Daniel C. Smith
Kiski Area Upper Elementary School
1) Kiski Area School District is proud to be recognized as a leader in Professional Learning Communities. This trend started more than five years ago when our Superintendent, Dr. Timothy Scott, came to the district. Since then we have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of our Professional Learning Communities. In order to maximize the success of our PLC’s we needed to make multiple changes to the way our building schedule operated for the 2020-2021 school year. The goal of this new schedule, collaboratively developed with our Guiding Coalition of teachers, was to improve our utilization of Extension and Intervention to benefit students while maintaining the ability to have designated time built into the day for staff members to teach those students participating in our Distance Learning model. All of this was to be accomplished while maintaining parallel instruction since students have the flexibility to come to school any day while learning from home on days they choose to or is necessitated by illness. The Extension/Intervention time wasn’t working as staff was fighting for the same students with other teachers and spending too much time tracking down students during the E/1 period to effectively intervene or extend students. Our previous schedule was also insufficient to provide necessary time for staff to be prepared to engage students learning in our Distance Learning model. The new design of our schedule added time to each period of the day (now 61 minutes) so Extension and Intervention would be built directly into scheduled classes. This allowed every student to have E/1 every period as needed. Our PLC teams have the flexibility to use a portion of every day as E/1 time or to designate a specific portion of a period (or full period when needed} to dedicate to E/1. Flexible grouping, utilized by our staff to engage students at their learning levels, also creates built in opportunities for Extension and/or Intervention to maximize student learning. This schedule also allowed time for staff members to engage with students in Distance Learning by providing a prep period prior to student arrival and splitting their additional free period between team time (content teams or grade level teams} and instructional time for students engaging in our Distance Learning model. Our new schedule created the ability to continue building on the past five years of growth as a PLC while entering into the previously uncharted territory of having a schedule which also worked for our Students at home. Improving the schedule has allowed us to improve our approach to E/11 continue honing our PLC approach, and created the time for students to engage from home with a dedicated time to learn from their own teacher. Through this collaborative effort, a truly parallel learning experience was created for our students. These schedule changes have allowed students and their families flexibility to continue moving back and forth between Distance Learning and Brick and Mortar instruction as needed without creating learning gaps in their education.
2) When schools were closed due to the pandemic: we were faced with a task of transforming our brick and mortar paradigm to an effective Distance Learning model. To be successful we knew we would need our most important resource, the staff of Kiski Area, to be comfortable leading this educational shift. We closed our buildings for two weeks while we created a Professional Learning Task Force comprised of staff from across our district to lead us in Professional Development geared towards Distance Learning. To get started we reached out to our building level Principals and Central Office personnel to gather names of staff members they felt would be a good fit for the Task Force. Principals were asked to provide names of staff leaders, whether those staff members had a background in Distance Learning or not. Mr. Swartzlander and myself then reached out to selected staff members to gauge their interest in participating and to gather information from them regarding components within G-Suite and its related tools that they felt strong enough in to lead others in Professional Development sessions. We charted all of this information into a spreadsheet so we knew which Task Force members could assist other staff members with certain tools or apps. Next we polled our entire staff districtwide to determine what apps or tools they hoped to gain knowledge about. Using the results of this survey we set up daily Professional Development sessions, both synchronous and asynchronous in nature, run by our Task Force to prepare for engaging students in Distance Learning. When we resumed school in a Distance Learning format on March 30, 2020 our Task Force continued to run Professional Development sessions weekly aimed at increasing our collective knowledge base. These sessions were archived into both a Google Classroom for asynchronous sessions and a Google Site for our synchronous sessions. Throughout this Professional Development series I worked with the Task Force to organize topics for each week, ran multiple training sessions, moderated sessions, and moved our District forward with our goal of continuing education for all during these difficult times. Over the next two months we ran weekly sessions ranging from “How To” programs aimed at specific Tools to wide ranging topics such as Engaging Students in a Distance Learning Model. The sessions were an overwhelming success: our staff grew from an immersive experience learning from each other to assist in teaching students. We utilized a mantra we still hold today – Find a Wing: Not a Weight. In other words, our goal was to overcome the terrible circumstances to provide the foundation necessary for our staff and students to thrive in the era of COVID education. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of the transformation of our storied educational paradigm to overcome obstacles presented by the situation while giving our students a glimpse into the future of education not just at Kiski Area but also across the state, country and world.