Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It Takes a Village to Personalize Learning in Maine and in Oz

Guest Post by Virgel Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer, Knowledgeworks, and former Superintendent, RSU 2, Maine
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” *

When the Maine school consolidation law passed, many communities expressed Dorothy’s sentiments. In 2007, the Maine legislature passed LD 2323, An Act to Remove Barriers to the Reorganization of School Administrative Units. The law was established to “ensure learning opportunities, rigorous academic programs, uniformity in delivering programs, a greater uniformity in tax rates, more efficient and effective use of limited resources, preservation of school choice and maximum opportunity to deliver services in an efficient manner.” With this passage, the State of Maine was able to save $66 million annually, but it also forced highly independent school districts into shotgun weddings and forced marriages. A tornado of anxiety tore through the state.

Regional School Unit Two (RSU2), comprised of the towns of Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth, and Richmond saw it as an opportunity to think differently about how they could collectively support the unique needs of its 2400 children living within this new, extended family. Countless meetings were held in schools, homes, churches, town halls, farms, theaters, and any location where people congregated within each community. Everyone, from children to the senior town spokesmen, was invited to the table to discuss how all RSU2 community members could support each child in meeting their desired personal and professional goals. 
RSU2 educators asked its learning community:
  1. What is our ultimate commitment to each child?
  2. What are we preparing our children for?
  3. How may each community member be a part of the solution?
  4. How will the support of our learning community accelerate the growth of our children and our five towns?
Over the course of a year, the RSU2 towns evolved from five, independent communities to one learning community that was focused on putting children at the center of all learning decisions. The RSU2 learning community desired to establish a learning ecosystem that embraced learner voice and choice through varied learning opportunities that occur year-round and can take place inside, as well as outside of schools. The RSU2 learning community would work collaboratively to support highly personalized, competency-based learning opportunities via community projects that needed new solutions, internships with community and state partners, experiential learning engagements nurtured by educators and community members alike, and through learning opportunities driven by children themselves. RSU2 parents and business leaders wanted their high school graduates to be able to analyze and think critically, write and speak effectively, and collaboratively solve complex problems today and in the future. Equally important, the learning community requested children also be given the opportunity to learn at different paces based on the individual learning needs of each child.

Educators in RSU2, and throughout the world, work tirelessly to support the needs of each child. To establish a highly personalized learning ecosystem, we cannot continue to solely depend on the miraculous measures of our educators. RSU2’s engagement of the community at large allowed for the exponential growth of learning supports and opportunities available to children, educators, and families through community alignment and commitment. Though the consolidation law forced RSU2 communities to collaborate, it also allowed them to think differently about its schools, children, and commitment to regional prosperity. 

Tin Woodsman: What have you learned, Dorothy? 

Dorothy: If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!


virgel-hammonds_1.jpgVirgel Hammonds is the former superintendent (Regional School Unit Two (Central Maine) and high school principal (Lindsay, CA). In both roles, he supported each learning community in the transition from a traditional model to one that is highly personalized for each child and based on mastery not seat time.

Now, Virgel is serving competency-education, personalized learning world in his new role as Chief Learning Officer for KnowledgeWorks. He collaborates with thought leaders throughout the country to make the vision of an equitable, personalized, rigorous, and viable learning model possible for each child. Virgel is a graduate of UMASS Lowell (BA Political Science/Economics and Fresno Pacifc University (M.Ed. Education Leadership and Teaching).

*Permission to use Image: Bray, Andrew. Wizard of Oz. andrew-scarecrow.jpg. My eCoach eLibrary. Online Available. 6 December 2015 <http://my-ecoach.com>

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