Monday, October 1, 2012

2012 Report to the Public recap

AHS student presenters give a demonstration on a smartboard during New Tech tour which was part of September's Report to the Public.

2012 Report to the Public recap - Enrollment increases, Board publishes goals, New Tech facility tour

Increasing enrollment, new Board of Education goals and a tour of the New Tech facility at AHS made for an eventful 2012 Report to the Public. Arkadelphia Public Schools Superintendent Donnie Whitten began the report with an overview of the current “state of the schools” presentation before transitioning into the New Tech tour. The annual report is presented each September and includes information on the budget, personnel, academic and extracurricular programs and current trends in the district. The event concluded with September’s Board of Education meeting.


Enrollment in the Arkadelphia Public Schools continues to climb. According to figures Whitten announced in September’s annual report and board meeting, enrollment increased to 1,994 students in kindergarten throughthe 12th grade. This figure reflects the districts average daily membership (ADM) and is used to calculate state funding for APSD. The figure is reached by averaging attendance numbers taken at three times throughout the 2011-12 school year.

In 2009, K-12 enrollment was 1,920. That increased by 27students to 1,947 in 2010, and again increased by 17 students to 1,964 in 2011.

Whitten said that he is pleased to see the trend of increasing enrollment and welcomes the families joining the Arkadelphia Public Schools.

In addition to the 1,994 students counted in the ADM, there are 100 students enrolled in the Early Childhood Center and 57 in the Pre-K program, giving an overall total of 2,151 students in the APSD. However, these additional Early Childhood Center and Pre-K numbers do not count toward state funding.

Board Goals

Whitten also presented the Board of Education’s goals for 2012-13. Over the summer, the board held three meetings with a facilitator from the ArkansasSchool Board Association to develop the goals they will use to guide their approach to the 2012-13 school year. Now that the goals are set and published, the next step is to involve the faculty, staff and other district stakeholders in the strategies to help implement the goals and monitor their success.

"It's natural that the board would be focused on academic excellence, the learning environment, the facilities, the district's relationship with the community and telling our story to our many publics,” Board President Dr. Jeff Root said, “but we hope the clear statements of the goals also emphasize the board's role in support of our teachers and administrators. We expect high quality and we will support the district as it pursues excellence.”

The goals the board will strive to achieve during 2012-13 are:

Goal 1: Tell the Arkadelphia School District story accurately to all stakeholders.

Goal 2: Provide the necessary funds, resources and focus to support the academic achievement of all students.

Goal 3: Assess and improve the safety and learning environment of our students in all schools.

Goal 4: Investigate district facility needs and plans.

Goal 5: Identify and utilize all possible external community resources to support student academic achievement.

With the creation of the goals the board acknowledges that many strengths exist in the district which can be built upon and that there are areas that require improvement.

"We believe in the value of being proactive instead of strictly waiting for issues to come to us,” Root said. “As a district, we want to anticipate our opportunities and our challenges. That involves both building on our strengths and addressing our weaknesses. Some of our recent successes as a district, such as rising test scores and New Tech at AHS, are the result of aproactive approach by our administrators and classroom teachers. The board wants to support that mindset."

As the school year progresses, the board will actively seek to produce tangible results in their effort to address each topic.

New Tech tour

Following Whitten's presentation of the annual report, a tour of Arkadelphia High School's New Tech facility was led by Assistant Principal and AHS New Tech Director Cheryl Merk. AHS freshmen and teachers involved in the New Tech program guided participants through the areas of AHS, remodeled to accommodate the paired classes and teamwork and technology-oriented structure. Large class spaces, with circular tables with Smart Boards and laptops form the progressive learning environment designed to simulate the fast paced environments of modern college campuses and the workplace.

The program in its inaugural year at AHS, and was startedwith this year’s freshmen class. By 2016, the program will be integrated from freshmen to senior levels at the high school.

“It is extraordinary to see the idea of New Tech become a reality for our district in less than one year,” Whitten said. “Our staff has done a tremendous job of preparing for this innovative initiative.” 

AHS students lead attendees on a tour of the New Tech facilities, including the  GeoDesign lab pictured above and Humanities class shown below.

The first presentation of the tour was delivered by students from Bud McMillion and James Williams’s GeoDesign class, which is a “paired”class of engineering and geometry. The group’s design project was a smartphone case with an integrated ID card holder. Students explained how their group took an open ended assignment and then progressed as a team toward a physical, final product and what challenges they faced along the way.

Students elaborated on the advantages of having school-issued laptops to utilize on campus and at home; the most commonly cited advantage being that their text books are now replaced with e-book versions accessed through their computers, eliminating the need to tote heavy backpacksback and forth to classes and home. The groups can also collaborate on projects via the internet while working from home after the school day has ended. If a student was not able to be on campus during the day, due to illness or an activity that took them elsewhere, as long as there is access to the internet, they are still able to receive their assignments and continue work with their group in real time. 

Other stops on the tour included explanations from students and teachers on key elements of the New Tech program including student norms, school-wide learning outcomes, and Echo.

The Student Norms were presented by students from Sean Queen and Ben Barras’s Humanities class, which pairs English and Civics/Economics. All 156 members of the freshmen class contributed to the creation of the norms which, in conjunction with the AHS handbook, defines the expectations of the students. The norms serve as the guidelines for day-to-day operation of the classrooms and include items such as students beginning work as soon as class starts without needing to be asked to do so, movement around the classroom being limited to only what is necessary and discipline matters being handled individually instead of blanket punishments being issued to entire groups.

“Every freshman had input on what the norms would be,” Merk said. “After the norms were prepared, they presented them to a board of faculty and parents for approval.”

Following the student norms presentation, Kelly Foshee and Katherine Sykes explained the school-wide learning outcomes. Foshee and Sykesco teach Phylgebra, which is a pairing of Physical Science and Algebra. The school-wide learning outcomes establish a rubric which determines how students in the New Tech program will be graded in every subject, and provides a footing for students to better understand how the material they are learning in the classroom is relevant to life after high school.

60% - Content mastery: AHS NewTech students will learn the state approved contentfor each class.

10% - Critical thinking: AHS NewTech Students will be able to approach problem solving by considering a variety of viewpoints and will use organizedand rational methods for developing solutions.

10% - Communication: AHS NewTech Students will be able to effectively share ideas and knowledge through various modes including: Formal and informal writing, speaking, listening, and the use of visual aids.

5% - Collaboration: AHS NewTech Students will be able to develop a positive vocabulary and show an understanding of group dynamics by working together effectively in a professional environment.

5% - Global and community awareness: AHS NewTech Students will actively engage and participate in making connections with their community and beyond while demonstrating an understanding of global issues.

5% - Technology: AHS NewTech Students will be able to use available technological resources and demonstrate professional etiquette when using formal and informal communications.

5% - Work ethic: AHS NewTech Students will show the ability to be ontime, on task, and contribute positively to school culture.

Since the learning outcomes are school-wide, the principles apply to every New Tech class. For instance, students in Algebra are also being graded on their ability to communicate using proper grammar.

Teachers Rebecca Alexander and Amy Hornsby ended the tour with a presentation on Echo, the online platform used to post assignments, provide the materials necessary to complete assignments, host discussion forums for classes and groups and give students their grades.

“We owe the success of the tour to the teachers that were involved,” Merk said. “They were the ones who recruited the student presenters and really orchestrated the event.”

As for the New Tech program overall, Merk is pleased to see how well the freshmen are adapting the new environment.

“It takes an entire district to make this program work,”Merk said, “and the students coming up from the middle school are very well prepared to take on this endeavor.”

By Sean Ruggles, APSD Director of Communications

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