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Southern Minnesota schools exploring collaboration

Talks still at exploratory stage

November 11, 2010
By Kremena Spengler, Staff Writer

NEW ULM - As schools look for efficiencies during a budget squeeze, a group of south central Minnesota schools is considering joint programs and staff training.

The group, including New Ulm, already cooperates in some areas (such as buying health insurance) as part of a regional service co-op.

The schools began meeting over the past summer to explore possibilities for improving the use of financial resources and fostering academic partnerships between the K-12 systems, as well post-high school institutions in this part of the state.

The group engaged in the talks is "fluid" at this point, says Superintendent Harold Remme. The co-op includes 38 schools. All are invited to participate in the talks, but some attend and some don't.

The effort was triggered by another successful partnership - 25 schools in southwestern Minnesota, including Springfield and Sleepy Eye, last year succeeded in obtaining approval from the state Department of Education to start and end the school year early, so they could gain instructional days before mandated state tests in April. That plan was also anchored around joint teacher workshops.

The effort of which New Ulm is part is evolving toward a broader regional focus, rather than changing school start and end dates, indicates Remme. The goal is to identify and implement practices and programs to increase school capacity, instructional quality and student achievement.

Based on data from surveying the schools in the group, the themes identified for regional focus are: professional learning communities (PLCs, or groups of teachers by grade level or subject area who coordinate practices to improve data-based teaching and learning); Response to Intervention (RtI, an early elementary program to boost reading skills); Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS, an elementary behavior modification program based on involving a wide range of staff); alignment of essential learner outcomes, assessments, data analysis and interventions; and differentiation of instruction.

The vision for the region is to create a model that has components for districts to engage at different points depending on their needs, added Remme.

The model would use PLCs as the vehicle for collaboration, answering the questions, "what do we do when students have learned it" and "what do we do when students have not learned it."

The group wants to accomplish this through the use of aligned standards and assessments, analysis of data, differentiation, PBIS and RtI, sums up Remme.

How is it different from what the districts are doing now?

Together, the districts will be able to create an economy of scale and leverage their resources to provide opportunities that, individually, they may not be able to provide or sustain over time, Remme says.

The hope is that its success as a region in this collaboration will set an example for others of how working together can raise student achievement, by building capacity in staff, so that students are challenged every day.

The schools have some more specific elements of collaboration in mind:

Initiating a regional extended year program beginning in the summer of 2011, focused on addressing reading and math deficiencies. The goal of the program would be to remediate academic difficulties through frequent progress measurement and research-based interventions.

Requesting a financial commitment to support staff development activities in the region

Customizing training based on the needs of individual districts

Training principals, superintendents and identified instructional coaches in the model by Aug. 1, 2011

Beginning in-service for all teachers during the 2011-12 instructional year

Expanding and supporting all schools in the progression through the components of the model in 2012-13

Providing ongoing training and support for all participants to build capacity at all stages of implementation of the different components of the model

Monitoring and adjusting the training and support model based on the schools' capacity and needs for 2013-14

Obtaining support from the partner districts for the proposed model

Developing a proposal to present to higher education partners for regional extended day/year initiatives, leadership training and support of the components of the model

Identifying the resources within the partner districts to leverage for training and implementation.



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