Kyrene unfolded its 2017 – 2018 school year with the launch of a newly redesigned program placing added emphasis on providing middle school students with the educational tools and support systems they need to achieve at maximum potential.
The program fell into place following formation of a group involving principals, teachers, students, families and community members charged with creating a new vision for the future of Kyrene’s middle schools.
Working collaboratively, they completed a redesign of the middle-school program with the objective to increase achievement, provide learning opportunities and support for all students; to continue the tradition of excellence in Kyrene; and, to encourage families to choose Kyrene schools.
The specific elements of the curriculum redesign include a renewed concentration on academic excellence, more responsive instruction and a new emphasis on encouraging a student’s personal initiative and self-advocacy, which is known as student agency.
“Agency is the opposite of helplessness and it teaches students the importance of perseverance,” said Scott Maxwell, district director of school effectiveness.
“Students must develop grit, determination and passion to move forward to reach their goals,” said Maxwell.
“In middle school, they learn interpersonal skills that will help them over a lifetime.”
The district adopted these changes in response to s recent curriculum audit, and Maxwell believes that the new emphases will improve students’ academic performance and college readiness.
In a presentation to the Kyrene Governing Board, Maxwell outlined the goals of more responsive instruction:
“To provide support that meets the cognitive and non-cognitive needs of students.” In other words, said Maxwell, “We want to create a classroom culture where students are joyfully engaged, meaningfully on-task and feel ownership for their individual and collective successes in class, college and life.”
In addition to the environment in classrooms, progress is being made on developing written curriculum guides to have a common academic framework for all Kyrene schools in the district, according to Maxell.
The first guides being updated are for English Language Arts and Math. Other curriculum teams are focused on Science and Social Studies while a third is working toward meeting the needs of gifted and advanced learners in collaboration with the state’s Department of Instruction.
Each Kyrene middle school offers opportunities for students identified as gifted, as well as for advanced learners.
Grade level and advanced classes are available in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. High-school level courses in mathematics and Spanish are available to students who qualify.
“We plan to increase the advanced course offerings for students and now have a gifted program at middle schools,” said Maxwell.
“We also plan to ensure quality instruction to students by offering teachers more professional development.”
The district is reviewing the available on-line assessment tools to make sure that learning by students is accomplished in the four core content areas.
Maxwell is one of two directors in the district who are devoted to school effectiveness.
His past teaching experience includes stints in China, South Africa and three other U.S. states. He most recently worked at the Arizona Board of Education, where he visited districts and their classrooms all across the state.
From Maxwell’s perspective, the work being done in the Kyrene district is on the leading edge.
“I say to families, if you’re not impressed with what’s happening in Kyrene, then you’re not paying attention.”
More information about Kyrene’s middle school re-design and the curriculum choices for students can be found at www.kyrene.org