A short conversation with Virgel Hammonds of RSU 2
Are you glad you undertook the project of implementing a learner-centered education system?
Absolutely. I feel it's the right move to positively impact and support all children, versus a traditional system that may help many children and not the children that struggle with learning. A true standards-based and learning-centered model ensures success for all kids.
Given that it's too early for data, what makes you think this system is having a positive impact?
It's the feedback we're getting from teachers and students. I'm in constant dialogue with teachers and trying to understand how we can improve. The feedback from teachers is that they're working extremely hard, but they're seeing the results from our kids. The specific instruction that each child needs is being addressed. In respect to kids, they're finding that they're able to learn in a variety of ways. They're able to make mistakes in the learning process but still achieve advanced levels of knowledge while proving and showing evidence of learning that's beneficial to them. That brings them a great deal of satisfaction, but we still have quite a bit of work to do.
Given the chance, what would you have done differently?
A piece that we’re really working on now; is to develop partnerships with community members outside of our school walls. We want to provide kids with learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom. If we had had those in place, that would have been extremely beneficial. Right now, that’s what we’ve been striving to build this past spring and this summer so that we have those in place for this fall. Kids would often ask, “Why do I need to learn those standards? I’m never going to use this.” If they could see daily how the classroom instruction correlates to the real world, it makes learning more meaningful to the child.
How have you excelled?
I think the piece that I’m really proud of is the time that our teachers and administrators have taken to listen to students in addition to the continued focus on involving parents in the process. And the leadership team; the time they’ve taken to make sure our staff is adjusting and supported throughout the instructional year. The level of student involvement in the policies of the schools has been tremendous. To hear kids say, “I was part of shaping the honor role policy” that’s wonderful. How often do you hear that in schools? We’ve excelled not just in the learning process but also in how our schools run on a daily basis.
What changes are you seeing in your teachers? Do they support the effort?
As the report lays out, our teachers are working extremely hard. I’ve heard teachers say, “I’ve worked harder than I ever have before in all my years as an educator yet it’s meaningful because I can see the growth in the kids.” Our big goal this year is refining our instructional practices. Now that our proficiency standards and reporting processes are established throughout the RSU, we can continue to grow and hone our skills instructionally and improve as learning practitioners.
What are parents’ reactions?
Parents, more than anything, want what's best for their children. Many have asked many questions to ensure the success of their children. Though we've had countless parent meetings, we continue to answer questions and show them processes and invite them to classrooms and let them know that things are improving quickly. We'll continue to do that. I think that's the practice at all schools, all learning systems. That's something we should always strive to do; involve parents in the educational process. We need to partner with them to ensure the success of all kids.
What differences do you see in student behavior, participation, etc.?
Student participation this year has been amazing. I’ve had countless student meetings. We ask, “What isn’t working well?” “Why isn’t it working well?” “What are other kids saying?” Having that honest dialogue has been fantastic. We’ve pulled in a number of kids from different communities and have asked what helped them to develop more ownership of learning processes in their schools. We’ve been extremely thankful that they’ve given up hours of their summer time to come to my office and talk about what we can do better.
What are the next steps for RSU 2?
We'll continue to refine our standards and provide training and support for our teachers and our kids, in addition to our parents. A big focus is around instruction, so now that our standards are more in place, and we don't need to teach many of our teachers about Educate software and how to use it as an instructional tool, we can focus on how do we improve our craft? How do we make sure kids are continuing to improve in the learning process and give them that voice? This year's all about refinement and improving.
I'm extremely proud of the staff, the leadership team and our kids. They've really taken the bull by the horns and made this entire process their own. The staff and the kids have really taken a great deal of ownership. Though the standards may be the same, the approach may be different in each of our schools. It's phenomenal to see the amount of growth that's occurred.
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.