By Linda Kor
The Winslow School District is starting a new school year next week, and will be integrating teaching with technology to assist both students and teachers in creating a successful learning experience.
As the new school year begins enrollment is slightly higher than last year with more than 2,200 students enrolled at the district. District officials plan to build upon methods that have already been implemented and to make some new changes in classrooms.
The district has been working with Beyond Textbooks, a curriculum created by Vail School District that focuses on methods of individual student achievement instead of going through a textbook from beginning to end. By using this curriculum, teachers are able to determine right away where the students are having success and where they may be struggling.
“For the first time we are able to generate assessment data so that we are now able to tell in between testing what the students are understanding,” explained Superintendent Lance Heister, adding that teachers are utilizing data driven exercises, allowing them to better understand each student’s needs. The use of that curriculum in conjunction with the Flexbooks program allows teachers to produce and customize lessons online, giving students more opportunities to grasp concepts and move forward.
Keeping up with the latest teaching methods is just one aspect of educating students in an ever-expanding technological age. Winslow, like other rural districts, struggles to make certain that students in the district have the same advantages as students in metropolitan areas when it comes to accessing technology. “We have 1,500 laptops with the goal to eventually have one-on-one usage for each student, but funding cuts by the state make that a challenge,” explained Heister.
In larger districts such as those in Maricopa County, wireless networking is already in place while districts in rural areas are just now able to implement wireless networking. Over the summer a wireless network was installed at each of the campuses in the Winslow School District making the Internet accessible for teachers and students on campus, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that students will have access at home, particularly in reservation areas. “In the Valley a lot of kids go home to technology; out here it’s not necessarily that way. In addition, we will have one network with hundreds of people trying to access it. I imagine there will be some bugs to work out as we go,” stated Heister.
He also noted that this will be the second year that the district will utilize academic coaches to assist teachers. These coaches are the district’s top teachers who work with other teachers to help strengthen teaching practices. “The coaches assist the teachers by modeling strategies and providing materials for lessons,” Heister said. “Most teachers feel like they’re out on an island and this helps them to feel more connected.”
The district has also made the decision to go from full-day to half-day kindergarten this year. “It’s not something that we wanted to do, but the budget just wouldn’t allow for us to continue a full-day kindergarten. We only get funds from the state for half-day, with the rest coming out of our budget, and we aren’t able to do that at this point,” said Heister, adding that a half-day of schooling will be a challenge for teachers whose students will have to meet the requirements of the curriculum that was taught in a full day last year.
“It will be a challenge. We have many students who come into kindergarten with a vocabulary of 500 words or less, when the average is 3,500 words. Statistically, that means a less than 12 percent chance of graduating high school. In my opinion, these kindergarten teachers create miracles, because we have a graduation rate of 86 percent,” said Heister. “It can be difficult, but we see the value in all the hard work.”