A short conversation with John Davis of RSU 57
Are you glad you undertook the project of implementing a learner-centered education system?
Yes. I want our school district to be a place of learning for all children, not only for the compliant but for those who struggle. I want our district to be a place where students are engaged and responsible. In my experience it’s the only thing that’s made a measurable difference for the most number of students.
Given that it's too early for data, what makes you think this system is having a positive impact?
I was fortunate to have been a part of similar work in another district. I was able to witness the changes there and know the power and benefits of raising the bar for everyone.
Given the chance, what would you have done differently?
Probably everything. That is the benefit of hindsight. I would have tried to introduce the training to staff at a more accelerated rate. We did it over a three-year period. The introduction is taking longer than I would have liked, but that’s because it’s a function of time and money.
How have you excelled?
I think the area that we’re the strongest in is generating a level of consensus within the school community that we have a need to improve. We understand the process of change and improvement is not just about teachers but about everyone in the school community. Change is a necessary component for us if we’re going to bring about higher student achievement. This model is much more focused on students, and most adults have accepted that as a concept, even if they don’t necessarily know how to do it exactly.
What changes are you seeing in your teachers? Do they support the effort?
I’m seeing that people are generally making an effort to establish standards, which we’re expecting students to measure up to. And our tolerance for students to just sit and hopefully absorb is becoming less and less. Students need to demonstrate they have learned, and we as educators need to organize our classrooms to promote learning. We’re expecting more from our students, and that requires change from our staff.
What are parents’ reactions?
Parents’ reactions remain mixed. Those who understand are generally supportive. Those who have less understanding are still questioning, especially at the high school level. We’ll continue to provide outreach in order to provide information to parents so that they can better understand that what we’re trying to do is raise the bar for students and not lower the bar. When they come to understand their child will be expected to be more engaged and to know more as a result of our efforts, I think we’ll be able to ameliorate the anxiety that some parents have around preparing students to go to college.
What differences do you see in student behavior, participation, etc.?
Students are more responsible and much more engaged and have a much deeper understanding of what they’re involved in. They can articulate it in ways that I have never found in a teacher-dominated classroom. When you make students the primary person in the learning process, then they can talk about it. The [Center for Best Practices] video clips, at least the ones I saw of ours, are a good example of what’s going on.
What are the next steps for RSU 57?
We’ll continue to improve and work toward 100 percent of students achieving at or above the levels of proficiency we expect. There’s no next step; there’s just an “always step”.
This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.