Lawrence schools’ education redesign plans focus on personalized learning opportunities

photo by: Meeting screenshot/USD 497 YouTube page

The Lawrence school board meets through video conference on Monday, May 11, 2020.

A new school day schedule that provides class periods where students decide how and what they are learning could be on the horizon for Free State High School.

Michelle Salmans, a Free State fine arts teacher, told the Lawrence school board on Monday that a new schedule format would help facilitate many different ideas a team of teachers came up with to redesign education at the school.

“Most of the things we wanted to do, there was no way we could do that with the schedule we’re in,” Salmans said.

The schedule change is just one of the ways groups from four Lawrence schools — Broken Arrow Elementary, Deerfield Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary and Free State — plan to redesign their education methods to provide students with more personalized learning opportunities in the future.

The schools’ plans are part of the district’s participation in the Apollo phase of the Kansas State Department of Education’s Kansans Can school redesign project, which aims to move public education into a model driven by four principles: student success skills, personalized learning, community partnerships and real-world applications, according to talking points from KSDE. The Lawrence schools are expected to implement their plans during the 2020-21 school year.

Free State’s proposed schedule format would allow for a schedule periods called Free State Flex Time. The periods would allow students to spend it based on a list of options, such as meeting with teachers for various learning opportunities outside their regular classes. The team gave examples of teachers providing lessons on life skills like meal planning or providing time to work on community engagement projects, among other things.

Along with a new schedule, the Free State team said they hope to provide more learning opportunities for students to explore career pathways and offer more personal study time to students, among other ideas.

Groups for the three elementary schools all said they want to provide more personalized education to students by incorporating more play-based and project-based learning opportunities. They also said they would like to install more small group or individual learning methods to increase student achievement.

More detailed layouts of the plans have been published in the board’s meeting agenda on the school district’s website, www.usd497.org/SchoolBoard.

Aspects of the schools’ redesign plans were meant to be piloted during the current school year, but that was disrupted when school buildings were closed for the coronavirus pandemic. To make up for that, Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said KSDE has allowed the four schools to test the plans when schools reopen in the fall with the goal to fully launch their plans in January 2021.

Later in the fall, following the pilot period, the schools are required to report their plans to KSDE and receive its approval. Stubblefield said there is no current date for when that could happen, but she expects it would be in October or November.

School board members told the teams they were impressed and excited about their plans. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said he could also hear the excitement from the teachers as they reported them to the board.

“Rethinking schools is hard, but when you’re given permission to do it — it’s on,” Lewis said. “I just can’t wait to see what happens. I’m super excited.”


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