Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Harwood Redesign Project: Moving Forward

Last week, our communities became highly engaged in dialog about the Harwood Union Middle/High School Redesign Project. High schools throughout Vermont are engaging in similar conversations, and even debates, within their communities. Never before in my 30 years of practice has there been so much pressure from the state and federal level to "transform" public education, to close the achievement gap, and to better prepare the youth of today for college, career and life beyond secondary school.

Community members, parents, staff, students, administrators, and board members in our six towns in the WWSU will need to become informed and then consider a number of initiatives, best practices in education, and environmental redesigns. Ultimately, we will determine together what needs to change and why, how we will go about changing it, and ultimately how we will measure success moving forward. Change for change sake or embracing all that's in vogue in public education to stay "cutting edge" should not be our direction. Furthermore, change cannot occur in a vacuum, without careful consideration about the context of change beyond our control, and how the "new us" might interface, especially with post secondary education and the workplace. 

I am providing you today, with a letter from the administrators at HUHS, in an effort to keep the communication in our communities informed, up to date, and transparent. A process map was also developed. I have included a link below (I think, as my tech skills could have possibly failed me) or you can find the process map on the HUHS website.

Thank you in advance for your ongoing participation, interest, and dedication. By working together we can make our local high school even more relevant, successful, and truly outstanding.  Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime.

Best regards,

Harwood Union Middle/High School
458 VT Route 100
South Duxbury, Vermont 05660
(802) 244-5186
FAX (802) 882-1199

Lisa Atwood, Co-Principal                                                   Michael Woods, Director of Student Services
Amy Rex, Co-Principal                                                         Sue Duprat, Activities/Athletic Director     

January 6, 2014

Dear Harwood Community:

The recent dialog and engagement surrounding the Harwood Union Middle and High School Redesign Project has brought much attention to our 7-12 middle/high school. This investment in the change process within our community at large will positively contribute to our future successes. As we move forward together, it is essential that we keep this dialog going. The Harwood Union Faculty and Staff; Administration and School Board are committed to regular, ongoing, transparent communication as we continue to build our redesign plan.

It is the goal of the Harwood Union Middle and High School to provide all students with a world-class education built on rigor, relevance and relationships and designed to fulfill the aspirations of each student. To this end, three areas of focus are being examined with the intent to fine-tune and/or redesign HU programs to achieve our goal: 1.) mission, vision and core values; 2.) shared leadership; and 3.) curriculum, instruction and assessment. 

In March of 2013, we outlined the structural changes necessary to support the creation of a cohesive school-wide system that maximizes opportunities for all students.  These included:
1.    Student Support Services
2.    Student Discipline – Student Management Structure
3.    The 9th Grade Community
4.    Teacher Advisory – TA

The current HU Action Plan is aligned with these systems changes and it continues to be a work in progress.  Beginning in the summer and throughout the fall, we embarked on a process to articulate a vision for Harwood Union.  The purpose of the vision is to capitalize on our strengths while providing greater continuity; a clarity of focus, an understanding of our beliefs and values and a renewed sense of accountability in order to better prepare our students to be the very kind of citizens, scholars, and professionals our society needs. The greatest change to Harwood teaching and learning and college and career readiness programs will be that they will be collectively designed and delivered to support optimum success for every student regardless of their aspirations.  The first event to solicit community input in the development of our core beliefs and values was not well attended; however we hope to expand participation as we review results from the first session and embark on adopting a final draft later this spring.

At this point in time, our attention is on shared leadership and the 9th grade Community.  The 9th grade is the gateway to high school and thus to the educational shifts that are taking place at Harwood.  This includes a flexible learning environment; proficiency-based graduation requirements that reflect high standards of achievement for every learner; and personal learning plans that will allow students to identify their own trajectory, and pursue their special interests and talents while demonstrating a high level of achievement. It will include structures that support all students in their academic, career, and personal/social development allowing and guiding them to make informed choices about their goals and manage their own learning options. To this end, we are examining ways to structure our ninth grade community so that all students have access to a high quality curricula along with the support they need to develop and carry out their learning plan, while demonstrating proficiency in all identified areas.

Attached to this letter is the 9th Grade Community Process Map.  The map outlines when and how stakeholders can receive information, share their needs and concerns, and/or get questions answered. Additionally it provides a timeline for decision-making and/ implementation of any decisions that are made as a result of the various need’s assessments which will be conducted. Please note, no changes will be made for the 2014-15 school year.

If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact Amy Rex -  (882-1142) or Lisa Atwood - (882-1126). 

Thank You

Lisa Atwood and Amy Rex

Passion Respect Inquiry Dedication Excellence

Serving the towns of  *Duxbury *Fayston *Moretown *Waitsfield *Warren *Waterbury

Friday, January 3, 2014

Harwood Union Redesign and Heterogeneously Grouping the 9th Grade Team

Harwood Union High School is hard at work. The staff and administration have been engaged for the better part of a year to launch a process to involve all stakeholders in the development of a more rigorous, relevant, and personalized pathway for students in grades 9-12. Last May, legislation was passed that requires personal learning plans (PLP's) for all students in grades 7-12 in the near future. Moving through the curriculum will focus on proficiency rather than seat time and class participation. Transformation and 21st Century schooling are the buzz words in public education today.

