I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on my first year in this role and share some of the great things that are happening across our district. We started out the year by organizing our first ever Nevada PhD session, which allowed our teachers to select topics that they wanted to learn more about to improve their practice as an educator. Our K-12 teaching staff was able to choose from over 60 sessions facilitated by 40 presenters (who were mostly our own teachers). The goal was to provide them the differentiated professional development they needed and wanted by allowing them voice and choice over their learning. As we look to personalize the learning experience for our students, we realized we needed to provide the same experience for our teachers. The feedback we received indicates that our staff appreciated us listening to their needs and honoring them as professionals.

As part of the Competency Based Education Collaborative for the past four years, we conducted three community meetings and a district-wide meeting around one question: What are the outcomes we want for all of our Nevada graduates? Based on that feedback, the following Learner Outcomes emerged: 1) Critical Thinking 2) Complex Communication 3) Creativity 4) Collaboration 5) Flexibility and Adaptability 6) Productivity and Accountability 7) Empathy and Compassion. We had the opportunity this fall to host a lunch-and-learn with approximately 20 business and industry leaders from Nevada. The focus of our meeting was to discuss how we can create partnerships with local business and industry leaders that will allow our students to demonstrate the district’s learner outcomes. The partnerships that we have developed have led to some great opportunities for our students with regard to potential internships and project ideas, which will allow students to apply their learning to solve real world problems within our own community and develop the learner outcomes we have identified for all of our students.

We have been on a journey over the past four years that has lead us towards creating a more personalized competency-based education for our students. We have been able to send several teams of teachers to visit other districts across the state and nation that are leading the way in personalized learning. The ability to see these practices in action and then bring back ideas to support our own efforts to provide multiple personalized learning pathways for students is invaluable. The world we live in has become personalized for each and every one of us, and we are able to provide those same types of opportunities for our students. The willingness of our staff to go and learn with other districts who are on this same journey proves that we have the dedicated staff that is necessary to sustain this type of change.

So what’s next? As we look ahead to next year, we will be offering our second Nevada PhD session for all of our staff, which is once again tailored to their own personalized professional development needs. We are going to start several new programs across our district for students, allowing them more voice and choice over their learning. At the high school there are two programs that will provide students new learning opportunities. The LAUNCH program will allow students to earn credit in various content areas by demonstrating their learning through projects that they select and design, based on their own interests and passions. The DMACC SCALE program will allow students to work alongside business professionals in Ames on projects in four different career areas. The middle school will be opening up a MAKERSPACE that was created and designed based on student input. The elementary and middle school staff continue to refine and expand the opportunity for students to advance at their own pace in our self-paced math program, with several staff exploring how this can look in other content areas as well. The elementary will continue to provide students with opportunities to select projects that are of social interest and have a direct impact on our community. We have several student enterprises that have started this year and will continue to grow next year: Cub Embroidery will custom embroider items for clients; Cub Manufacturing, which is able to laser-engrave several different items upon request and the FFA Greenhouse, which began offering plants and vegetables for sale this spring with great success.

We are truly working to create multiple learning pathways for our students where they have more voice and choice over how they learn the essential content standards we expect all students to learn, and more importantly, to develop the learner outcomes our community feels are important. Our world is changing rapidly and the ability to access information anywhere at any time has forced us to look at how we can provide educational opportunities for all students based on their individual needs. It is an exciting time to be part of the Nevada Community School District, and I look forward to challenges that lie ahead.