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October 23, 2012 | 02:22 PMGENOA CITY — The trick is to prepare for things which are still being prepared.
"There's no denying we're in a state of huge change in our profession," said Kellie Bohn, principal of Brookwood Middle School.
Change, as in a series of changes. State-administered exams, teacher and school evaluation and, the most recent one — Common Core State Standards — are reshaping the climate of public education.
Bohn didn't sound worried about it, but she said it's going to be a lot of work.
Which, she admitted, has its downside.
"It's just a lot of changes in a short time," Bohn said. "It's challenging, and with some of these changes, we don't even know all the details yet."
But she credited two aspects of her school which she said provided a strong foundation to implement several of these changes.
One is that some of the Brookwood programs already meet goals of Common Core Standards, an initiative adopted by almost every state to provide consistent educational standards aimed at making children college- or career-ready.
"It feels like there are these things that have given us a solid start in aligning our curriculum with Common Core. We feel like we're moving in the right direction," Bohn said.
But in looking at what's in store for education in Wisconsin, Bohn said it's going to be good, especially with Common Core setting standards that will become federally required.
It's also going to be a matter of acclimation.
"We still have to do the work, but at least the expectations of students are going to be consistent now," Bohn said. "That's not a bad thing. It's just a change. We don't really know what's going to be part of that system, though. We just have to be ready."
Enter the Common Core
When it comes to the new academic standards, Bohn said students are noticing the changes.
But what exactly is Common Core?
In part, it's a way to bring each state onto a level playing field.
"Before, each state had its own standards," Bohn said. "Now, it's national. The main thing is, everyone's using the same standards."
It's taking some time to implement.
"We worked hard this summer to get our curriculum aligned to Common Core," she said. "(Now) I think students have noticed a change in the amount of writing they're doing."
Bohn said there's also more problem-solving and use of informational text with Common Core, more individualized and group exercises, "multi-step problems and assignments."
"If you don't know what jobs are going to be out there in 10 years, what skills do you want them to have? Of course, it's reading and writing, teaching them to think critically, problem-solving, application of technology they use in the real world," Bohn said. "Obviously, technology makes access to facts automatic, so it makes sense that there is this shift away from memorization."
The ideals promoted under Common Core are some of those which the Brookwood staff has been working toward for several years, such as through the Tribes Learning Community program, which promotes group learning, problem-solving and multi-step learning.
"That's just become a part of our culture," Bohn said of Tribes. "So it's really a nice foundational piece to the work we have to do with Common Core."
But in the last couple years, Brookwood School District as a whole has focused more on technological learning, so much so that "it has become more of a key piece to give students that individual learning" needed in Common Core, Bohn said.
"It feels like these things have given us a solid start," Bohn said.
She said the curricular changes at Brookwood, and elsewhere in the state, are to prepare educators for the next big change.
In spring 2015, Wisconsin will unveil a new state assessment, one based on Common Core Standards.
Bohn said there aren't many details available on it yet. Technology is expected to play a major role in the new assessment.
"Certainly, any state test is important because it's probably one of most public pieces of information about a school that's out there," she said.
Also expected are measures of teacher and school proficiency.
"There's not a lot of definitive information on that yet, either, but we know that it's going to be high stakes," Bohn said.
That's why, in the midst of serious change, she credited her staff.
"Some of the things that haven't changed are their work ethic and their ability to push forward," Bohn said. "In a time of huge change, that's my biggest asset."
But it's all to improve how children are being prepared to enter the real world, she said. As for Common Core, she said it takes what children should be learning and makes it "more imperative."
Bohn said her staff seems to agree.
"Common Core really supports what teachers know should be what we're doing in school," Bohn said. "Even though it's such a shift, you don't hear teachers saying this isn't right, this isn't relative. I think Common Core really supports the work of good teachers — and good teaching."