NEW HAVEN — Student learning methods, as well as staff development, might look a little different at New Haven Elementary this year compared to other schools in Mason County.
The Bend Area school has been selected as the county’s only “catalyst school” as a part of the Learning School Initiative by the West Virginia Board of Education.
As a catalyst school, Principal Stacy Bissell said she, along with Vice-Principal Kim Burris and faculty, will be able to set their own staff and student goals. Working through the process this year, the school will serve as a model and resource for other county schools, which will later be included in the initiative.
“We will actually become a learning school,” said Burris.
Bissell said as part of the initiative, the school will have more autonomy in regards to making decisions for what is “best” for New Haven students. She said even next year as other schools join in the initiative, an elementary school in the lower end of the county might not have the same goals or teaching methods as New Haven because the population of students varies, even within the county, and has different learning abilities.
For New Haven students this year, the school goal is in the area of literacy. Each student will increase a minimum of one grade level in reading by the end of the school year, regardless of their starting point. Bissell said this will be measured by multiple assessment tools, with benchmarks set throughout the year.
To assist in this goal, Bissell is actually co-teaching in the sixth grade reading classroom. Burris will also be working with students more often.
In addition, a demonstration classroom has been set up. This will allow teachers and professionals from other schools in the county to observe the teaching methods and progress being made.
Both Bissell and Burris commended the faculty at the school, noting that being designated a catalyst school is a “lot more work than normal.” A school leadership team attended a two-day training on the initiative in July. The team was made up of Bissell, Burris, several teachers and the school counselor. Later in the summer, a one-day training was held in Huntington, with about 20 staff members attending. Bissell said every teacher has now been trained.
According to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), the Learning School Initiative is long-term, with support from the Benedum Foundation, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and Learning Forward. It is based on the principles that schools are the center of learning for educators and students, and that building collaborative responsibility for the success of all students among educators within a school system strengthens students’ opportunity to learn.
Schools engaged in the initiative gain additional flexibility in scheduling time for professional learning and in allocating resources to support collaborative learning teams, according to the WVDE. They gain decision-making influence about how professional learning funds are spent and how they structure their school days.
Catalyst schools are chosen for their readiness to engage in the initiative, according to the WVDE. Among the criteria for selection included: a strong school-level leadership support and relationships with RESA; established and well-functioning professional learning communities; interest in exploring how to reallocate time and resources; and willingness to be transparent about the process, funding and challenges.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing and lives in Mason County.