North Sanpete School District making empowerment its central theme this year
By Daniela Vazquez
MT. PLEASANT—Empowerment will be a central theme in the North Sanpete School District (NSSD) this year, beginning with teachers and trickling down to the student level, Superintendent Sam Ray told faculty and staff at a semester-opening institute on Monday.
“I can’t do everything in the whole district. I can’t be in charge of everything,” Ray said at the meeting, held at North Sanpete High School. “We have great leaders, but I will always be willing to talk with anyone about finding a solution. I will discuss with you things we can do to better share in the [growth] opportunity.”
Ray reviewed a five-year plan adopted during the 2014-15 school year. The district is moving into the third year of the plan.
Last year, the focus was setting high standards for what students are expected to learn. This year, the plan goes into what Ray described as an “intervention” phase, in which educators make sure they know whether or not students are learning material.
If students are really learning the material, teachers, working in collaborative teams known as professional learning communities (PLCs) will implement intervention plans. The bottom line is that teachers will take accountability for what happens in their classrooms.
Ray said he attended a conference and heard one principal say that no teacher in Utah knows their common core curriculum.
“Our teachers have been right up there with the core,” he said. “They know exactly what they expect of their students.”
Education Advisor Tami Pyfer performed extensive research and gathered national data after she heard legislators and other public officials critique Utah’s education system.
This is what she found: All four-year colleges with education majors in Utah are above the national average. This means Utah isn’t scraping the bottom of the barrel to find well-rounded educators.
Ray said he believes local schools are receiving the best and brightest educators the nation has to offer. But a question arose about how to keep these educators in the classrooms.
According to Pyfer’s research, only 58 percent of educators in Utah remained in their classroom during a five-year timeframe (2010-2015).
This is only one of the challenges Utah schools have to face each year. An additional challenge teachers face is a larger pupil to teacher ratio. The national average is 16 to one, with Utah standing in at 23.1 to one.
Despite overall improvement in public and higher education outcomes, another challenge is the achievement gap in scores and graduation rates for low-income students and minorities.
Ray will serve as an appeal to promote “Utah solutions to Utah challenges,” following suit from the late Dr. Chase Peterson, former president of the University of Utah who said about the education system, “Preserving the good and promoting the better.”
Moving forward, the goals are to work on common assessments and interventions and then to implement gifted and talented programs for students testing at a higher proficiency.
Ray said overall flexibility will be a key component in a successful outcome of the plan.
Faculty members are encouraged to outline plans they feel would be beneficial for the greater good of students.
“If there is a way to do it better, or a way that works better for [teachers], let’s do it,” Ray said. “We’re all headed in the same direction.”
North Sanpete Middle School science teacher Brad Bentley began a type of empowerment movement after he transitioned from the North Sanpete High School biology department to seventh grade science.
Frustrated by Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) scores, he created a way to help students be the masters of their own scores.
This motivational technique was instigated by informing students of the 31 percent score from the previous year, and then meeting with each student and letting them come up with specific goals on how to raise the overall SAGE score.
Bentley said students bought into the plan and paired what he had been teaching with a focus on core concepts. The end result was an increase in scores from 31 percent to 42 percent over the course of the year.
Ray said a term used in business will now be implemented into the schools—entrepreneurialism. This gives everyone, from district leaders to students, freedom to present fresh ideas and create new systems for enhanced learning opportunities, which do not rely on outside parties to dictate innovation.
“We did excellent last year, and I can only imagine what our educators will accomplish this year,” Ray said at the closing of the meeting. “We need to show students we can work together to achieve great things.”