Middle Links Classics

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Most of you are probably aware that even though Peanuts creator Charles Shultz is no longer with us, Charlie Brown and the gang continue to brighten the comics sections of many newspapers. While recently enjoying a Classic Peanuts cartoon I had somehow missed, it occurred to me that many of you may have somehow missed the wonderful words of wisdom shared by our middle level colleagues in the MAMLE Newsletter, MIDDLE LINK. So, from time to time I’ll be sharing some “Classic Middle Links” with you! Here’s the first one. It’s from Bill Zima, Assistant Principal at Massabesic Middle School and a MAMLE Board board member.

Daring to Take a RISC:
A Middle School Works with Reinventing Schools Coalition
Bill Zima
Massabesic Middle School

As a student, I remember returning to school following summer break and being asked, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” In kindergarten it was a sharing time. By eighth grade, we were writing in our journals. I expect to once again hear this question asked of me as I return to school for the 2009-2010 school year.

This is because Regional School Unit (RSU) 57 was one of two districts chosen by the State of Maine Department of Education to be a full implementation site for the reforms put forth in Delivering on the Promise by the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC). This summer, 30 teachers and administrators spent a week in early August discussing the model, our future as a district and how the two will come together.

For each issue of Middle Link this year, I will write an article describing how we are moving through the process of discussing reforms to meet our expectations for our students and their learning. I would first like to introduce our district, the RISC framework and then discuss what happened that first week of August.
Regional School Unit 57 is a six-town district located in Southern Maine. The towns are Alfred, Limerick, Lyman, Newfield, Shapleigh, and Waterboro. The district is one of the largest geographically in the state. It is a rural district with limited business and no large manufacturing. There are approximately 3200 students system wide. Test scores on the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) and the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) are a point either side of the State average.
Massabesic Middle School is located in Waterboro. Our challenge is bringing all students from the five sending elementary schools together under one roof. In past years we have been a seventh and eighth grade school. This year, however, we are transitioning in the sixth grade students. Our demograph¬ics are 44 percent free and reduced lunch, 23 percent special education and no English Language Learners.
The RISC model was originally implemented in the Chugach school district in Alaska. Once success was seen, other districts began trying the model. They included the Bering Strait School District, Anchorage School District and Adams 50 in Colorado. The model has four equally important, key components; shared vision, leadership, standards-based and continuous improvement. As we move through the process I will describe these and how RSU 57 approached them in more detail.

Currently in education, time is the constant and learning is the variable. Students progress in our schools after spending the appropriate number of days in a classroom. Their learning is variable. How much a student knows and can do once they leave the classroom can range from mastery to very little. The schools that have implemented the RISC model have changed the equation. Student learning becomes the constant and the time it takes them to demonstrate mastery is the variable. Students move through the system satisfying performance levels not associated with a grade level. When they have demonstrated mastery, they are ready to move to the next level. They are not constrained by the calendar or age group. If they do not meet the required level of mastery, they continue working on the standard.
Being a full implementation site will give us the opportunity to discuss meaningful reform and look into the RISC model. The institute never talked about a program or a prescription that must be followed. It is about finding time to get input from all stakeholders, which includes teachers, parents, students and business leaders, to review, identify and in some cases create a shared-vision for what we want from our schools, our students and our selves. This shared vision will then guide our steps to reform.
By publication of the next issue of Middle Link, RSU 57 should have completed the shared-vision step. I will review the process we used and the outcomes we achieved. I look forward to sharing this process with you. If you have questions or comments, please email or call me. bill_zima@fc.sad57.k12.me.us or 207-247-6121.

From the MAMLE Fall 2009 Middle Links Newsletter V. 21 number 1

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2 Responses to “Middle Links Classics”

  1. Mary Callan Says:

    I am very interested in learning about your pilot work as I am a strong advocate for meeting the learning needs of students based on where they are vs as determined by a grade level. One issue I am particularly interested in is how the state/federally mandated tests that determine AYP will change, if at all, based on this philosophy. Will students be able to take the “grade level test” that is most closely aligned with their current learning? Will the test change to reflect a developmentally appropriate style of assessing? I am skeptical that schools will really reform under this framework unless the high stakes testing also reforms at the same time as it is a pretty RISCY (no pun intended!) endeavor to really do so.

    Thanks for being a pioneer in this area, Bill!!!

  2. Classic MAMLE: Bring a Donut; I Have and Idea! « Bright Futures Says:

    […] Here’s the second installment about Outcomes Based Learning and RISC from Bill Zima, Assistant Principal at Massabesic Middle School and MAMLE board member It was originally published in Midlines, the MAMLE quarterly newsletter.  Bill’s first installment can be accessed here. […]

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