State College school board mulls new education model

mmorgan@centredaily.comJune 20, 2013 

— Many people have focused on the building portion of the State College high school project because it comes with a referendum and hefty price tag, but the district is also looking to update its educational model as part of the process.

The school board of directors received a report from Principal Scott DeShong at its meeting Monday on the updated model and changes the district will be looking to apply.

DeShong said despite strong local and state test scores at the school, the model needs to be updated to keep in line with a changing global culture.

“The world has changed at a very fast rate,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone can say education has kept up with that change.”

A team of about 20 members including teachers, parents and students went on five trips to other schools looking for best practices to institute in State College.

The group identified two specific advancements that could be made quickly at the schools, focusing on the freshman experience and creating smaller learning communities.

The freshman experience would allow a team of educators to focus on the younger students at the school and give them an opportunity for a leg-up early in their high school careers. DeShong added that pairing older students with freshman in a mentoring program will allow them to adjust faster.

“It was a pretty dynamic transitional experience for those kids just based on their interactions with those older students,” he said of a school in suburban South Bend, Ind. “(The freshman said) it felt great to have a bond with the other kids, and they got to know the lay of the land of the high school much more quickly.”

Another change could yield a freshman seminar course, allowing the young students to better plan their whole high school experience early on.

The district will look to implement that portion by the 2014-15 school year. A team will be formed to iron out the specific details.

The smaller learning communities portion would focus on the older students in the high school, using similar close relationship techniques to tailor programs toward student interests. They also would include teacher-based education teams to interact with those students.

“The one thing we absolutely must be sure we do is maintain that element of choice in our curriculum,” DeShong said.

DeShong broke down an example list of general study areas that branch off the core choices but said the areas are far from cemented and will need to be discussed and worked out before it can be implemented. The four general groups included business; health and human services; science, technology, engineering and math; and fine and preforming arts.

They are looking at starting to integrate this in some form into the 2015-16 school year.

Several board members including Vice President Amber Concepcion spoke positively about the progress of the educational model discussion.

“This focus on making sure that we’re reaching every student here and that we’re pulling people into a community is really important,” she said, suggesting the team takes a look at other schools around the country who already employ these tactics.

The education specification timetable will join with the building project around October when the board adopts a plan, and the architect looks to further the building design concept to make sure the education model will be able to be implemented in the new school.

The district will hold a community forum on the education model, likely in the early part of September.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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