South Side school district updates strategic plan, new learning methods

The South Williamsport Area School Board had an update on the districtwide strategic plan during its board meeting on Monday.

“The strategic plan is all focused on the teaching and learning process. It’s a five-year model. It’s a look at how we teach differently so kids have a chance to learn differently,” said Dr. Mark Stamm, superintendent.

Right now, Rommelt Elementary has a Mounties Innovative Learning Lab for teachers and students to use to engage in different types of learning styles. From white boards to standing desks to round tables to high tech equipment, they can experiment with different models of learning as opposed to the regular desks facing the front of the classroom style.

“This type of environment is one part of it. This lab space is a focused lab where we want to learn things here about how kids learn and about how adults can teach and how we learn. Then we can take this model and expand it throughout an entire building,” Stamm said. “It’s to see how this area works and how we want to expand it.”

The room is split into zones where teachers and students can experiment with different styles to see what they like before expanding the rest of the school into similar styles. The district is changing the way it approaches learning, and one major way is the very set up of rooms.

“There’s six different zones in here, but this was never intended to be a model that stays exactly how it is. This was meant to be something that expands to learning everywhere throughout the building,” he said. “It’s learning everywhere, rather than just inside a classroom for 45 minutes … It’s meant to use any type of resource, which we call learning amplifiers. So it amplifies the learning experience for students and teachers.”

This goes with the district’s new vision statement, which is, “Educate every child, to a very high level, in every classroom, every day.”

The new set up for learning will be seen districtwide in classrooms, hallways, libraries, cafeterias and the entire building, according to Stamm.

Stamm said it was important to remember that the idea of creative learning zones wasn’t just something new to South but was a national conversation.

“It’s a national idea of how you design learning spaces differently,” he said. “It’s hard to see passed what we know and have always known … We look at the solid research base that’s behind this, how kids interact and how they learn. We want them to kind of challenge each other’s thinking and converse with each other. You simply can’t do it in a traditional classroom.”

The strategic plan also has new core beliefs for the district, including the following:

• Learner-focused instruction toward a deep understanding of essential skills, is more important than quantity, breadth and pace.

• State and national assessments are important indicators of progress toward external standards, but increasing scores or maintaining pace with a core curriculum does not supersede professional judgment to teach the immediate needs of the student.

• Professional, grade-level teams with sufficient time and robust resources are best situated to make informed decisions on the educational needs of students.

• Meaningful connections between school, students and families are created through a caring and transparent environment with active sharing of information about learning and behavior.

The school board unanimously voted to accept Jan. 12, 2018, as an Act 80 professional development day for substantial training for all staff at Central Elementary to go over a new schoolwide positive behavior support program.

Stamm said it will not affect the student calendar as an Act 80 day counts as a student day.

The evening was also the last for John Engel, school board president, and Jerry Broskey, board member, who both chose not to run for re-election. Broskey had been a member since 2011, and Engel had been on the board since 2001.

“I’ve been on the board for quite a while. I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. I consider all my present and past board members good colleagues and friends,” Engel said. “I appreciate everything … It’s been a pleasure working with everybody.”

Voting yes at the meeting were Engel, Steve Persun, Gregg Anthony, Cathy Bachman, Nathan Miller, Chris Branton, Jerry Broskey, Sue Davenport and Nicholas Fiorini.

The next school board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at South Williamsport Area Junior Senior High School, 700 Percy St.