Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 17, 2014

Director briefs school board on Career Academy

By DIANE VANCE | Jul 19, 2013

Fairfield Community School District has the first year of a Career Academy program under its belt with the participating school districts, Indian Hills Community College and area businesses growing a partnership, Karen Swanson told the school board Monday.

Swanson is high school programs director at IHCC. She and IHCC’s Tom Rubel, executive dean of Regional Economic Development, spoke with school board members at the July meeting.

Fairfield initiated a Career Academy in 2012-13 at its Lincoln Center, with junior and senior high school students from Fairfield, Cardinal and Harmony school districts participating among three strands: health occupations, business/finance and industrial maintenance.

Six students earned an electrical maintenance diploma, making them employable now, said Swanson.

“We had 13 students in the industrial maintenance strand this first year,” she said. “Since the program was in its first year in Fairfield, we don’t have any second-year students yet. Four of six students in electrical maintenance are returning next year, two were graduating seniors.

“We’ve been talking with local industries and plan to invite their employees to participate in our programs for refresher courses or to learn new skills,” Swanson said.

Health Occupations proved so popular, two sections were created.

“All students who took the certified nursing assistant test earned their CNA certificates,” said Swanson.

“All of the business students had job shadowing opportunities in the community,” she said. “We’ll have four returning students and 15 new students in the fall.

“We’re hoping Van Buren High School can join us and be a part of this,” said Swanson. “The more partners involved, the better it is.”

She also said Fairfield school Superintendent Art Sathoff and curriculum director Marci Dunlap are in the building often.

“Art and Marci are very visible,” she said. “Fairfield school district has been a great partner and provided a good facility. Cardinal has been a great partner.”

Career Academy programs are partnerships between school districts and community colleges to provide job skills and academics to high school upper classmen over a two-year program. Students attend regular high school classes half the day and Career Academy classes half a day. They earn college and high school credits for the courses.

“We encourage students to continue to participate in regular high school activities and the program works to be flexible to allow for extra-curricular time,” said Swanson.

She noted that after the full two-year program has finished next year, the program will evaluate if different strands will be offered.

School board member Jeri Kunkle asked if students in Career Academy classes are treated like college students.

“Yes,” said Dunlap. “Indian Hills has made the courses rigorous.”

Students are given more personal responsibility and accountability, said Swanson. However, the district still retains accountability also.

“If a student misses classes two days in a row without communicating, it is reported to the high school,” said Swanson.

“It is the student’s responsibility to arrange and communicate with teachers about their schedules,” she said. “If they don’t learn anything else — but they do learn their subjects— they learn to navigate the college system and are prepared for handling themselves.”

Another board member said rumors around Fairfield High School fear the Career Academy will cut hours, teachers or programs at the high school.

“Indian Hills’ technology classes cannot replace what’s offered at FHS,” said Dunlap.

Sathoff said it’s a natural reaction for employees to be anxious about new programs replacing current ones.

“This isn’t about ‘us’ versus ‘them’” he said. “It’s about what’s good for students and what’s good for the local economy.”

 

What’s working, what needs help

Dunlap presented a district end of the year achievement report, along with plans for tackling deficiencies.

“Through studying the data from assessments, our core instruction and Response to Intervention are not consistently bringing 80 percent of our students to reading proficiency,” said Dunlap. “This gives us a focus to instruct systemically.”

Sathoff said this is one reason the literature curriculum needs to be integrated across all grade levels.

“We have great teachers,” he said.

“Yes, we do. We could ask teachers to work harder, and they would — although they are already working hard,” said Dunlap. “We can’t always say, work harder to get results. We need to figure out what’s needed and we need to work smarter.”

Dunlap is planning professional development for teachers throughout the 2013-14 school year to achieve higher student scores.

“If we provide professional development at each building level so teachers know what to teach, how to teach it and when to shift gears, we can raise student achievement,” said Dunlap.

The district has already some of the action steps in place, including Authentic Intellectual Work at the middle and high schools. Teachers are peer-reviewed teaching in the classroom about how they are instructing.

“It increases the rigor for students,” said Dunlap.

Board member Jerry Nelson said the board has been through this type of discussion before.

“Just because it’s core instruction, does that mean it’s right?” Nelson said. “Are we going to change it again next year?”

Sathoff said AIW is classroom-level development and beneficial to teachers.

Fairfield Middle School, on the School in Need of Assistance state list, will bring in outside expertise for Title I identification. Retired district principal Sue McCracken will provide guidance about what depth of assistance students need with reading.

At the elementary schools, core reading instruction will include a Daily 5, which provides teachers with a structure and system, said Dunlap.

“Teachers know the subject, they’re just not all doing the same things,” she said. “I’ve been in the classrooms when teachers are using the Daily 5 and it’s so organized. I’m not talking about needing new textbooks or purchasing a curriculum. This is about all [elementary] teachers hitting vocabulary, phonics ... there’s no magic bullet, no wand.”

Nelson asked if the district was creating a new position in hiring McCracken, and might it expand in coming years and cost more money.

“We’re purchasing services as required by SINA,” said Sathoff. “Title money can be withheld if we don’t do things outlined in the restructuring plan. She achieved sustained results at Lincoln Elementary School. She will take our data and work with Laura [Atwood, FMS principal] and Matt [Jones, FMS assistant principal]. Funds to pay her [McCracken] are from the state, allocated by SINA. We are not hiring her, she will not be a district employee.

“We have to have someone provide outside expertise, and I would rather have someone with her experience and her investment in Fairfield schools in this position.”

Other action steps already in place in the district include using Fastt Math, a computer program for math fluency, consistent use of proven screening assessments and local coach training for AIW.

Dunlap also sees a big need to provide professional development in the district about poverty’s impact on student learning.

“When can we do this?” she said. “That’s a problem. It’s not just a one-time presentation. It’s a dig-in learning that needs to be a district effort. It’s a learning that can be uncomfortable and challenge some deep beliefs and stir up stereotypes.”

The district needs the education for teachers because the biggest discrepancy in student achievement scores continues to be the gap between all students and students in the low social economic status subgroup — identified by qualifying for free and reduced school lunches.

“I know I’m not putting together the prettiest picture to present to the board,” said Dunlap. “But using the data is a tool to see how we can get better. I’m showing the process of how I design professional development.”

Sathoff said he appreciates seeing where improvements are needed.

The school board approved the resignation of Kristin Brauer, middle school special education teacher Monday.

 

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