On Wednesday, students flooded town as teachers sat in classrooms to understand a teaching tool designed to help them master new education standards from the state and federal governments.
Beyond Textbooks and the Common Core Standards have spurred grumblings and rumblings all the way from faculty meetings to Tea Party meetings, where the new federal standards have been derided as a United Nations plot.
However, the district has resolved to make the best of the situation.
“No amount of anxiety is going to make the standards go away,” said Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.
The federal government rolled out the new standards more than three years ago when the feds realized No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had imposed impossible standards. The federal reforms threatened to cut off funding if district’s didn’t meet certain goals — but included no guidelines to reach the goals, said Hitchcock.
The national standards are supposed to help students move from district to district seamlessly, said Hitchcock.
With an annual turnover rate of about one in five students, Payson schools struggle to give those children as easy a transition as possible and relieve teachers of the burden of constantly helping student catch up, said Hitchcock.
However, until this year, PUSD did nothing to prepare for the new standards: No curriculum update; No overhauling the teacher and principal evaluation system; No support system for teachers.
“We knew everybody needed help,” said Hitchcock, “so we have more supports this year than ever.”
Former school board member Matt Van Camp said the school board knew they were behind the eight ball, that’s why they hired Hitchcock. Van Camp said Hitchcock had the qualifications to transition Payson into the new standards.
But getting everyone on the same page has proven a challenge, said Hitchcock, with more than a touch of frustration.
Hitchcock decided not to reinvent the wheel and selected the Beyond Textbooks tool for its proven results.
“It is a time honored teaching tradition to beg, borrow and steal ideas from one another. Beyond Textbooks takes sharing to a whole new level,” says the Beyond Textbook website.
The Vail school district in Arizona created Beyond Textbooks to help the district transition from a tiny 500-student district to the more than 12,000 students it has today.
“As Vail moved from a district of 500 students to a district of more than 12,000 students, we labored and at times struggled to pull together and articulate all the necessary resources to implement the mandated standards-based curriculum,” wrote Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker. “Thousands of hours have been spent by our staff unwrapping, prioritizing and calendaring standards, and developing delivery and assessment strategies.”
As other schools watched Vail improve and receive accolades, they approached Vail to ask, “Can we try that?” said Kevin Carney, Executive Director of Beyond Textbooks, a division of the Vail district.
Carney cautions it takes three years for change to take effect.
That is why the district on Wednesday devoted its final professional development day of the year to a presentation by a representative from Beyond Textbooks and an administrator from a school district.
“Beyond Textbooks is a tool for teachers to help improve,” said Hitchcock, “No teacher needs to worry they will lose their job or compensation because of assessments (suggested by Beyond Textbooks).”
On its Web site, Beyond Textbooks explains that teachers in a grade level joined together to discuss what students are supposed to learn, such as reading in first grade, multiplication in fourth grade.
Then these teacher share ideas on lessons that helped their students learn a concept.
To make sure concepts are learned on time, the Beyond Textbooks calendar suggests a timeline.
“This is not a curriculum,” said Carney.
Hitchcock agrees; he calls it a tool for teachers, Carney calls it a framework.
For certain teachers, Hitchcock said Beyond Textbooks would not even be necessary. “If they were already doing what they are supposed to be doing, no one would see a difference,” said Hitchcock.