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Superintendent’s Message: We’re on Track to Fulfill New State Vision

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Last week, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson introduced a new vision for Kansas education – Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. The bold challenge signals accountability for skills beyond academic excellence in our quest to prepare all students for success after high school.

The idea that there is more to K-12 education than the three Rs as measured on standardized assessments is not a new one. Certainly, teachers have come to rely on assessments as an important tool in determining what students have learned and adapting lessons to support both the students who have and have not learned the material.

When the new Kansas Education Commissioner toured the state over the past year to engage educators, community and business leaders in conversations about the characteristics a successful 24 year old needs, he found that the majority of adults cited non-academic skills as the missing key. Employers say that these “other” skills must be developed for a student to be truly college and career ready –arriving at work on time, having a good work ethic, collaborating with peers, and having the ability to solve complex problems.

In many ways, we’ve come full circle! Recent emphasis on academic achievement has served an important role in the progression of educational excellence and we cannot lose sight of how far we’ve come. But it is time to accentuate that progress by completing the picture of what it means to be college and career ready.

New expectations often call for new structures to support them. Next fall, the district will organize grading periods in a trimester format instead of the more traditional two-term semester schedule we have been accustomed to for decades. For elementary and middle school students, the changes will be barely noticeable except for the timing of grade reporting periods, which will come at the end of each of three trimesters rather than the familiar quarter.

At the high school, a bigger change will unfold as we move away from the block schedule established in 1994 to a schedule that allows classes to meet every day in one, two, or three trimester increments.

In the current block schedule at EHS, students have eight blocks of classes. Students attend each class every other day plus a support period which meets four days during the week where they can work on assignments, make up work they’ve missed or get extra help from teachers.

In the trimester schedule, high school students will enroll in five classes each trimester; classes will meet every day. The length of each class period will be a few minutes shorter than the current class period, but over the course of the year, a fewer number of classes on students’ schedules and more frequent interaction with teachers will ultimately result in increased instructional time. Teachers are excited about the opportunity to include more rigorous content and relevant application and to offer timely interventions for students that need a little extra support with individual concepts.

We believe, and the board of education agreed, the trimester schedule is a good match for preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Commissioner Watson was quick to say that this quest to “lead the world in the success of each student” is a shared vision – one that calls on a partnership with parents and community.

This fall, Emporia Public Schools has embarked on yet another partnership that fits well with the state’s new call. Last month, the board of education approved an agreement with the Mental Health Center of East Central Kansas to lease the vacant Kansas Avenue building in southeast Emporia. The lease agreement will allow the agency to expand its mental health services for school-age children.

For many years, the district has provided space to mental health therapists and case managers so they can continue to work with students at school, reducing the amount of time students must be absent from class. In addition, some students take advantage of the Gateway program during all or part of the school day while continuing to work on academic subjects. Children’s services will move to Kansas Avenue, putting those programs in a better position to serve more students whose lives are temporarily complicated by the forces of depression and anxiety common among children and adults in our society.

Sometimes I hear criticism from those who would suggest that today’s schools are not doing enough. Certainly, it is a daunting task! In Emporia, we are fortunate to have a community that understands the challenge, a staff that is ready to step up to the challenge, and a board of education that is willing to support it.

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