Why is the District looking at starting high school later?
How come the elementary school report cards look different this year?
What's being done so that all students get to experience some of our best field trips?
When our school district faces questions, looks at policy, makes changes or plans for the future, our guiding document is "All Forward," the strategic plan that we began implementing five years ago.
The broad goals and aspirations of the strategic plan are to build a District that is inclusive of all students and helps them realize their full potential both inside the classroom and beyond.
We are realizing these aspirations by transforming our curriculum so that it emphasizes dignifying student voice -- allowing students to choose meaningful paths in their individual learning journeys – and redefining success beyond traditional measures such as GPA. We are offering additional professional development for our teachers so that they can deliver this reimagined curriculum in innovative and differentiated ways to meet students' needs. Our strategic plan initiatives are distinct, yet interconnected, as we know many different factors affect our students' outcomes.
For example, the Challenge Success surveys showed that some students are stressed about grades and often don't see the value of certain homework assignments. Their stress can be aggravated when they are tired or feel they don't have enough hours in the day to get everything done. While delaying the high school start time might be a partial fix, other issues -- such as examining how and why homework is assigned, the role of grades, incorporating Habits of Mind and restorative practices – may all play a role in helping students develop necessary dispositions and fostering a healthier school culture and climate. This can lead to reducing student stress and ultimately improving student outcomes.
Similarly, as we move forward with plans to build a new 5-8 middle school to meet the challenge of growing enrollment, we are not just looking at the physical facilities, but we are reimagining the overall school experience for grades K-4 and 5-8. What changes will be made to curriculum, the way days will be planned, how teachers will collaborate, how students will be able to exercise choice in what they study and experience, etc? The decisions we make to answer these questions will be based on the strategic plan principles such as student-driven schools, redefining success, transformative curriculum and professional development.
Here are areas where we are innovating, which will be brought to scale throughout the District in the coming year.
- Creating partnerships with community organizations for experiential learning for all students, within and beyond the classroom
- Giving students the skills to calmly seek options and solutions when they encounter challenges
- Examining options for the District to encourage better sleep habits to improve student engagement and reduce student stress
- Looking at how we can help students understand their roles in the school community and the impact of their actions to encourage positive decision-making
- Changing homework practices so that students find meaning and purpose in their assignments
- Gathering student input and creating strategies within our schools to help our students redefine and achieve success
- Developing digital portfolios that will enable students to reflect on their progress and tell their own academic stories over time
- Changing grading practices to reflect student learning more broadly
- Changing elementary report cards to help families gain a better understanding of student process and progress, beyond grades and behaviors, to a more holistic definition of success.
All of these initiatives are planned through a lens of equity and access to foster potential for all of our students. Examples of our work in this important area include the ongoing efforts of the Achievement Imperative Task Force, Learning Plans and a tutoring initiative that emphasizes pre-teaching concepts, to build student confidence and participation in class. It's also why we revised our fifth-grade lessons on human development, aligning the curriculum with Policy 259, which ensures that gender expansive and transgender students feel comfortable, connected and valued in our schools. In addition, in professional development, staff are being trained to recognize implicit bias and take corrective action, so that every individual student within our diverse student body feels respected.
As you can see, the strategic plan is a true reflection of our values and priorities. It guides every decision and innovation. We believe it will enable Lower Merion School District to continue to lead in the areas most important for our students to fully embody our district motto, "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve."