RSU 57 –Massabesic Schools
The Logical Next Step
Overview and Summary
Regional School Unit 57 covers a large swatch of land an hour west of Portland, almost to the New Hampshire border. It comprises the towns of Alfred, Limerick, Lyman, Newfield, Shapleigh and Waterboro. The district has historically been one of the larger in the state and while it has a new name (it was formerly MSAD 57), its makeup has not changed. The district has five elementary schools, ranging in size from approximately 160 students to 525 students. These elementary schools feed into Massabesic Middle School (around 800 students) and Massabesic High School (around 1,030).
The perception within the district has been that they’ve done relatively well in terms of test scores over the years, despite perennial budget woes. More than a decade ago, however, the district decided “relatively well” was inadequate and embraced a path toward what it has termed “performance-based education.” The vision is based around the idea that, in education, time should not be the constant, learning should be; and around the idea that schools, ethically, are required to teach all kids, not just some, and not even most. By committing to these two philosophical shifts, RSU 57 committed to fundamental organizational change. This case study is an exploration of how RSU 57 has been implementing this change. The intended audience of the case study is educators and school leaders who are contemplating making such a move in their own district.
The current drive toward performance-based education is not so much a radical departure for RSU 57 as it is a continuation of ongoing work. Several themes emerge from the case study regarding RSU 57’s movement:
- A History of Reform. Since at least 1999, RSU 57 and schools within the district had done extensive work with curriculum reform, differentiation, the responsive classroom, PLCs and other progressive reforms. These reform efforts were driven by both teachers and administrators, but they were also the product of a culture that valued professional curiosity. In 2003, the elementary schools had adopted a standards-referenced report card. In 2009, the middle school adopted a standards-referenced report card. When they encountered the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) in 2009, it wasn’t the content of RISC’s ideas that was new. Rather, it was the systemic nature with which these ideas were brought together.
- Capacity. Because of this history, when the Maine Department of Education and RISC assessed the district and its capacity to enact deep change, it found considerable strengths in the areas of leadership, shared vision, instruction, standards, assessments, reporting and continuous improvement. RSU 57, in other words, was ripe for reform. Everything the district has done since then has worked to increase its capacity for this change. Internal professional development and work with the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning all improve the ability of the district to enact this change.
- Professional Development. Providing a consistent sequence of professional development to all faculty and administration has been seen as key to the work’s success. It has also been the primary challenge for district administration over the past three years – partly because of the eagerness of teachers to participate in the training. For those few who were unable to participate, the district ultimately insisted that they do so, and has provided opportunities beyond the RISC trainings.
- Leadership. The district leadership has been steadfast in its support of performance-based, student-centered reform since 2009, and parts of it going back even further. The moral imperative behind such work is thoroughly embedded in the district culture. Every level of leadership, from the school board to teacher-leaders, has affirmed that this is the direction the district is going. One way that this has been enacted, for example, is in the district’s adoption of The Art and Science and Teaching as its instructional model for the purposes of teacher and principal evaluations; basically saying that, in RSU 57, proficiency-based, student-centered teaching defines good teaching.
- Slow and Steady. At no point has the district engaged in what one administrator called “hysterical” change. For example, when the school board adopted the new proficiency-based, student-centered curriculum maps, it was only after abundant time had been spent working with the curriculum committee and the school board at large. At every step of the process, the district has sought to have the proposed next step seem logical and appropriate to stakeholders.
RSU 57 has been moving toward performance-based, student-centered learning for more than a decade. Discovering comprehensive models – The Art and Science of Teacher, RISC – that synthesized the various elements of “best practice” encouraged the district to commit to the new vision. The ability and desire of the district’s faculty to learn and grow made it possible to begin achieving it.