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The Strategic Plan: The Halfway Point
Posted 02/28/2017 12:07AM

The Goal

In the spring of 2014, Rowland Hall announced its ambitious, student-centered five-year Strategic Plan with three goals: (1) enhance the student learning experience; (2) provide the best math and science programs in the Intermountain West; and (3) develop the business and enrollment model for the future. A year ago, a Fine Print article chronicled progress on goal 1. Now, the school has reached the plan’s halfway point and continues to share and assess its impact. After the plan’s 2014 unveiling, math and science teachers could have interpreted goal 2 as a threat, or as an opportunity. Fortunately, our dedicated teachers seized the chance to become even more effective in the classroom. Faculty continue to work with administrators to identify areas of growth, celebrate strengths, and create a roadmap for the future.

Breaking it Down

In the Beginning School, early childhood math and science specialists continue to work with our teachers to share best practices and ways to encourage young learners to ask questions and be curious. Doug Clements met with our PreK through first-grade teachers two summers ago, and in addition to sharing best practices for teaching early childhood mathematics, he reminded us that young students are capable of understanding more math than we give them credit for.

In the Lower School, classroom teachers and the science and math specialists have made tremendous progress aligning curriculum, standards, and resources to support the most cohesive and comprehensive math and science programs possible. The Lower School science specialist and each grade-level team have spent time clarifying roles, aligning content, and adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—the well-respected national benchmark for how to teach and think about K-12 science. The Lower School principal and director of curriculum and instruction (DCI) attended National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and National Research Council meetings, and both will accompany Upper School Science Department Chair Alisa Poppen and Lower School Science Specialist Kirsten Walker to a two-day NSTA training focusing on implementing the NGSS.

Our Middle School science teachers are reevaluating and reorganizing their curriculum and practices based on NGSS’ three-dimensional learning. Fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are working together to strengthen the bridge between the two grades, particularly in math and science. Two of our Middle School science teachers will join the team attending NSTA’s annual conference in March, and all expect to bring back plenty of ideas and inspiration to share with colleagues.

In the Upper School this year, science and math department chairs teach one fewer class so they can meet regularly with their department members, the Upper School principal, and the DCI to collaborate about best practices and common goals. These department chairs are also establishing cross-divisional connections with colleagues in other grades. 

Since the 2014-2015 school year, teachers have taken advantage of the professional development opportunities that abound inside and outside of Rowland Hall. During after-school sessions and in-service days, our teachers share illuminating and exciting best practices, and several Rowland Hall educators have led professional workshops for peers, locally and nationally. This summer, four of our Upper School math teachers will spend a week at the Anja S. Greer Conference on Mathematics and Technology, one of the premier professional development opportunities for people in their field.

Authentic Learning Experiences

As our teachers continue to focus on making our math and science courses the richest and most engaging they can be, we keep our eyes open for new ways to bring authentic experiences to our students. One such opportunity recently presented itself, and eight Upper School students are taking full advantage. The University of Utah’s Center for Medical Innovation has sponsored the Bench-2-Bedside competition for the past six years. This year, two teams of medical entrepreneurs from Rowland Hall joined elite teams of graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Utah in pursuit of patents and cash prizes for new medical technologies. This marks the first time that high school students have been allowed to enter the competition, and Rowland Hall’s teams are the only young pioneers in the mix. The students’ work will be on display in the Capitol Rotunda on competition night April 3.

Our teachers welcome feedback and use it as a measure of teaching effectiveness. This year, math and science teachers in grades six through twelve have piloted the use of a research-based student survey tool (the Tripod survey) that provides targeted feedback to teachers on classroom practices that impact student learning and achievement. Already, several teachers have used data from initial surveys to identify areas for improvement and shape their professional goals for the year.

As a school, we are focused on the ideas of claim-evidence-reasoning, from first through twelfth grade, and across disciplines. These ideas are a central theme of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards for Mathematical Practice. Similar process standards can be found in the National Council for History Education’s Blueprint for Student Learning, and in key points within the standards of the National Council of Teachers of English. Claim-evidence-reasoning provides a structure for students to sharpen critical-thinking skills: they make a claim based on observations; gather, assess, and share evidence; and then make a reasoned argument for how the evidence explains their claim.

What’s Next?

While we are far from finished, the work of the math and science teachers, the division principals, the director of curriculum and instruction, and members of the math and science task force have made great strides in designing programs that will be the best in the Intermountain West.

The Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, in conjunction with Chief Financial Officer Gwen Fonarow, is beginning to work on goal 3: Develop the Enrollment and Business Model for our Future. The bullet points of this goal ask the school to review the financial philosophy and budgeting model to fund the finest PreK-12 program in the Intermountain West. School staff and the Finance Committee will continue to evaluate data regarding revenue and expenses as it relates to enrollment and capacity, and provide a detailed recommendation to the Board of Trustees in the coming year.

720 S. Guardsman Way | Salt Lake City, Utah 84108
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