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Viewpoint: A vision for “exceptional education” in South Bend schools

Viewpoint: A vision for “exceptional education” in South Bend schools
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Team South Bend is working hard every day to improve student achievement. With this in mind, the Focus 2018 Plan was adopted by the Board of School Trustees on Dec. 18 and submitted to the Department of Justice for approval. We believe that moving fifth-graders to elementary schools, creating new bell times, implementing a kindergarten to grade eight international baccalaureate magnet school and consolidating our resources will reinvent the educational experience in South Bend.

There are many current initiatives underway in our schools. I’d like to highlight a few:

The first cohort of 16 current teachers who are aspiring principals has been selected. These teachers will spend the remaining part of the school year learning nationwide educational leadership best practices. Our goal is to provide practical training to our aspiring leaders and create a top-notch pipeline for Team South Bend.

The corporation has continued the crucial steps toward becoming a more technologically sound district. The distribution of laptop computers in the spring was necessary before we are able to provide a device for every student. This school year has seen an increase in the use of technology for instruction and assessments. Our teachers are eager to connect with kids and give them the exceptional education they deserve to increase college and career readiness. Many community partners are involved in our digital transformation and we are grateful for their assistance.

“Responsive Classroom” is an evidence-based approach to teaching that focuses on engaging academics, positive community, developmental awareness and other strategies that benefit our students and teachers. With support provided by the Community Foundation, we initially began utilizing this approach in five primary centers during the 2013-14 school year and continued to expand to other schools.

The “Responsive Classroom” approach is correlated with higher academic achievement in math and reading, as well as improved school climate. Through our teachers’ use of positive language and specific activities that encourage peer interaction and individual responsibility, Responsive Classroom aids students in becoming active members of their classroom climates. Students start their day with a “morning meeting” in which they greet each other, share news, do an activity together, read a message from the teacher, etc. These powerful whole-group gatherings help create a sense of community and reinforce academic and social skills.

Family and Community Engagement

We recently revised an initiative formerly known as Parent University, now called Family and Community Engagement. The goals of FaCE center around providing our parents with free school- and community-based workshops designed to engage and empower not only parents but the entire family. FaCE classes are held at Monroe, McKinley, Muessel, and Navarre every Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The classes and topics of conversation vary. This program is a joint effort between African American Student & Services, the Office of Bilingual Services, and the Office of Federally Funded Programs. These classes serve as a step toward ensuring that all parents are “in the know.” To learn more, download the “South Bend AASPS” app.

This summer primary and intermediate center teachers and building leaders participated in a weeklong institute with the Harvard Graduate School of Education to learn about the Data Wise Project. The mission of the Data Wise Project is to support educators in using collaborative data inquiry to drive continuous improvement of teaching and learning for all students. In other words, it helps educators make effective use of a wide range of data sources to improve instruction and student achievement. Since this project was implemented, our teachers are using data as a way to better understand student learning, inform decisions, student instructional pedagogy, set goals, and assess progress. This project will expand next summer to our high schools.

We welcome the engagement of parents and other stakeholders as collaborative partners in achieving our goals. Our vision is to be the community’s choice for exceptional education with expert staff and exemplary programs that engage our diverse students in quality learning and equip each one, academically and personally, to thrive in and shape a changing world. Everyone on Team South Bend is focused on creating a learning environment that will enable all students to maximize their potential.

Kenneth Spells is superintendent of the South Bend Community School Corp.

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