Spring 2012

Transforming Schools

The Road to Meeting Individual Learners' Needs

The Road to Meeting Individual Learners' Needs

What is transformation? How does one create a culture that embraces the challenge to transform when status quo feels very comfortable? How will we know if we have transformed?

The charge to “transform the educational delivery system to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students” has been the quest of the Kettle Moraine School District since I began serving as superintendent in this high achieving, blue-ribbon school system over five years ago. What is transformation? How does one create a culture that embraces the challenge to transform when status quo feels very comfortable? How will we know if we have transformed?

On a May evening in 2005, somewhat out of the blue, a motion was unanimously passed giving administration the responsibility to transform. While the Board’s perspective was focused on financial challenges that now face almost every school system in our nation, in the motion administration saw the opportunity to rethink everything we do in order to “better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students.” After verifying Board support that transformation was wanted, we identified Scenario Planning as a process that builds organizational intelligence and capacity, especially in times of uncertainty. Enlisting the support of McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), our school system began the work of building collective understanding and capacity in staff and community members for the need to transform.

Through an application process and interviews, we assembled a diverse group of 25 people representing all ages and backgrounds, non-educators, students, and staff who agreed to serve on our Transformation Task Force. They made commitments to engage in a highly interactive and time consuming process of identifying critical uncertainties, selecting key drivers of change, developing a rich understanding of future trends, writing plausible stories of uncertain futures, and identifying key themes that emerged across all stories. This work took 17 months and laid a solid foundation for moving forward. The results were repeatedly shared with community members, board, and staff and continue to serve as a reference. They have changed the mental models of our organization.

Transformation is an evolution in meeting the needs of students. Personalized learning provides evidence of transformation and defines the objective that was lacking in the term 'transform.'

In 2011 we convened a larger group of community members to revisit that work, measure success and bring clarity to the future direction of the school system. The report was affirmed, and the focus emerged that transformation is not one concept, an object or end-point to be grasped. Transformation is an evolution in meeting the needs of students. Personalized learning provides evidence of transformation and defines the objective that was lacking in the term “transform.” As a school system we do not embrace change for change sake, but we do embrace change with purpose. Only if we are able to “better and more efficiently meet the needs of students” do we consider our work a success.

Not surprisingly, our work of personalization reflects in many ways the expectations of society. As technology plays an increasingly indispensable role in society, we have come to expect, even demand personalization in the way we live our lives. We want personalization in our choices of eating, recreation, media, music, social contacts, news, and the list continues. As we listen to parents, students and staff, personalization is what is desired in our classrooms and school buildings also.

What is Personalized Learning?

Personalized learning can mean something different, depending on who you ask. A definition offered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of the chief education leaders from every state, comes close to describing what Kettle Moraine believes the next generation of learning will look like. It states: “personalized learning that occurs anytime, anywhere, and results in world-class knowledge and skills for all students.

It is measured through performance-based assessments, and it engages a student’s own voice while providing a comprehensive system of supports.” In a manner similar to the innovation that drives technology products, the next generation of education delivery is looking to improve and upgrade what we have to offer. A cell phone from four years ago may meet basic communication needs, however, today’s next generation smart phones are personalized to better and more efficiently meet the needs of the consumer. So also, we recognize that our current system of education is serving the needs of students in the manner it was designed. However, Kettle Moraine pursues the next generation of education delivery in order to meet the growing expectations of our students and parents to personalize the learning and prepare students for a very demanding future.

Numerous areas of education delivery reflect Kettle Moraine’s commitment to develop personalized learning environments. Examples are found in the two charter schools that now operate in our school system. This fall, we opened the doors of KM Global and KM Perform providing personalized learning designs that meet the needs of specific styles of learners in grades 9-12. Each has a unique charter and a distinct method for providing instruction opportunity for demonstration of student learning. KM Global and KM Perform are meeting the needs of a unique population of students.

Building on our learning from our charter high schools and on action research from our elementary staff, the planning of a multi-age personalized learning elementary charter school is underway. We learn from each other without an expectation that there is one right answer. We know that our charters do not meet the needs of all students nor do they replace the important role of our legacy schools. Charters compliment our system’s legacy offerings by providing personalized learning for students who have a distinct focus on how they want to learn and what life skills they want to develop.

By building upon successes and sharing challenges, school systems are able to take best practices from all environments and create efficiencies in the discovery of what is most effective for increasing student achievement.

On a smaller scale, we deliver personalized learning opportunities in various classrooms across the school system, as we work in partnership with other systems in southeastern Wisconsin. As part of a regional Innovation Zone, we help represent Wisconsin as one of seven states involved in Next Generation Learning (formerly NxGL), national-level work focused on personalizing learning. Through an application and accountability process, Kettle Moraine supports an ever growing cadre of staff, with teaching responsibilities that range from Kindergarten to AP Biology, engaged in action research to personalize the learning experiences of their students. Their work is shared virtually with colleagues from other participating school systems, and they engage in regular symposiums where they collaboratively learn from each other. By building upon successes and sharing challenges, school systems are able to take best practices from all environments and create efficiencies in the discovery of what is most effective for increasing student achievement.

Kettle Moraine also employs strategies to personalize learning in classrooms throughout our school system. The use of workshop teaching in our Kindergarten through eighth grade ensures that students receive mini-lessons and instructional coaching in text that is aligned with their level of learning. This supports students’ confidence in their ability to learn as they experience success while being challenged to grow to the next level. It also provides for stronger student engagement through student choice. Another system-wide example is the use of balanced assessment to personalize learning. By providing students with regular feedback on their performance, students are able to target their individual learning needs. As students demonstrate their understanding, teachers are able to tailor learning experiences. This contributes to more efficient and effective instruction and use of time, personalized to the abilities of the individual learner.

Community Vision

As we investigate and implement various approaches to personalized learning, we are becoming increasingly aware of demands that define limitations and considerations for future growth. From both a facilities and a technology perspective, the infrastructure of our school system must support personalized learning environments if we are to be successful. This has prompted a review of our school system infrastructure needs and a community visioning process regarding infrastructure scheduled for May 2012. Building on the understanding that public schools belong to the public, our school system regularly engages our parents and community members to help define our future. By listening carefully to their needs and expectations we embrace our vision of Learning without Boundaries in order to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students.

Patricia Deklotz serves as superintendent for the Kettle Moraine School District, a high performing K-12 district serving 4,300 students located in southeastern Wisconsin. Under her leadership the district has embraced the Board’s challenge to transform schools to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students. Taking a non-traditional route, she worked 20 years in financial software development and with non-profit organizations prior to becoming a teacher in 1996. She serves on the State’s Coordinating Council for Educator Effectiveness, the Waukesha County Technical College Board, the President’s Advisory Council for Carroll University, and as chair of the Southeast Wisconsin Teacher Evaluation consortium.

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