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Major overhaul in DL

What do you get when you add two new teaching approaches to a team of motivated educators? The sum equals grades greater than before.

Middle School Principal Mike Suckert delivered his findings to the school board Monday, saying some "new things" at the school are translating into better math scores.

Suckert says in 2006-2007, 46 percent of students were receiving at least one "F" during the school year.

Now, that number is at 24 percent, and Suckert says it is due to two major shifts in education they implemented at the Middle School.

The first is called "universal proficiency." This is a shift from the old idea of "providing an opportunity" to learn to an expectation that all students will achieve at high levels.

Basically, instead of holding students responsible for what they learn, the school now implements the necessary means and interventions to make sure they learn.

This means teachers are no longer handing out zeros to students who do not complete their homework, tests or projects.

"That's not an option now, we will essentially keep bugging them until they complete the work because we want them to learn. No more easy outs for anybody," says Suckert.

The school also has an intervention team, which is putting together a mentorship program, where teachers will volunteer to mentor struggling students once a week to try to develop a close relationship with them in order to figure out why things aren't clicking for them.

Suckert also says this year they have been doing some achievement grouping, where students struggling with the same information get it "broken down" to them in different ways, while highly-achieving students get additional material to "stretch" their abilities.

Sixth-graders struggling in math have been seeing a "double-down," where they have two periods of math.

This is instead of sending home extra math problems; the school's way of taking the responsibility out of the student's hands and going that extra mile during school hours.

Some struggling students have also been asked to come in on in-service days for additional help.

"And lo and behold, we haven't had one parent yet that hasn't said yes," Suckert said.

With testing coming up, the school is also engaging in "Primetime Skinnies."

"We're pulling kids down for some last-month remediation and assistance so that they do well on the MCA's (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment).

The school also hired a math teaching assistant, purchased upgraded text books and created an iPad mini-lab where students use math applications.

The second educational shift is called a "Collaborative Culture," where teachers work together to enhance their professional development and the students' scores.

"It used to be that teachers sort of taught in isolation and just did the best they could and never really visited with their colleagues," Suckert said.

Now, in a "professional learning community," teachers will meet on a weekly basis to collaborate and discuss how to improve scores.

"I'll be honest, it's been a stressful time for the staff lately because testing is coming up, and these really are two very significant changes to the way we do things," Suckert said.

The optimistic principal says he believes all these changes will result in higher math scores when students are given the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment in April.

"We're on the right track; we have a research base that tells us this works. We're implementing it, and we are developing a very coherent and articulate curriculum that is standardized. We're developing assessment that identify kids when they are struggling immediately and address those needs."

Although these changes were implemented for the math department, Suckert says it's a good system that will work for all areas of education.

The district will receive its MCA scores in June. From there, school leaders will assess them and then set goals and curriculum for the 2010-2011 school year.