“You guys are doing it right” – Branstad, Reynolds praise Benton TLC program
Governor and Lt. Governor visited Atkins Center as part of teacher leadership listening tour
By JIM MAGDEFRAU
Star Press Union editor
ATKINS – The Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is in its first year in Iowa. It is the centerpiece of education reform approved in 2013. Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds stopped at the Atkins Elementary Center at Benton to see how it was going.
They came away impressed.
Benton is one of 39 schools in the state to use this program. The leadership team gave a presentation on how the system is working so far, and what they plan to do with in the future.
Benton Board President Dan Voss welcomed Branstad and Reynolds. He said, “Continually, we hear success stories about students and the staff in this district.” He was glad they were at the school to hear Benton’s story.
Branstad appreciated the opportunity to hear first-hand of how Benton was doing. He said when the reform legislation was signed in 2013 they began a journey to transform education in Iowa. Benton is in the first phase of this, with two more phases to come. Once it is phased in, it will become permanent and be a part of the school aid program.
“There is broad agreement that we must do everything we can to restore Iowa’s leadership position in student achievement,” he said, providing kids the skills they need for the jobs of the future.
“You are truly on the front lines of Iowa’s sweeping, systemic approach to improving instruction and raising achievement by better utilizing teacher expertise and collaboration,” Branstad said. The system also helps drive other reforms, he said, including increased literacy.
He liked that the program is designed to meet local needs.
Reynolds related educators play a critical role in the lives of children.
“It’s important that we do everything we can to attract and retain really highly effective teachers in the teaching system,” Reynolds said. The system helps do this and is changing the culture of schools with more opportunities to work together.
While it is taking great teachers out of the classroom, they can assure there is a great teacher in every classroom, by having the TLC team be mentors and models to other teachers, she said.
Branstad and Reynolds commented throughout Benton’s presentation on the program.
Dr. Jo Prusha, Benton Community curriculum director, led the presentation. She stressed, “The best resources that we have are each other.” Tapping into that knowledge base allows the school to work smarter, and not harder.
Benton started planning last summer with Dr. Ryan Wise, deputy director at the Iowa Department of Education. Branstad related that Wise introduced them at a meeting earlier that day, and told Branstad of Benton, “You guys are doing it right.”
Prusha said Benton has a great connection with Wise to make sure it happens in the right way. They also have a great relationship with Grant Wood AEA.
Branstad was encouraged to hear the collaboration goes beyond the district to the state and the local AEA.
Team members explained their foundation work, action plan, collaborative learning and data teams, positive behavior, prioritizing the standards and common formative assessments to gauge how they are doing in meeting the needs of students.
They also explained the role of a model teacher and instructional coaches. Collaboration and working with one voice in the district were keys in areas they wanted to improve, such as technology.
Every 30 days the staff is surveyed to provide feedback and monitor the process, as well as, plan the next steps. Teachers have become more willing to meet with the coaches. Data are also used to improve instruction. Coach Alex Olson said, “This has really had a big impact on giving students what they need and meeting their needs where they’re at.”
The data-driven approach, Branstad said, is what medical education is moving to as well. He was former president of Des Moines University. “It provides better outcomes, whether in medical school or elementary school,” Branstad observed.
Olson agreed, saying, “With the data changing so frequently, we want to meet the students’ needs as soon as possible.”
Prusha said the school is data driven, but student focused.
The team also wants students to look at data. Through profile sheets, elementary students can see how their scores are, and goals are set for each testing period. They hope continue this at the middle and high school levels.
Branstad liked that students have their goals. He said he sets his own goals and it’s a great motivator. “Different kids learn differently, but having specific goals really makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Profile sheets are also shared with parents.
Another key is using social media to get information to all of the stakeholders through blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It’s no longer just pencil-and-paper communication or email.
They are still working on communication through face-to-face and social media. Another goal is helping with realignment of the elementary centers. They want to shift to a student-centered coaching philosophy or making sure their work is impacting the students.
Prusha added the school needs to plant seeds for what students will need when they graduate. “We’re not just preparing them for college. We’re preparing them for life,” Prusha stressed.
Reynolds said she’d like to see career opportunities tied into the system and student goals. Branstad said there is a career readiness assessment available so students can see where they are.
“A lot of jobs of today didn’t exist a few years ago,” Branstad pointed out. He added, “A lot of the jobs of tomorrow don’t exist today.” He said that’s why they need lifelong learners.
Coach Lois Deerberg said teachers are encouraged to be learners. She’d also like to have teachers become leaders.
“I’m very impressed with the culture of collaboration that you’ve developed here in a relatively short period of time,” Branstad said. He was also impressed the school was using communication tools that were not available on the past. “You’re on the cutting edge of doing this,” he told the team.
Branstad said he wants to share Benton’s story with others as they embark on their journey. Reynolds said she loved the energy, passion and engagement shown by the team.
School board member Pat Stepanek pointed out this is not an “8 to 5” process and the dedication of the group is outstanding.
Branstad replied that he and Reynolds both have daughters that are teachers. He said, “We know the really great teachers put in long hours and they care deeply about their kids. They want to help the ones that are struggling. This gives an opportunity for collaboration so you’re not all in it by yourself. You’ve got other people who are there.”