The Lakeland Way

And here’s my third article on the Common Core for ASCD. You can also see the article here and sign up here to get ASCD’s Common Core-focused newsletter. Enjoy!

At Lakeland Joint School District 272, in Rathdrum, Idaho, teachers, staff, and district administrators work and interact with one another in a manner that they call the Lakeland Way. It is marked by several important qualities – it’s transparent, results-oriented, and kid-focused – but most of all, it is collaborative and highly democratic, including everyone’s voice in the process. It is how the district has worked on initiatives in the past, and, as might be expected, it is how the district is tackling the work surrounding the Common Core State Standards.

Lakeland and its Way are led by the district’s leader, Dr. Mary Ann Ranells, who came to Lakeland four years ago, after three years at the state education department. Located in northern Idaho, just five miles from the Washington State border, Lakeland has 4300 students. There are six elementary schools, all of which are school-wide Title I, two junior high schools, two high schools, and one alternative school. All 11 schools have consistently made Adequate Yearly Progress.

The district’s work on helping students achieve college and career readiness actually began four years ago, when Ranells first arrived.

“Back then, my leadership team and I noticed that our student writing was not where we wanted it to be,” she says, “and we wanted to be sure that we involved every single teacher in the school district to help improve it.” To do that, each grade level and subject area team created writing prompts that they gave their students. Ranells then had all Lakeland teachers gather at one of the high schools, with student writing in hand, where they trained on the scoring of the writing and then did just that – scored it.

“The state had a writing assessment,” Ranells recalls, “but only for a few grade levels. We wanted more information than a few grade levels. And we learned so many lessons through this work, given all of the conversations that we had, not only about our kids and their writing but also about us as an organization and issues related to curriculum alignment.”

The district’s work with writing, which epitomized the Lakeland Way, would soon serve the district well, as it prepared to implement the Common Core State Standards.

Ranells and her leadership team had been reading about the Common Core State Standards because the Idaho state legislature had adopted them on January 24, 2011, and provided districts across the state with a timeline for implementation. “We wanted to approach this very logically,” says Ranells, “using some of the processes that we had learned from the writing work.”

In January 2012, all Lakeland staff members came together again at one of the high schools. “We took those Common Core standards documents,” continues Ranells, “and I had each grade level and subject area team use three different colored highlighters to classify the standards in three ways: what teachers felt that they taught already; what they taught but not perhaps as rigorously as the new standards suggested; and what they did not address at all.”

Teams then took back that information and developed a gap analysis that they presented and discussed during meetings with Ranells. “We had the most amazing discussions,” she says. “What happened was this excitement and some anxiety, as teachers asked themselves: How do we map this out to ensure that by the spring of 2015 we and our kids will be ready?”

In their conversations, Ranells and the teacher teams highlighted the complexity of the skills and knowledge inherent in the standards and the need to dive more deeply into content, particularly as it relates to application and argumentation. “The expectations certainly appear higher than before,” says Ranells. “As they analyzed the language of the framework, the teachers also felt that how they teach and how they assess would have to change to include more hands-on, student interactions and performance measures.”

The next step in this district’s work with the Common Core State Standards is due to the generosity and forward thinking of the Boise-based J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which provided grant funding to 15 Idaho districts so that they could put their Common Core-related work directly into Schoolnet‘s instructional management system. In Lakeland this past June, 70 teachers were trained on the system. They will sit down with the Common Core State Standards and reconfigure their instructional calendar to reflect the new standards and the district’s current three areas of instructional focus: problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing.

“We will ask teachers to think about what should be taught and learned per quarter,” states Ranells, “and then develop benchmark assessments to reflect that content and our focus areas. We know that this will all change as the teachers teach, as it should – but we have a process in place for this work and will rely on that process to help us with those changes.”

In the Lakeland Way, these 70 teachers are still responsible for sharing this work with their peers, who will inevitably make suggestions and adjustments. But as Ranells found out with the district’s work on writing, an inclusive, democratic process will make this work stick. “Credit for what we’ve done goes to everyone in the district,” she says. “Our team – administrators and staff – are the ones responsible for this success. I’m just lucky enough to be a part of it.”

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