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August 23rd, 2019

cottonwood redesignELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The first year of redesign efforts throughout USD 480 is nearly complete, with many programs piloted and much success seen, including at Cottonwood Elementary School. 

“When we started this redesign process, we wanted to make sure we had a clear vision,” Cottonwood Elementary School 2nd grade teacher Kaitlyn Ralston said. “So we gathered information via questionnaires from parents, staff and students to figure what we wanted our students to be learning and what we wanted them to know by the time they left 5th grade and our school. We began with our core values, and those are life skills, high expectations, productive adults with employable skills, and creating a safe and loving environment. Then from there we created our vision statement, which says ‘Cottonwood Cowboys aim for the stars – Aspire, Imagine, Motivate.’ We also created our mission statement, which says ‘We will learn, we will succeed, we will make a difference – we are Cottonwood!’”

“Then once we had the information from our stakeholders, we used that data to drive our ‘Why’s’ of redesign, and that process began at the end of last school year,” Cottonwood Elementary School Assistant Principal Jessica Palacios said. “That process really helped us address the four principles of redesign, which are the student success skills, community partnerships, personalized learning and real world applications. To make sure everyone in our building had a voice, we divided into research teams to help address those principles and we used the Clifton Strengths Finder to help make sure our teams were strong and balanced so we would get perspectives and ideas from everyone.”

The discussion that went on amongst the teams was very fruitful. 

“When we started talking about student success skills, we really began talking about making sure our students want to come to school,” Cottonwood Elementary School 3rd grade teacher Bethany Adams said. “So when we were having those conversations about what would be good for the students, we came up with things like having a soft start – which we’ll be starting next year – where there will be activities the students can choose from to start their day, whether it’s going outside to the playground for a short time or staying inside and coloring, things like that. We’re also going to be doing breakfast in the classrooms after school starts so those students who need it can be served. We’re also going to be doing our Cowboy Clubs, which are like electives and students get to pick what they learn about during the day for about 30 minutes, and they’ll do that a few times a week. We’re also going to be keeping Capturing Kids’ Hearts, which goes along with the social-emotional work we do. We’re also going to try a multi-level lunch and multi-level recess so siblings can see each other throughout the day. We’ve also begun some community partnerships, and one of those is with the Presbyterian Church, where we started the Cottonwood Closet, which has clothes, food, hygiene items and other needed items for students who need that support from us at school. In the future we’re also looking forward to having a washer and dryer so we can teach students how to do laundry and have that available to them. We’ve built partnerships with other local businesses to help support our students and staff in our building and we’re looking forward to continuing all of those.”

Personalized learning has been heavily emphasized as a benefit of the redesign process, and it has also been successful for the school. 

“When we started looking at personalized learning, we piloted a lot of different programs to find out what would best fit Cottonwood, and we chose iReady,” Cottonwood Elementary School Instructional Coach Michele Crossman said. “We’ll also continue with Lexia reflex math and RAZ-Kids. Our student success team will change a little bit and the teachers will be in the classrooms more in order to help support the Tier 1 and Tier 2 students, and we’ll use the Tier 3 students more as a pull-out so they can get that one-on-one instruction. Cottonwood also voted to change to neighborhoods, so we’ll have a small school feel in our large building, which will help us build relationships and improve that individualized learning. When we talk about accountability, iReady already has a lot of reports and we’re still learning about those since we just voted on that Monday. But two we’re super excited about are the diagnostic growth, which shows what our students have gained throughout the year with the diagnostic test, and then the other report focuses on what the students individually know and what they still need to work on. We’ll still use the Maps reports to compare district-wide data, and will also help when our students transfer between buildings. We’re also excited to be implementing choice boards and individual study during our personalized learning time.”

With all the decisions currently being made, Cottonwood Elementary School Principal Traci Mettlen said there are still many things being looked at for next year, including different trainings and testing for the students. 

“We’ll be starting our ELL training through Southwest Plains and we’ll also be going through some things to be a trauma informed school,” Mettlen said. “We know that will be part of our social-emotional learning stuff, and there are programs out there we’ve looked at, but we’re still deciding which one would be the best for our students. With social studies and science, those are areas where we’ll be concentrating on reading and math and using the programs we already have for social studies and science, but we will also be piloting some new programs in the fall in order to find the best fit for the school. We’ll also be looking at ways to implement handwriting and keyboarding more into our classes. We’re also talking about more community partnerships with business owners in the community who may come in and talk to our students about what they do and explain that field of work. I want to give thanks to our school board for its support and Ms. Hickert and Ms. Evans for their support throughout this whole process, I feel like we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a team, and we’re looking at doing great things in the future for our students.”

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