Monday, March 27, 2017

Parent Involvement at the Primary School

By Amanda Durnen

Parents are the first educator’s in a child’s life.  We want to be true partners in education with all of our families.  Creating relationships between families and schools is a priority for us at Byron Primary School.  We are always looking for opportunities to engage and involve families in a child’s educational journey.

Research shows that a home to school connection can have many benefits including that of increasing student learning.  We like to start our school year by involving parents in a Back to School conference opportunity that allows parents, teachers and children the time to begin to create a comfortable relationship with each other.

This winter, we had a Family Literacy Night where parents and children practiced literacy strategies.  The children were the teachers in helping their parents understand how the strategies help them read.  It was not only an informative evening, but a fun and engaging event.  Students were able to take home two new books with them to keep practicing their reading strategies at home.  Parents left with tools in their toolbox to help their child when they are at home and need guidance.

Classroom teachers are always welcoming parents and families into their rooms whether it be for holiday celebrations, helping with learning centers, Kindergarten cooking or just as an extra set of hands.  Our goal is to continue to create more school-wide opportunities for parents and children to continue to learn and grow together!  Be watching for information on a Family Engineering Night coming in May!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February is Jump Rope For Heart Month

By Amanda Durnen

It has become a familiar part of each school year for Byron students: Jump Rope for Heart.  Each year in collaboration with the American Heart Association, we embark on a campaign to help those who have suffered from heart disease.  There are many benefits for kids to become involved in this campaign:

  • Jump Rope for Heart teaches students how to develop heart-healthy habits and the importance of physical activity.
  • Jump Rope for Heart teaches students the value of community service and empowers students to contribute to their community’s welfare.
  • Jump Rope for Heart brings students together in helping other kids with special hearts.
  • Jump Rope for Heart teaches jump rope skills to students that they can use the rest of their lives.

Byron Primary School had it’s kickoff on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017.  Our campaign will run through February 23rd, 2017 where we will have our finale assembly to celebrate the generosity of our students and families by unveiling a Grand Total.

Last year Byron students in grades 1-4 were the top raising students in the state of Minnesota!  They collected a record-breaking $42,273.33.  What a proud moment for our students!  This year we are aiming to beat our total from last year.  We hope to accomplish this goal with our Intermediate School friends and their Hoops for Heart event.  Here’s to a happy and healthy month of campaigning and helping those who need our help!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Active Learning at Byron Middle School

By Richard Swanson

It is hard to believe that we are half way through the school year.  We have had a lot of new things happening at BMS this year.  Through each of the changes, we are maintaining a relentless focus on our students.  We know that our students are at a unique place in their development.  Social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth is happening at a rapid pace.  We continue to use the AMLE Research to guide the teaching and learning that take place at BMS.  We recently communicated the importance of understanding the brain development of our adolescents and provide them strategies as they grow into understanding how to manage their impulses and organize themselves with more self-control.  If you missed it, here is a good article on executive function that helps explain more about our MS students so we can encourage them to actively participate.  

It has been an exciting first half of the year with many wonderful learning experiences happening across the school.  We ended the second quarter with our BEARS Projects that focused on the Educated and Active Learning words in our common language acronym.  Check out the pictures for some of the deep learning experiences the students were participating in that afternoon.  It was a great time together and we appreciate the parents, grandparents and community members that joined us.  It is great to be in a supportive community as we continue to push our students to Learn, Share, Innovate and Inspire!  Go BEARS!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Grading for Learning: A Standards-Based Grading Journey


I was once asked what the purpose of school is. What a great question! To be honest I had to really think about the answer, surprised that such a simplistic question could cause me to pause. Schools nurture, inspire, educate; all needed and very important virtues to our students and families we serve, but what I finally landed on was learning. The Wikipedia definition for learning states that “Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.” This happens every day in each of our schools. However, this question prompted myself and our administrative team to think deeper about what our practices, procedures, and policies were and whether learning was truly prioritized within our school.
If indeed learning is the business of our business, do all of our systems within our schools truly promote and reflect that?
In our case within the Byron Public Schools, not entirely. One glaring misaligned “learning” practice identified in our schools was in the area of grading and reporting. Like most schools, we had been using the traditional grading practice based on points and percentages. The grades students were receiving were not always reflective what they knew or understood. This question led us on a district wide quest over the last several years towards practices that closer measured what our students were learning in relation to what we wanted them to learn.
This process is formally known as Standards Based Grading (SBG) or Grading for Learning. It encompasses the belief that there is a better, more appropriate, more accurate, more transparent way to convey what is being learned throughout the year to our students and parents. This notion hinges on some fundamental learning premises:
  1. One is that standards, curriculum and instruction require tight alignment. Our standards should drive what is being taught in our classrooms rather than a text book or content that one arbitrarily finds interesting.
  2. Secondly, Grading for Learning requires assessments that are tied directly to the standard and learning objective and promote transparent feedback to students and parents. Knowing whether our students understand and have attained proficiency on the intended standard is important in gauging the learning that is happening.
  3. Lastly, Grading for Learning requires a fundamental shift away from a punitive points and percentage based system, towards a grade book philosophy where learning is truly recognized as knowledge acquisition without incentives and penalties.
In Byron, this shift in thinking began with an emphasis on Professional Learning Communities. Over half of our teaching staff have received formal training around this process answering the four essential questions. As a district we deconstructed this PLC process focusing on question one, “What is it that our students need to know”. This happened to coincide with a transition in our evaluation system. We moved to the Marzano professional growth model and district-wide emphasized one element (Learning Goals and Scales). This dove tailed with question one in the PLC model. Each grade and department spent a year getting to know their standards in a more intentional manner and began determining what standards were deemed essential using clear criteria:
  • Endurance – information that extends beyond one grade or course; concepts and skills needed in life
  • Leverage – interdisciplinary connections that have crossover application
  • Readiness – prerequisite concepts and skills students need to be ready for the next grade level
This process was essential for us to gain alignment in what we were teaching and move away from a coverage philosophy. The following year our district emphasized assessment learning for our staff. We learned about the purpose of each of the assessment’s we had in place and provided time for staff to create both formative and summative scales connected to our recently identified Essential Learning Outcomes.
Again, the time we took for staff to create and implement their scale work was essential for us to gauge where our gaps were and how to enhance transparent feedback to both students and parents.
During the course of these two years, a report card committee representative of departments and grade levels had been meeting to discuss this SBG implementation. We met each month to report out on progress and challenges along with answering questions to important learning around the grading philosophy we wanted to move towards. These crucial questions are noted below and were essential to gaining buy in and creating traction towards a successful SBG implementation. Another critical component to this process was the communication that we had with our parents and stakeholders. We hosted several parent informational sessions, provided resources for parents online and shared information with parents through monthly communications.
This fall we kicked off our Standards Based Grading with our parents and students. While it has not been without its challenges, I would say it has been well worth the hard work, time and effort.
Change is messy and never easy. Change with a purpose though can be beneficial. When that change is for the betterment of our kids and their learning it cannot be underestimated.
While every process is different and unique I like to think the one we went through was right for us. While it’s not complete and very well may never be, one thing is for certain: Byron Schools are much closer to measuring more accurately what a student knows and has learned than we ever have done before.

