Wednesday, November 16, 2011

U-Turn: Ogden School District's Bold Plan For Improvement

I was invited by the new Superintendent of the Ogden School District, Brad Smith, to walk classrooms with him this past week.  In the invitation, it stated his goal was to personally visit every every classroom in the district within the next several months.

I accepted the invitation and we met to walk through Dee School.  To be honest, I was unexcited about the visit because my children attended Dee a couple years ago and I was very familiar with its challenges.  Dee School, as of 2010, was the lowest ranked school in Utah.  The population is economically challenged and also diverse. The complexion of the school is approximately 20% Caucasian, 75% Hispanic, and 5% Miscellaneous.  English as a second language has been a big challenge for the school.  

When our children attended, we loved our children's teachers.  However, it seemed that much of the school was in a defensive posture.  Students struggled for survival and academic achievement in a system that was awkwardly equipped to meet their needs.  Our children's experience at Dee ended when they ultimately tested into Ogden School District's Advanced Learning Academy before transferring to  Ogden Preparatory Academy, a Public Charter School.

I met Superintendent Smith at the school and the first thing that impressed me was the new Principal.  Mrs. Sondra Jolovich-Motes was transferred from Ogden High School to oversee the transformation of Dee School.  I was impressed with her focus, drive, and knowledge.  As we walked the school, which has a very awkward cylindrical floor plan, it became apparent very quickly that it was not the same school that our children had attended.  First, the class sizes were reduced to 19 per teacher.  Secondly, the ESL students were getting almost 30 minutes a session with the Imagine Learning program which is highly reputed for its ability to accelerate English skills in ESL students.

Most importantly, however, was the dramatic change that has been made in the way that teachers address student's skill sets.  The school is partnering with the University of Virginia on a system for accelerating student achievement.  The concept involves testing the students for specific skills and identifying weak spots.  Each student then has an action plan created based on the skills they need.  The teachers identify what is needed for the class as a whole based off the individual assessments and teach based on that.  Lesson plans are changed weekly as student's progress is measured and reported.

The objective of the School District is to use this smart approach to propel Dee from last place to the top of the rankings for schools with similar socio-economic traits.  The goals are big but the School District has taken bold action to achieve them.  We will find out in May how the program has helped students and the school at large.  Let's wish Ogden School District well and congratulate them on adapting to meet the needs of the students.  I look forward to May's report. 

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