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Community Corner: During summer vacation ...
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Our schools opened their doors to students this week and everything will seem routine by next week.

For educators, less and less time during the summer fits the “summer vacation” definition. We were very busy preparing for a number of district initiatives, all with the goal of improving the achievement of our students. It is an exciting time to be in Platteville Schools.

More than 40 members of our professional staff volunteered to be a part of a pilot project designed to improve teaching and the evaluation of teaching. They will become the leaders at their grade levels and in their departments over the next couple of years. By 2014–15, all of our educators will be participating. We spent considerable time discussing what good teaching was and how “distinguished” teaching differed from “proficient” teaching and “ineffective” teaching. We looked at student achievement data and began developing plans and setting goals. This will all play a major role in our move from a salary schedule that rewarded years of service, to a salary schedule that rewards professional growth.

We are very excited about our one-to-one technology pilot. Student access to technology has been an ongoing conversation over the years. As with many districts, the Platteville School District had developed a plan of access that revolved around having a small number of computer labs where teachers would sign in their classes. More and more, teachers were frustrated with not being able to significantly fully integrate technology, as they could not get access to the labs for a consistent period of time. The planning team also recognized that access to technology in the after school hours for our students looked very different from home to home.

Clearly, if we were to best prepare our students for 21st century employment, we had to provide them with the skills to be successful in a high technology and media-driven society that included access to an abundance of information and rapid changes in technology tools. As the size of hardware got smaller and the use and versatility increased, rather than setting up more labs, the conversation turned to putting the technology access directly in the hands of the student, allowing for immediate and continued access, within the classroom and within the student’s home.

Starting this fall, a significant budget commitment was made to provide seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders a tablet computer that they could use throughout the day and take home with them. Teachers of these grade levels have been aligning their curriculum to include engaging and technologically integrated instruction. Data will be collected to document the effect of this initiative on improving student achievement and a decision will be made near the end of the year as to expanding further into the upper and lower grades.

Another major initiative is to begin developing personalized “intervention” plans for our students who have not achieved the grade level benchmarks set for them and who achieve these benchmarks before the rest of the class is ready to move on. Some of these students will participate in research-based interventions designed to help them make “catch-up progress.” In other words, we know that if they start out behind and they only make one year of progress in a year, they will never “catch up.” These interventions are designed to help them make more than one year of progress in a given year. We are also developing plans that support our highest achieving students with more in-depth instruction and challenging them to reach higher levels of learning.

As I said earlier … an exciting time to be in the Platteville Schools. I was hopeful and joy-filled as we opened the doors.

Our custodial staff did an excellent job preparing our buildings for another school year, our support staff has been busy all summer doing the “behind-the-scenes” work so essential to a successful opening, and our teachers are committed to high levels of student achievement. Go Hillmen!

The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Chamber Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; Platteville Recreation Coordinator Jordan Burress, State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.