Essential/Crucial Questions

  1. What is the purpose of the report card?
  2. How often will the report cards be completed and sent home? (quarterly, trimester)
  3. Will a specific report card be developed for each grade level or will a more general one be used across grade levels?
  4. How many reporting standards will be included for each subject area or course?
  5. What specific reporting standards will be included at each grade level or in each course?
  6. Will standards (proficiency) be set for each grade level or each marking/reporting period?
  7. What specific process and progress standards will be reported?
  8. How many levels of performance will be reported for each standard?
  9. How will the levels be labeled?
  10. Will teachers’ comments be included and encouraged?
  11. How will information be arranged on the report card?
  12. What are parents expected to do with the information?
  13. What are students expected to do with the information?
  14. What policies need to accompany the new reporting procedures?
  15. When should input of parents and/or students be sought?
Article by:
Abe Rodemeyer, principal
Byron Intermediate
Byron Public Schools
Twitter: @aberodemeyer

Monday, January 9, 2017

Primary Specialist Teachers are Truly Special!

Primary Specialist Teachers are Truly Special!
by Amanda Durnen

There comes a time during each student’s day to connect with another teacher or two when they attend their Specialist area classes.  Byron Primary School offers unique opportunities for students to explore and grow in subject areas outside of the core instructional subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.

Students in grades one and two attend six different specialist classes on a rotating basis.  This includes time spent in Physical Education with Mr. Fischenich, Music with Mrs. Krueger, Art with Mrs. Smithers, Media with Mrs. Pankratz, Fitness with Ms. Hoffman and Innovations with Mrs. Graham.  Students are given the opportunities to learn about healthy living and balancing passions as they cycle through these collaborative learning experiences.

Kindergarten students connect with one other teacher who teaches five special areas.  Mrs. Krings and Mrs. Pompeii teach Music, Art, Media, Physical Education and Friendship Class to the nine Kindergarten classes including Begindergarten.  Kindergarten students are provided exposure and practice to passion based learning.

Knowing that our student age groups have their own unique needs, we have been able to offer a balanced approach to helping kids discover their interests as well as creating opportunities for students to become inspired and inspire others with their many talents.  We are proud of the creative learning opportunities that our Specialist Teachers bring to the lives of our youngest learners each and every day!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Giving Back

By Steve Willman

Our students always amaze me at the generosity they demonstrate.  Another example among many is our Give Back week.  Four charities are chosen and each grade level raises supplies for one of the four charities.  On Tuesday, November 22nd, we presented the gifts to the charity representatives and celebrate their work with our local communities.  This year we chose:

  • Books for Kids - Mayo’s Pediatrics Unit
  • Non-perishables, personal and household items - Homeless Youth Program for LINK/LSS
  • Toys, personal and household items - Rochester Women’s Shelter
  • Cleaning supplies and non-perishables - Ronald McDonald House

Thank you to our families for all of the donations and support.  Our kids feel great when they contribute to people in need.  We couldn’t do this without the support they receive from you and our community.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Learning options for our youngest learners

by Amanda Durnen

As Byron Public Schools strives to individualize each student's education, Community Education works to ensure that Parents have the opportunity to choose what they believe is best for their preschool aged child.  This year we are excited to offer many options for families with young children school readiness experiences.

We have an all day, everyday preschool program option that meets the needs of parents who are looking for a program that can keep their child safe and learning every day.  We also have many options for part-time school readiness classes with either two or three-day options.

No matter what programming choice parents make for their children, our early childhood teachers work to ensure that each child is given the opportunity to use their wonderful imagination, amazing creativity, and inquisitive nature to learn.  Lessons are developmentally appropriate and aligned to the Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress and teachers work to continue to provide what each child needs to grow academically, socially and emotionally.

Teachers encourage children to explore what they are interested in; choice is built into almost every aspect of the preschool day.  Community Education continues to provide support to all families and work with parents to choose the program that is best for their preschool child. We all work together to help the young children in our community become Kindergarten ready.