Phase I of the HUHS Redesign Process involved visioning. During the fall months, Co-Principal, Amy Rex, held forums in communities throughout the WWSU, in an attempt to engage our communities in what the HUHS of the future might look like; to identify changes needed to accomplish increased rigor and higher standards for all students. Last month, the administration began Phase II of the Redesign Process, by giving a presentation to the HUHS Board of Directors, outlining some preliminary proposal work, focused on changing the ninth grade experience. At the present time, I believe a fair amount of inaccurate communication exists in the engaged dialogs occurring in our towns. I am especially concerned that some of the comments I have read are teetering on personal attacks and assigning motives. This of course would be detrimental to any important changes moving forward.

Grouping students homogeneously or heterogeneously for instruction appears to be at the heart of the debate. I get that. This very conversation has been going on for all my 30 years of practice in public education, and no doubt it will continue. However, what shouldn't get lost in that debate, is the true motive/motivation of the redesign, which is an increase in both the number of honors/AP classes in grades 10-12 and the number of students capable of taking them. Even if the HUHS Redesign includes heterogeneously grouping the 9th grade students in the end, (and I am not saying that it will) all ninth graders will be provided the pathway, the proficiency expectations, and the established measures of successful completion of honors status for all core classes. 9th graders will continue to complete honors classes in whatever redesign moves forward.

This afternoon, I sent out an update type of email to HUHS Board members.  I am posting it below to hopefully clarify the facts and to support our coming together across and within our 6 towns as we strive to transform Harwood Union High School into an even better, more 21st century learning environment for all students.

Good Afternoon HUHS Board Team,

Happy New Year to all of you. I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to provide an update and specific information regarding the current status of the HUHS Redesign work. Following the holiday break, I worked with Amy and Lisa for several hours yesterday. We debriefed the last board meeting in detail, updated each other about all of the ongoing correspondence we have been receiving, and then ultimately made a plan as to how to move forward. Deb Hunter has made me aware that you are all receiving a high number of email and phone messages, so I thought it best to get this out to you this afternoon to support you in your responses to our community members at large.

We all know that meaningful, sustainable change brings opposing points of view, conflict and sometimes even more. It is not surprising that our Harwood Community is highly engaged right now about what is transpiring. It is also not surprising that a great deal of inaccurate communication is circulating. I know I believe, that it is essential to remember that in order to successfully implement any change plan, you must keep focused on the three most important elements; the process, the specific details and the timeline.  Here are some key points you may wish to share:

Following my meeting with Amy and Lisa yesterday afternoon, they met with a few key staff representatives this morning to develop a proposal and timeline. It is not yet in written form, but soon will be. We finalized it together late this morning. Basically, the process steps have been outlined in more detail, and at a minimum, include community forums with HUHS panels, and an in depth study and reporting out of at least three other Vermont high schools, likely Mount Mansfield, Champlain Valley, and Montpelier. You will receive a copy as soon as possible, and we plan to discuss it with you at the 1/22 board meeting. This weekend we will co-author a letter to go out to the community at large via local and social media, as well as email lists by close of day Monday, to include the current status, some specific next steps, some clarifications based on inaccurate information we have become aware of, and a firm statement that no changes will be implemented next year.

Presently, the HUHS Redesign project can best be described as in Phase Two, which includes:

  • listening and learning: all of the feedback and public comment are being carefully studied and considered;
  • researching: putting more meat on the bones, so to speak, to specifically answer questions about why and how;
  • model development: creating a structural design individualized to HUHS after studying at least three other successful models;
  • timeline: working from a vantage point that the earliest any change model could be implemented would by FY 16- at least a year and a half is needed to plan, prepare, and educate all stakeholders;
  • communication and marketing: participating in community book clubs and other avenues as they arise, the forums, and writing regularly to local media and social sites explicitly sharing out details as they develop. Providing total transparency.
  • goal setting: simultaneously increasing honors offerings and AP participation in 10-12 grades; demonstrations of completed professional development and planning prior to implementation; early implementation and publication of Act 77- Flexible Pathways.
  • student engagement: sharing, listening and learning with students as partners to move forward.
In truth, it might not seem like it at this moment, but we are truly in a really good place in the sustainable change process at HUHS. The surrounding communities are highly engaged in the conversations, shining a large beacon of light on Harwood. Through this storming, norming, and forming, I believe, we will come out on the other end with an even better high school than we started with. Status quo is easy. Change is tough. We are committed to change that makes a long term, meaningful difference for all students, not at the expense of any, that can be measured all along the way. Please do not hesitate to contact me. Let me know how I can be most helpful to you as we move forward together.

Best regards,