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School redesigns offers reflection

Staff writer

Hillsboro school district’s second year as one of Kansas’ 21 Gemini I districts, ends its trial run with its redesign project.

The Kansans Can School redesign project is a statewide effort to revamp the state’s schools around outcomes expected to produce successful high school graduates.

Twenty-nine school districts applied for the first phase of the program, but only seven could be selected. The Department of Education developed the Gemini project, for which Hillsboro was selected, to allow the remaining districts to participate on a smaller scale.

One of the biggest challenges for Hillsboro’s redesign project was the high school’s emphasis on project-based learning period. That includes learning from real-world situations to attain a more diverse education, principal Clint Corby said.

“Project-based learning shows the ‘why,’ ” he said. “When you’re enveloped in a project you aren’t hearing, ‘Why do we have to learn this thing.’ They see the application immediately.”

Hillsboro’s students created spreadsheets with car sales clerks to learn the intricacies of buying a vehicle, Corby said.

“That’s good for our community, and it’s good for our kids because it shows what is out there,” he said.

Scheduling was another big change. Instead of 45-minute periods every day, the school now uses block scheduling twice a week, and stopped using bells to signify the end of periods, Corby said.

“When you get into the middle of a project, students and teachers often need more time to complete stuff, as opposed to every 45 minutes when they pick up and go,” he said.

The move away from class bells was inspired by a visit to a school in North Dakota, Corby said.

“The best way to describe their hallways during classroom changes was calm,” he said. “Not everyone was getting out there at the same second. It might be within a minute of one another, and that really decreased the congestion.”

In Hillsboro’s case, the redesign was well timed because the district was already discussing making changes, Corby said.

“We were in a unique position because we had already started having the conversation about building the ideal classroom,” he said. “We started the conversation before we were ever a Gemini school.”

Hillsboro was not the only county school district to win the honor of being selected as a Gemini district.

Peabody-Burns Hillsboro school district was named one of 19 Gemini II schools this year, an opportunity to improve collaboration with the Peabody community and beyond, elementary principal Kathy Preheim said.

“We received help coming up with a vision from the state department, and some of the steps to find out what our students and parents want,” she said.

The mentorship provided by the state and other districts helps, despite the fact the program is not funded, Preheim said.

“Schools are probably more likely to help each other out,” she said. “They say, ‘We’re doing this, come and see.’ We’re learning from each other.”

The elementary school will tackle a trauma informed section, including morning meetings with teachers and students, and classroom breakfasts.

By making breakfast available in classrooms, the goal is to promote student health and interaction simultaneously, Preheim said.

“We’re hoping to improve attendance, and help students get the nutritious breakfast they need,” she said. “It’s available to any of the students. If they choose not to, they can still come and enjoy that time with students eating.”

“It’s that family atmosphere of sitting down together and talking about how things are going,” she said.

The district’s makerspaces, where students can collaborate during hands-on projects, and art programs are a boon to the schools, Preheim said.

“We’ve been blessed by a district that feels the importance of the arts,” she said. “Some school districts haven’t been blessed with an administration that fully supports that.”

A major benefit with the redesign is that no one group that has exclusive input, Preheim said.

“It comes back to finding out from parents and students what they want, and measuring along the way,” she said. “This will be the first year, so there will be changes. There will be things that work and things that could fail miserably.”

Last modified July 25, 2019

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