Making our schools better

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BENNINGTON — While the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium results released in September didn't paint a rosy picture of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, efforts continue to improve student performance on an individual level.

"We wanted to offer this report to you under the umbrella of 'What are we doing to help all of our students?'" said SVSU Assistant Superintendent Donna Leep on Wednesday, speaking before the Mount Anthony Union School Board. Leep, along with curriculum director and interim MAU High School Principal Laura Boudreau, has been touring around to each of the supervisory union's to present on their process and progress.

The work the SVSU is doing goes well beyond standardized test scores. "We've been advised by (Secretary of Education) Rebecca Holcombe that we shouldn't be reading (SBAC) results in a comparative model, but should be looking at the results in terms of each school in the SVSU and our strengths and our challenges," said Boudreau.

Leep said that much of the supervisory union's work is crafted based on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama in 2015. In addition to that, Vermont's state plan emphasizes prioritizing support for Vermont's most vulnerable students, prepare students to be members of the state's growing economy, and frame proposals that will be affordable to implement and maintain.

Per state guidelines, the SVSU as a whole and each individual school completes a Continuous Improvement Plan each year. "We use data-informed decision making to really look closely at our student assessments and we look to support our most vulnerable students," said Leep, "and many of the ways that we do it are with comprehensive systems and resources that are offered to all schools, like our data coach and our math coach, to help improve instructional strategies to meet our Common Core Standards.

The district-wide Continuous Improvement Plan is made up of six primary goals, said Boudreau, which the school system seeks to put into place by spring of 2020: First, to create a leadership team made up of school and district-level staff to, using an evidence-based approach, implement and oversees the schools' multi-tiered systems of support model; Second, to implement said program by collaborating with school leaders to establish a framework and process; Third, to provide increased opportunities for professional development and learning for faculty at all grades levels; Fourth, to develop a data-based framework for assessing individual student achievement; Fifth to improve engagement with students' families; and sixth, to develop a protocol to hire and retain highly effective teachers.

"We've been really analyzing this data to figure out where we need to provide instructional support," said Boudreau. "So we have spent a lot of time with hundreds of teachers in team meetings and grade-level teams, making sure that the curriculum documents you see on the website, that they understand it, making sure that they know what is their role in making sure children are ready for the next level. That's been an ongoing piece." She brought up fifth grade math, which the data identified as a weak point across the SU, and has been a focus of their improvement efforts.

Boudreau said that much of their work comes down to making thing consistent for learners. "Children's brains like it when things make sense," she said. "So when everyone's aware what the standards are that we teach to and you understand what your role is, that is actually, in a very simple way, going to help students move forward. We're trying to provide those opportunities for teachers to figure that out so they can support their students."

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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