SKSD Collaboration Update: Not All Sold on the Concept

Teachers and administrators in South Kitsap School District have been using a new technique to improve student learning. It’s called “collaboration time,” based on research developed in part by national education experts Rebecca and Richard DuFour.

Over the past school year, teachers in South Kitsap have been working in teams on a systematic analysis of teaching methods that work (sifting out those that don’t). The idea is to use what works consistently throughout schools and across grade levels so that students of all abilities will meet state standards for academic success.

The Education Reform Law of 1993 required the state to create common learning standards called Essential Academic Learning Requirements and called for a testing system, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, that measured student’s grasp of those standards.

The national movement to bring all students up to standard represented a sea change in education philosophy, said Brian Carlson, principal of Marcus Whitman Junior High School, who described the former method as “a sorting machine” in which 30 percent of students were expected to fail.

Carlson said adapting to the new approach requires a culture change within schools, and that doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, he said, it may take two to three years for the change to become fully ingrained. So parents, who have been sending their children into school late on Wednesdays, may not immediately notice the results.

South Kitsap is not alone. In fact the district, is the last among Kitsap and North Mason district to adapt its schedule for the purpose of applying some form of the collaboration theory.

Carlson admitted he was not initially a fan of the idea, but he has since come to recognize the value of it. Not everyone, however, is on board yet.

Marcus Whitman language arts teacher Mary Ann VanDoornik said one of the biggest challenges of introducing collaboration time is the issue of “buy in” on the part of the staff.
“Some people jumped in with both feet forward. Others sat back with their arms folded and said, ‘Show me,'” she said.

School board member Keith Garton said the team approach to teaching makes sense. Businesses use team building to increase customer satisfaction. Why wouldn’t school districts do the same thing, he said.

Like culture change in any organization, there are those who embrace it, those who tolerate it and those who resist it. School district officials are unlikely to tap the last group for a presentation to the school board.

Kurt Wagner, assistant superintendent of instructional services, asked the board to help with “buy in” on the part of community members, especially parents. Given that the results of collaboration time will be subtle and not readily noticeable, that could be a challenge.

As the mother of a student in SKSD, I can say the kids bought in the first time they hit the snooze button.

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