.”
Slentz pointed out that where they’re seeing success and innovation is where there is humility and modesty in leadership. There is also the urgency and resolve to continuously get better.
The challenge is getting the public to understand what is really going on with the Common Core and to clear up any misconceptions attached to it. Slentz pointed out a striking fact. He said if people read the executive summary, released in April 1983, and look at the primary goals listed there – then look at the primary goals and reform agenda today – they are not significantly different.
“We’ve known for a long time that we’ve had to make changes in our education system,” he continued. “In 1983, it was resolved that we needed to evaluate our teachers based, in part, on student performance, so this is not a new concept.”
He said we still know the same thing, but the difference is the world around us has sped up light-years and kids are still working off the same principles based from the 1983 foundation – and that’s problematic.
Slentz stressed that the public needs to read the standards to understand the standards are simply expectations … and that’s it. People need to read them and ask themselves, “As a parent, would I want my child to be able to do the following skill?”
“In my experience, many people simply haven’t read the standards. They’re just guidelines at this point,” he added. “If parents read the standards and are still a little puzzled, they should go to their school district or get on the website, engageny.org, and look at all of the videos of the multitude of districts that have embraced the Common Core.”
He stressed that we should watch the kids, listen to the language, see what they’re writing and listen to how they are discussing math concepts. That’s the true measure and that’s where people will say, ‘I’ll make my investment as a taxpayer.'”
Slentz said the Common Core program is expected to be fully implemented for high school in 2022. The class of 2022 will have to pass ELA and math at a level 4, which he noted, “is not where the children are right now.”
“Moving forward, school boards will have to grapple with how to phase it in,” he said. “Will it be, for example, continue to move up that scale toward what we call the ‘light-switch’ moment in the class of 2022 … it starts now? I suspect that will not be the case.”
For more information on the Common Core Curriculum and assessments, visit online at engageny.org.