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August 26th, 2019

redesign thoughts from adminStudents work on a math lesson during the 2018-19 school year. Some changes were made to teaching math as part of the redesign efforts, and those changes will also be seen for the 2019-20 school year. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The 2018-19 school year is done, and teachers and administrators  throughout USD 480 are already planning what will need to be done for the 2019-20 school year. 

One of the biggest changes to the district for the 2018-19 school year was the implementation of the redesign process throughout all of the schools, and with USD 480 teachers praising how the first year went, USD 480 administrators also shared their thoughts about the redesign process’s inaugural year. 

“We had all seven schools take part in the redesign process this year, and they all worked very hard and did a wonderful job creating an atmosphere of collaboration and putting aside some things that used to be standard practices throughout the district to really think about what is best for each student in our schools,” USD 480 Director of Secondary Education Sheri King said. “Never before have we seen this level of collaboration and thinking outside the box until this school year, so it was really exciting to hear the teachers' voices and hear about what they had dreams of as far as what would be good for the schools. We're one of the few school districts in Kansas of our size that's taking on the redesign process with all of our schools. Other communities might have a middle school or a high school taking part, but we're the only district taking on the redesign at our scale. So to take on that type of change and innovative thinking is exciting to see and be on the forefront of.”

Teachers from all of the USD 480 schools have been presenting their thoughts on the redesign process to the USD 480 school board in recent weeks, and those reports have been very positive. King said from what she has observed, the redesign process has gone very well during its first year. 

“It was great to see the principals stepping aside, to a degree, and letting the teachers have decision-making abilities and the autonomy to make those decisions and really thinking about what would work best in the classrooms,” King said. “It was great to see how our principals are still the buildings' leaders, but they're leading in a different way, so it was great seeing teachers taking on some new leadership roles and being at the forefront of the redesign and presenting to parents and the public and their peers about what's best for the students.  And I would say something we still need to work on is dreaming big enough. One of the things we heard pretty frequently was 'Are the things we're talking about going to have the type of impact and change we're asking for through the redesign process?' Sometimes they would come up with an idea but then they had to consider if it was big enough and safe enough to try.  We've gotten feedback on both ends of the spectrum. We've gotten some really positive feedback about the changes we've seen at Meadowlark Elementary School and Liberal High School and how we've really increased student responsibility and awareness that they need to be in charge of their education. And we've also gotten some criticism about some of the things we've done. But change is hard and we'll be the first to admit not everything came out good and clean and perfect and wrapped up with a neat bow. This year definitely came with some challenges and I feel we definitely met them.”

King and USD 480 Director of Elementary Education Lana Evans added they are both excited to see what the 2019-20 school year will bring now that the first year is in the books. 

“I'm excited to see the teachers take this to the next level. They've done the research and fixed the things they want to implement,” Evans said. “I'm excited to see how they integrate all that with the students and see how everything goes forward. I'm also looking forward to see how the students take on the personalized learning and seeing them make their own choices and take up that accountability for their learning instead of it being the old-fashioned 'stand and deliver' routine. There will be a lot of great things, and the schools all have the autonomy to make it really their own.”

“Each and every building has something they're really looking forward to having in place that should have a significant impact on the students and staff as far as achievement and growth,” King said. “One piece I personally am excited to see is the emphasis placed on the social/emotional well-being of our students and helping address whatever mental health issues are being dealt with and just overall becoming more trauma-aware of some of the things our students may be facing and then addressing those needs. I've been in education for more than 20 years and this is really the first time we've really talked about some of that stuff as far as how our students are coming to us and what we can do to help them be more successful, and that will be a significant change parents will see.”

Overall, King and Evans agreed they feel the redesign went successfully for the first year. 

“This year was the first time I've heard teachers talk about how they've never worked as hard as they had to this year as far as making the decisions that would impact them and their students,” King said. “It was dirty and messy work at some points but there was so much great collaboration and it was amazing getting everyone to the table to talk about what was really important and it was exciting to hear all those voices.  We’ve had a lot of visitors from other communities and school districts who have come to the buildings and talked to us about what all we're doing, and we've also sent staff out to other communities. So there's that collaboration not just between all of our staff, but other Kansas teachers, which means we're not in this alone and we can hear what's been successful in other communities and sharing some ideas back and forth.”

“The schools have had the autonomy to research and investigate everything they needed to and go at their own pace. They picked the pieces that were particularly important and of a higher priority and it gave them the full ability to decide what would be best for their students. They'll all look different as far as those decisions that were made and we can't wait to see what happens this coming year,” Evans added. “I've really enjoyed seeing our teachers working on the whole child. A good chunk of the redesign wants to focus on social/emotional improvements and being more sensitive to the students' needs, not just the Bloom's hierarchy of needs as far as the academic side, but also Maslow's hierarchy of needs on the personal side. I'm excited to see where all of that goes and it's helped the teachers help the students. So that opens some new opportunities and challenges for us and it'll really help us help the whole child beyond just academics.”

Both Evans and King added they will be excited to see how the 2019-20 redesign efforts turn out. 

“This should all be great to see unfold next year and we're looking forward to keep presenting updates to the school board on what's going on in the schools and we'll constantly be monitoring what all is going on and making tweaks and changes as it all goes along,” Evans said. “That will be so refreshing because when a new curriculum or program is adopted, it takes some time for everyone to really get their feet under them and we have the ability to adjust if we need to.”

“And feedback from parents in the community, whether it's positive or negative, is always appreciated and we definitely want to hear what successes have been seen or maybe there's something that can be tweaked,” King said. “We've had a lot of meetings and done a lot of surveys, so that continued community involvement is critical.”

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