Medora Community School Corp. has taken a big step forward this school year by implementing STEM initiatives.
That’s just one way the elementary school has tried to improve after receiving a low accountability grade in recent years.
Under Indiana law, a school that receives an F rating must conduct a public meeting to discuss school performance and steps to improve and solicit input on school improvement activities, Principal Austin Skutnik said during the meeting Wednesday night in the school library.
ISTEP+ scores are a big part of the school letter grade. Skutnik said last school year, 33.96% of Medora students in grades 3 through 6 passed the English/language arts portion and only 26.42% passed math.
This year, Indiana schools took the ILEARN test for the first time. Medora just completed administering that test in English/language arts, math, science and social studies.
The school letter grade also is based on student growth measure, so Skutnik said school administrators have been looking at several different data points. That includes looking at historical ISTEP data and seeing what trends have developed in students’ performance on the test.
They also assembled student and teacher focus groups; had an outside company do an audit on teachers’ curriculum to determine strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement; did an assessment audit to ensure teachers’ testing aligned with what students would see on ILEARN; and observed classrooms to see if students are engaged, utilizing technology effectively and learning standards.
Finally, students and teachers filled out surveys so administrators could establish focus areas for 2019-20 to help the elementary make gains.
The three goals are proficiency (making sure students are passing English/language arts and math on their test), showing academic growth and attendance.
“Although these are our goals for ‘19-’20, they really have been our goals this year, as well,” Skutnik said. “They have been things that our teachers, administration, everyone has been working toward.”
A scope and sequence was created based on new ILEARN blueprints to give everyone an idea of what may be on the test.
They also adopted a new formative assessment and intervention system, which has the students test multiple times a year to get benchmarks to see where they are in their learning. It’s called exact paths.
“Let’s say a student is really struggling on a certain math standard,” Skutnik said. “What this system will identify is it’s going to say, ‘OK, Joe is struggling with this type of math problem. I’m going to give him practice and lessons based off of that weak area,’ so we’re really going to be able to target each student’s individual needs in a much more effective way.”
Also, Hunt created a schoolwide STEM curriculum that was implemented this school year. Skutnik said it’s a very student-centered learning model.
“They are getting in there and they are kind of being their own engineers,” Skutnik said. “They are learning how to make plans, how to tweak those plans, how to test hypotheses. They are learning to collaborate with one another, so it has been kind of a new experience not only for the teachers but also the students because it’s a new way of learning.”
Hunt said the curriculum gives the students the skills they need to go into the workforce.
“(Employers) are looking for those problem-solving skills and being able to work through the design process, collaborate with others, make mistakes and know what to do to fix them,” she said.
Skutnik said some kids are taught at an early age that failure is unacceptable and a bad thing. They, however, want to teach kids that failure sometimes is inevitable.
“It’s what you do with those failures that brings you success,” she said. “We want our kids to be gritty, and in order for them to be gritty and have that work ethic, we have to present them with some of those difficult challenges in a safe place. This is a safe place.”
Kim Zuber, an extended day instructor at the school, said STEM has helped many kids not be shy.
“They are more than willing to go in there and give their ideas, working better together,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, there was so much fighting, and they’ve gotten so much better about communicating their ideas to one another about how they can change it without all of the arguing.”
To make the elementary school even better, Skutnik asked how parents can be more involved in their child’s academics.
Zuber suggested projects they can do together at school.
“I think it would be better if they came here and did it,” she said. “Then once the parents get in the door and they see what’s going on, maybe that might convince them to start coming back.”
Classroom aide Shawn Murphin said it should be mandatory for parents or guardians to sign up for the Remind system so they are aware of school events and updates and have to respond to the sender to let them know it was received.
Skutnik also asked for ideas about attendance, ensuring kids are at school receiving the education they deserve.
Prizes and parties for students with perfect attendance and incentives for parents or caretakers for getting them to school on time were among the suggestions. Superintendent Roger Bane said community partners would be needed to provide some of those incentives.
Skutnik said if a student misses a lot of school, they most likely aren’t making good grades in their classes or doing well on tests, so ommunication between teachers and parents is key.
“We really want it to be more proactive than reactive,” she said. “We know that there will be situations where we have to be reactive and have these rules and guidelines in place, but we really want to ensure that we’re doing everything we can in our power to get your kids here. But there’s only so much that we can do to get them here.”
Getting students and parents involved in the community is a priority, too. Parent Amy Dean said she has heard a lot of positives about the school’s FFA chapter opening a grow lab and greenhouse, while Zuber said it would be good to have weekend activities for families to do together instead of having them all on weeknights.
Skutnik said having nearly 25 people attend the public meeting is what it takes to improve the school, build the community and reach goals.
“No school is ever perfect, no classroom is ever perfect, no person is ever perfect, but we’re always trying to improve and tweak what we’re doing for the kids here,” she said.
“It’s more than just the school. It truly takes a village,” she said. “Thanks to each of you for showing your support and talking through these things with us because it’s not something we can solve on our own. It takes everybody.”
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Do you have thoughts on improvements that could be made at Medora Elementary School?