New curriculum at Grand Canyon School

Educational consultant Dr. Charlotte Wing has been hired by GCS to work on helping to make the school a top performing school in the state. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

Educational consultant Dr. Charlotte Wing has been hired by GCS to work on helping to make the school a top performing school in the state. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - After a recent accreditation evaluation Grand Canyon School (GCS) administrators have a new strategy to help the school become the number one performing school district in the state.

AdvancED, a national accreditation organization, made recommendations for improvement last month at the school.

Typically AdvancED conducts accreditation reviews once every five years, unless its external review team finds the school is not up to the highest standards.

Last month Arizona Director for AdvancED Connie Harris said that if a school ever falls into the "under-review" category, that school has the opportunity to improve in the areas recommended. A team from AdvancED would visit the school within the year (April or May 2016).

AdvancED gave GCS seven areas for improvement and in order to regain good standing with the accreditation board, GCS needed to find a strategy that will help the school get back on track. During a community meeting Aug. 13, GCS Superintendent Shonny Bria explained what areas the school needed improvement in and the strategy the district will use to make that improvement.

"There are seven areas that we are very weak in and (that is) why we are in the situation where we are going to have accreditation coming back to visit us next year," Bria said.

Those seven areas included an underdeveloped school curriculum, not having a coach to work with teachers on curriculum material, a lack of collaboration from teaching staff, low teaching standards, inadequate test monitoring and not having a person to monitor and record student success and areas for improvement.

"We solved the problem of curriculum by getting Beyond Textbooks," Bria said. "In the agreement, in order to use the Vail (Arizona) program, Beyond Textbooks, it requires us to have a coach who is a teacher in our district, working with our teachers."

GCS's teacher Lori Rommel and Dr. Charlotte Wing, an educational consultant who helped Ash Fork school district become a top performing school, were hired to work with teachers on teaching the curriculum and collaborating more together. According to Bria, collaboration means having a time scheduled for all teachers to have planning periods in order to prepare for teaching and to discuss Beyond Textbooks and its teaching methods.

"(They will talk about) how to teach and anything else that's significant and important in this school," Bria said. "That's something that's brand new. You will even see at home when your kids come home that things are clicking in this school, because people are communicating with each other and solving problems together."

The school's seventh and eighth grade teacher, Betsy Dobias, was hired to be the data collector for the school. This means she will collect results from the Galileo and Beyond Textbooks evaluation processes, in addition to the state's evaluation, on a regular basis.

For students needing extra help, Bria said the school, through recently recovered grant monies, will also offer an after school program for students.

In addition to extra academic involvement, GCS will offer other after school classes, including an Odyssey of the Mind class, an art class and a videography class.

"We are going to develop high standards for our kids," Bria said. "We are trying to move forward, we are implementing new ideas and much of this is coming out of collaboration of us all working together and coming up with some of the best ideas that one person couldn't do, but all of us can do."

During the meeting one parent asked Bria to explain the Beyond Textbook curriculum stating, "Every year it's a different curriculum, so is this Beyond Textbook, something that is going to take (my student) from fifth grade to twelfth grade?"

"Yes," Bria said. "(Although) the curriculum has nothing to do with the textbook. This is probably one of the reasons we got in trouble with AdvancED, everybody kept referring to the textbook as the curriculum. A textbook is literally a tool to help you provide the education. Beyond Textbooks is the design that tells you what needs to be taught and then (we) use the textbook to teach it. We are not buying new textbooks. We are putting in a curriculum to help utilize that textbook, to ensure that all the kids in this district are exposed to all of the important facts that the state has identified...those facts are called standards."

Having students not only meet but exceed state standards is important for GCS and is one reason Bria said Wing was hired.

Wing plans to help the school implement the standards based teaching strategy the Beyond Textbook curriculum offers.

"With a standards base, you identify what the kids are going to know and do - then you decide how you will know if the kids can do that. You assess the students," Wing said. "(You identify) what they will need to do to show you that they know and can do that standard. Then we decide how we are going to teach it."

Bria believes that with these and other helpful strategies in place, GCS can become a number one school, which caused one parent to ask, "What does it mean, a number one school?"

"Number one means you have the highest academic achievement in the entire state," Bria said. "Your kids may not be smarter than others, but they are proven to have learned all of the standards and do well with them."

As the school year gets started, Bria said she plans to hold monthly meetings to answer any questions community members and parents might have.

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