August 14, 2008
Ellsworth Schools Adopt New Teaching Method
By MICHAEL DABRIEO; OF THE NEWS STAFF
ELLSWORTH - The local school district will be taking a different approach to teaching this year.The district adopted a new method called Personal Learning Communities, which will change the way teachers do their jobs.
"It is a growing opportunity," said Ellen Holmes of the Maine Department of Education.
PLCs create a team dynamic between teachers and administrators in the school system. Students won't notice much of a difference in their daily routine, but behind the scenes teachers will be working together, instead of separately, to keep students who have trouble learning from falling through the cracks, Holmes said.
"It's a shift from 'It's OK to have 20 percent of students fail,' to 'all of our students can learn,'" said Holmes. "Individuals get burned out. As a team, teachers can accomplish a lot more."
According to Holmes more than 50 schools and districts in the state and thousands across the nation have adopted PLCs or a similar teaching method.
Ellsworth Superintendent Wayne Enman believes PLCs will develop a better environment for students who need additional time or support in a subject and those who need to move forward to more advanced material.
"Now [teachers] never have any time to get together and say this is working and this isn't working," said Enman. "If you can [start a PLC] and do it well, the number of students achieving increases and the number of kids that need special services decreases."
According to a press release from the school district, PLCs implement "student interventions" on a three- or four-week cycle. The interventions provide students with help as soon as they experience difficulty rather than relying on summer school and remedial courses. They also provide extension activities for students who have already mastered the material.
"Instead of waiting a year to find out that a tactic didn't work, we will know almost immediately," said Enman. Now if a student has a problem learning, teachers "will look at the expertise in the building to fulfill the student's needs."
According to the PLC Web site, allthingsplc.org, most schools notice improvements in student performance after three or four years.
The Kildeer Countryside School District 96 in Buffalo Grove, Ill., showed an 18 percent increase in the number of eighth graders meeting and exceeding the state standards, from 80 to 98 percent, between 2002 and 2006.
After talking in the spring with the district's superintendent, Dr. Tom Many, Enman thought a PLC would fit well in Ellsworth.
Enman also talked with administrators from nearby districts, who he did not want to name, that adopted methods similar to PLCs.
"We want our students to do well, and from what I've seen [PLCs] work," said Enman.
One change students will notice is that there will be no more half days during the school year, but every Friday school will let out one hour early so teachers can meet and discuss different programs and approaches for students.
This part of the program is the only part that has warranted any parent feedback so far, said Enman.
"Only one parent sent me an e-mail about the program, and she said she thought it was a great idea but it would create a problem with child care," he said. "Once it is in place I am sure we will get some other people expressing concerns."
Enman added he was aware the hour less of school on Fridays may create child care problems, and the district is working on developing a resource list for parents so they can find after- school programs for their children to take part in.
"What I notice most about this program is the change in atmosphere it brings to schools. It is far more positive," concluded Holmes.
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