AA schools’ priorities include standards-based grading, new courses in health occupations, entrepreneurship

Friday, July 9, 2021

There are changes ahead for the Alta-Aurelia schools, as the district is looking for opportunities to offer more “personalized learning opportunities,” according to Superintendent William Walters.

The school board addressed priorities for the coming school year during a recent meeting.

The district has been considering standards-based grading for some time and hopes to begin that process. Rather than just giving letter grades or pass-fail results on a report card, such a system would measure whether students have become competent in specific skills offered in their classes.

The information would help parents monitor the skills their student is learning, and where they may need some specific help, Walters said.

The staff worked last year toward developing a standards-based grading system, based on state learning standards. Teachers have identified three to five skills that are most vital for students in advancing to their next level, Walters said. He said he has seen success in such a system elsewhere. “It’s not new to me. It works,” he said.

Another part of personalized learning is new course offerings that the district is researching.

One of the first, starting this fall, will be a Health Occupations course, to be led by the high school nurse. If students are successful, they could leave the course with CNA certification to jumpstart a career in the field.

“The course would help them get prepped for the test to get certified. There’s a shortage in the field, and the money is good,” The superintendent said. Just as importantly, the course would allow students to visit nursing homes and medical clinics, for an early chance to determine whether they really want to pursue the health care field. Fourteen students have registered for the first offering of the class.

Also new will be an entrepreneurship program.

“Kids will learn how to build their own business, learn it from the ground up. We want to have a lab where kids go to brainstorm an idea for a business, learn how to make money and manage money, and find out what’s next,” Walters said. “It taps into the creativity of our kids. If you teach kids how to start a business, there is so much they can learn about life after high school.”

Staff member Tim Galvin will guide the program as an offshoot of the existing business courses.

The district will also be pursuing a LETRS - Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling - program to help struggling readers.

Research shows that kids who do not learn reading skills by third grade have a slim chance of ever catching up to become good readers, Walters said. “This can help us change that. We have researched the program, and it is really good at reaching kids after third grade level. Now we have an option, we have researched based programming to help our kids.”

Many of the things the district is realizing or working on were planned earlier.

“To be honest, COVID became the priority last year, and other things had to wait. We are really excited to be able to move forward with them this year,” Walters said.