The Norman Transcript

August 3, 2013

School officials look ahead to upcoming year

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman Superintendent Joe Siano is calling 2013/2014 an “application year,” as the district will capitalize on staying ahead of the curve in upcoming state reforms.

“This year the focus is on understanding the standards and what changes in instruction need to happen — next year we’ll see it in the classroom and you see us moving toward it now increasing strategies with reading,” Siano said.

The State Department of Education has set the Common Core standards’ implementation deadline for the 2014/2015 school year, meaning districts have until then to make adjustments to respective curriculum and instruction methods.

In anticipation of this deadline, NPS has already been making changes such as raising literacy benchmarks for K-12 students during the 2012/2013 year. Since 2014/2015 will be the school year that students are taught with the new curriculum, this year will be about reinforcing the district teachers in their understanding of the reforms.

“I think one of the great things about this year is that we started Common Core standards last year, and this year we’re able to deepen our understanding of it,” said Assistant Superintendent Shirley Simmons. “This is not a year of new things so much as taking initiatives we’ve already started and really diving into the implementation of them. Raising the standards before we have to is an effective way we’re easing in.”

New standards and rigor in instruction have informed the district’s adoption of supplemental tools like Achieve3000, a literacy-boosting online platform or AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college-readiness system for K-12 students accelerating learning.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to introduce AVID at the high school level. It was a long-term goal of the schools to get a bigger variety of kids into AP courses. AVID is the piece that was missing for us in creating the safety net and preparatory work for students to be able to take those courses,” Siano said.

High school instruction will be a priority on another major feature of the 2013/2014 school year: the next bond issue. Estimated to be proposed to the community in February 2014, Siano said this capital improvement project will go beyond just facilities.

“A number of investments we’ll prioritize will be another technology investment and a solid vision for instruction at the high school level. We’re currently completing our demographic and facilities study and expect to finalize and present our plans in the fall,” Siano said.

Fall also will likely include a workshop with the board of education detailing the district’s evaluations on school safety with international nonprofit Safe Havens International — including revamped intruder and storm shelter procedures.

“For topics like this that are very in-depth and of high importance, I like to have work days with the board members to take a detailed look at our findings and what we’ll do with the information. I suspect we’ll schedule a workshop in September or October,” Siano said.

Overall, Siano and Simmons anticipate a year focusing on continuing what has been set in motion and placing quality classroom interaction and student well-being above all else.

“One of my big goals is to make sure our teachers can see the connection between all these reforms and changes and see how they complement each other and bottom line, help our students reach their potential,” Simmons said.

“What we’ve come to in the district is this: Outside quantitative measures like the A-F system are there for whatever they’re worth and we can’t control those. What we can control is best practices and quality instruction,” Siano said. “If we put our resources in the right place, if you do the right things with kids every day, the quantitative assessment will reflect that.”