East Valley school districts come together to share ideas - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

East Valley school districts come together to share ideas

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Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:10 am

In the last few years, state leaders have asked school districts to adopt more rigorous standards, change how they evaluate teachers and principals, and teach all kids to read by the time they leave third grade.

They're also grappling with the always present competition from charter schools, questions about what will happen to education funding, and the new drive for personalized, technology-infused education for each and every student.

So school leaders - from the volunteer school boards to the superintendents - are trying to figure out how to make all that happen.

In the East Valley, those leaders come together every time there is a fifth Monday in a month to bounce ideas off each other, as well as talk about what else might come down the pipeline as the Legislature gets busy with another session. It happened this week when many of those board members and school leaders gathered in Gilbert for an East Valley School Board Consortium meeting.

The groups - from Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, Scottsdale, San Tan Valley, and Florence - heard reports from the Arizona School Boards Association and Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. They also heard an overview of the Arizona Interscholastic Association from its director.

Janice Palmer, ASBA's government relations liaison, told the group that this legislative session has so far been about "elections, budgets and school choice."

From the Gov. Jan Brewer's plan to add $50 million to education to help public schools teach students to read to proposals that increase tax credits that create scholarships for private school students, there's a lot going on, she said. And it's happening quickly.

There are also groups in place that want to keep a voter-approved 1-cent state sales tax increase through another ballot measure in the fall. That money was originally put in place for three years to add funds to education, health care and public safety in the state.

Crandall talked to the leaders about the "blended learning" concept that's moving across the country. He's helping to lead that charge in Arizona, evaluating top programs that allow teachers to assigned individualized assignments to students based on what they need to learn. Some of those assignments may be delivered via a laptop or tablet device. He also told the group about plans for a teacher training program where they can send their instructors to learn how to better use this format.

That's a direction several East Valley school districts are heading in, including Chandler.

"There are a lot of us working on personalized education. It's such a big piece. It's getting our hands around that - just how to deliver personalized education and making sure kids don't fall through the cracks," said Chandler Unified School District governing board member Annette Auxier.

Chandler's Willis Junior High School already has a group of students in a blended learning program.

East Valley school districts are also working together to determine how best to put the new Common Core Standards into place. The Common Core Standards are nationwide education standards that students could be tested on as soon as 2014-2015.

Mesa Unified School District Superintendent Mike Cowan said the East Valley districts are combining efforts to figure out the best materials that can help teachers with the more rigorous standards, as well as how they should teach them.

"We're looking at curriculum mapping, defining the expectations by grade level or course. We're looking at the professional development teachers need to implement this," he said.

Not only are the academic expectations higher, he said, but students will be asked to think and understand material in a different way.

Though much is done at the state Capitol, Mesa's Crandall told the board members they need to lead what's happening in their districts - just like how they're working together on the Common Core Standards.

"Please don't wait for the Legislature to do something innovative and cool," he told them. "No one has a greater opportunity to change Arizona schools than you folks - school board members."

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