October 6, 2008

School District Kicks Off Academic Initiative


Making sure students graduate from high school ready for college or the workplace is very much on the minds of employers, state leaders, and both college and K-12 educators. Because of baby boomer retirements, plus economic expansion, North Dakota will have many high paying, high skill jobs available in the next decade. High school graduates will need a solid academic foundation plus specific skills to succeed in college and/or the workplace. There are very few jobs anywhere in which workers do not need to be able to communicate well and/or have the ability to successfully work with numbers.

Employers and educators agree. Students must graduate from high school with more than basic communication and math skills. Graduates must be proficient in reading, writing and math. In this state, proficiency is measured by the North Dakota State Assessment administered each fall to all public school children in grades 3-8 and grade 11. Currently, the Bismarck School District has 78 percent of all students proficient in math and reading. Obviously, some schools are above and some below the district average.

The Bismarck School System has set a goal for itself to have 90% of its students proficient in reading and math by the year 2011. In order to accomplish this goal we are doing several things. First is to carefully keep track of students who are non-proficient and develop individual plans for those students who don't already have a plan through Special Education. Second is to respond more quickly to learning problems in the early grades by having specialists in reading and math work more closely with classroom teachers. Third is to demand more personal accountability from older students who are not proficient in academic skills. Fourth is to reorganize the school schedule so that teacher teams are able to meet and plan collaboratively. And last, we are creating opportunities for students who need it to have more time to work on weak areas.

This fall marks the beginning of a focused initiative by the school district to concentrate on the students who are not proficient in reading and math. Classroom teachers, principals, and specialists have identified, and developed plans, for non- proficient students. Students who need it have been given extra help in weak areas to prepare for the North Dakota State Assessment in late October. Our efforts this fall are part of a long-term plan to prepare each high school graduate for college and/or the workplace.

On Oct. 6, 7, and 9, at 7 p.m., I will be sharing the details of our effort, and answering questions, at Horizon, Simle, and Wachter respectively. Although targeted to parents of Bismarck Public School K-12 students, everyone is welcome.

We are all in this together. We must all take responsibility for every child. Allowing any child to leave high school without solid academic skills limits the potential of the graduate, and ultimately, the community and state.

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