Cove secondary schools change schedules to improve teaching, learning
Special to Leader-Press
Copperas Cove ISD Superintendent Joe Burns has always said “We have the best students and staff in the state,” But while student scores continue to exceed the state average in almost every area, Burns is not content. He believes there is always an opportunity and responsibility to improve student outcomes. For the 2018-19 academic year, the district is implementing a solution that involves embedding time during the instructional week for meaningful collaboration for teachers while also finding time for accelerated learning for students.
Last school year, Burns and the CCISD Board of Trustees heard Jennifer Frentress with School by Design speak about some exciting ways that districts can design schools that best meet students’ and teachers’ needs, using the resources they already have. In the fall of 2017, CCISD partnered with School by Design to develop a plan that would address the unique needs of CCISD’s students and educators.
Work began with an audit of CCISD’s data. Accessing School by Design’s software platform, CCISD is able to gain unique insights from three important lenses: equity and access, optimizing teaching and learning, and efficient use of resources. CCISD is now able to analyze how its resources are either supporting or impeding instruction. For example, with the reports, CCISD staff is able to consider how class duration and teachers’ course loads impact specific teaching and learning conditions, such as the timeliness and quality of feedback teachers can provide to students, said Jill Guerin, CCISD Director of Secondary Curriculum.
“One of the most telling reports is how long teachers actually have to score student work based on the number of students they have. This report is crucial because scoring work translates to feedback for students. Without feedback, students can’t move forward,” Guerin said.
Copperas Cove High School has been on a block schedule for more than 20 years. Block schedules allow students to attend a class every other day for 90 minutes or for 450 minutes over a two week period. However, there is no empirical data that proves block scheduling leads to greater student outcomes. In fact, at CCHS, student performance has been slipping over the past several years.
CCHS Principal Miguel Timarky, Amanda Crawley, principal of Copperas Cove Junior High, and Kayleen Love, principal of S.C. Lee Junior High, have been working alongside central office staff and School by Design for the past several months to determine the best design for each campus that will allow for teacher collaboration and accelerated learning and other opportunities for students. Burns believes quality instruction begins with teachers having time to work together to examine student work and develop lesson plans that match the rigor and requirement of state standards.
“I firmly believe if we provide quality instruction to students the first time, all students will learn and testing will take care of itself,” Burns said.
Secondary principals provided a report to the CCISD board during a workshop last Monday.
“It’s been an intensive process, but at the end of the day, I believe we have landed on a plan that will allow time for teachers to collaborate and to provide interventions for students. The end result will be enhanced student outcomes,” Timarky said. “We are starting with 2018-2019 incoming freshmen and these students will attend seven class periods a day for roughly 495 minutes over a two-week period. For the first nine days, students will have their regular core classroom teachers. On every tenth day, students will have access to new, engaging learning opportunities through a variety of classes that meet their needs and interests such as CPR, financial literacy, college preparedness, technology, or virtual field trips.”
Teachers and campus administration are working together this spring to develop the curriculum for these new course opportunities which will be taught by current staff at CCHS, CCJHS, and S.C. Lee. This new strategy, which School by Design calls “PLUS,” enables core content teachers to engage in professional development during the days when students are in the new classes, so there is enhanced learning for both educators and students.
An important component will include the teaming of core subject teachers. Math and science teachers will be teamed together as will English and social studies teachers. On the days when students are engaging in “PLUS” content, these teachers will meet for an entire day to focus on analyzing student work and developing lesson plans. They will be able to plan complementary lessons that will result in fewer, but more meaningful, assignments for students, and will have the flexibility to determine how students move between the two “teamed” classes based on the individual students’ needs. The teachers for the PLUS content will also have additional time when they will be available to go in to classrooms to co-teach and provide additional interventions for students.
Although all CCHS students will attend seven class periods each day beginning in 2018-2019, the schedule of having “PLUS” content and teacher collaboration days every tenth day will be limited to the freshman class for the upcoming academic year before being expanded to other grade levels. However, students at all grade levels will benefit from increased instructional minutes in 2018-19. The design for CCJHS and S.C. Lee will be very similar. Students will attend seven class periods a day, and on every tenth day, they will have expanded learning opportunities while their regular subject teachers have a full day for collaboration. There will be cross-school educator collaboration, as teachers from both campuses will be able to meet to strengthen instruction for all junior high students. They will also be teamed much like the high school teachers, gaining the flexibility to move students based on student needs rather than a simple bell schedule.
Love is excited about what the new design means for students.
“With any new undertaking, the goal is to provide greater opportunities for students to learn,” Love said. “This model will allow teachers to participate in timely, embedded professional development and planning for student success.”
Crawley said finding time within the regular school week for teacher collaboration is a win-win.
“Teachers will have time together for meaningful development while students will receive additional instruction from a master teacher,” she said.
Frentress worked with CCISD’s project team to maintain a focus on the following design principles: 1) Classroom conditions must be better for teaching and learning; 2) What students are doing in PLUS time must help them develop meaningful real-world skills; and 3) Professional Development for teachers must be relevant and substantive.
Burns said these principles have helped the district design a plan that will make the best use of its existing resources and embed time each week for educators to collaborate while students engage in accelerated learning opportunities, enabling enhanced teaching and learning for all in the school community. He said he believes that these crucial changes will benefit CCISD students for years to come.