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Valparaiso tries to prepare for 21st century learning

Updated: December 30, 2012 3:46PM



VALPARAISO — What will 21st century students look like? What will they be learning and how will they be learning it? Where will their lessons be held and what will the knowledge be used for? How will we assess what they’ve learned?

While no one gathered at Wednesday night’s discussion of the topic pretended to be able to predict the future, members of the Valparaiso School Board seemed pleased with the conversation.

Board President Mark Maassel noted that everyone in the audience had contributed something to the discussion.

“They’ll be learning in different ways than in the past,” parent Duane Davison said. He cited the high achievement scores displayed by students in Deep Springs, Colo., whose entire curriculum was embedded in the tasks needed to run a real ranch. “We need to be thinking outside of the box.”

Donna Battista said instruction still needs to be developmentally appropriate and that high-stakes testing has even the youngest students riddled with anxiety. She said the district needs to find ways to instruct parents of preschoolers in current brain research and to show them what they could be doing with their kids to improve their chances in school.

As number of poor families rises is Valparaiso, some children come to school with fewer experiences, Debbie Frey said. “How do we level the playing field?” she asked the board.

Two board initiatives started under Superintendent Andrew Melin to improve the district have stalled, said Superintendent Michael Berta. He said much work has been done in coming up with a system-wide strategic plan, but if the board wishes to continue to seek accreditation as a school district, work on the plan will have to meld with the work required by the accrediting agency.

He suggested using strategies developed by Malcolm Baldridge at the American Society for Quality as a framework for achieving the marriage of the two initiatives. That, he said, requires leadership. “You have your goals,” he said, referring to the strategic plan. These topical discussions, Berta said, are a way to achieve the goal of improving dialog with the community.

Berta acknowledged that Valparaiso is a high-achieving district but that it could do better. He said the district needs to work on alignment and continuity, which is one reason he started the first discussion with the topic of curriculum. He described state and national standards as being a mile wide and an inch deep and that teachers will have to decide as a district what is essential to teach at each level.

Charlie Foster explained that predicting what will be tested from year to year in mathematics has varied as the state tries slowly to align to national standards. As a teacher, he said, one wants to cover the essentials before students are tested in March.



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