The Four Redesign Principles

The Kansas State Department of Education began the school redesign initiative three years ago. As the redesign specialists worked with the first schools they developed four areas they felt needed to be addressed in order to truly drive fundamental change in our schools.

Remember, as we are not an official KSDE redesign school we have freedom over the path we are on, but these principles are incredibly helpful to keep in mind. Many of our investigative teams are focusing on one of these core principles. I’ll outline them below with some examples we have seen from other schools, some ways we already practice them, and some questions to guide further research in these areas.screen-shot-2019-08-12-at-3.41.27-pm-1

Student Success Skills

Student success skills are essentially what students need to possess in order to navigate the world well. For example, students need problem solving skills and perseverance so that they don’t fold when life gets hard. What skills can we give our students that will serve them no matter the career path they choose, and even give them success in their own personal lives?

A few ways we have seen these skills practiced

  • Homeroom or School Family Time-Often mixed age small groups practice leadership, conflict management, digital citizenship, SEL lessons, and more during this time.
    • Our very own Cru time at the high school and TA time at the middle school does some of this
  • Some high schools are implementing “Adulting 101” classes. These cover everything from personal finance, to basic cooking, to how to change a tire, and more. (I wonder if teachers with different areas of expertise co-teach these courses?)
  • Flexible schedules give students the opportunity to practice time management, self-discipline, advocating for themselves, and more
  • We have a list of skills and character traits nailed down as well as how we touch on them already.

Questions to guide us:

  • How can we be more intentional about these skills? Business leaders tell us they are as important as academics!
  • What opportunities do we already offer and how can we expand or combine those?
  • How can our students demonstrate mastery of these skills?

Real World Applications

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Real World Applications is a HUGE category. Obviously we always try to make learning relevant to the real world, but the goal is to take that to the next step and instead of just helping our students understand the relevance, actually make it relevant here and now. Kids will do amazing things if it actually means something more than a grade.

A few ways we have seen real world applications in other schools:

  • Classes such as:
    • The Geometry of Construction
    • Physics of Sports
    • 21st Century Writing (Shoutout Buhler ELA department)
  • Project-Based Learning
    • Students solve real problems and present their findings while learning core content along the way either through direct instruction or their own research
  • Internships and job shadowing
  • Community mentors
  • Class and community/business partnerships

Questions to guide us:

  • What is life really like in the real world or business world?
  • How can we help students connect with a more diverse range of peers and adults?
  • What is it that makes learning truly relevant to our students?

Personalized Learning

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KSDE has defined personalized learning as “Teachers support students to have choice over the time, pace, place, and path.” I would add in, “with consideration to student learning style, appropriate scaffolding, and quality teacher-student relationships.

A few ways we have seen personalized learning implemented:

  • 100% online and self-paced learning with weekly “mentoring” from the teacher
  • Opportunity to earn credits through a project-based learning room or academy within the school.
  • Opportunity to earn credits through a virtual or online school
  • Individual Plans of Study (Shoutout to BHS!)
  • Deeply embedded pathways or even separate schools for different pathways. (Check out Olathe’s 21st Century Acadmies)
  • Dedicated personalized learning time. (We use Lexia for this K-5)

Questions to guide us:

  • How can we engage EVERY one of our students by personalizing their learning?
  • What do our students want school to be like?
  • What is an appropriate mix of online and adaptive learning vs. working directly with teachers and peers?
    • Is this different for each student?

Community Partnerships

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During Dr. Watson’s listening tour he learned that our businesses and communities want to be involved in what we are doing. They see tremendous value in helping to prepare their future workforce and are counting on us to have them ready.

A few community partnerships we have seen:

  • A local bank has a branch in the high school, run by students
  • A car dealership purchased the lift and equipment for a school to run a legitimate auto shop. (The dealership received naming rights to the shop)
  • Local construction companies visiting math classes to share the relevance to their work
  • Internships and job shadowing at local businesses for credit and actual pay in some cases

Questions to guide us

  • What experts would be willing to judge student presentations?
  • What is the next step for something that we already do in this area?
  • Which businesses are willing to help us?
  • How can we best involve our community in this work?


These principles are not mind-blowing, and in many cases we already practice them and may have been for awhile. Consider how our students’ worlds continue to change. We are teaching students who have never known a world without Google. What are the next steps in these areas for us and how can we focus on designing a school for the future that also solves problems in the present?

3D Redesign – Where Are We?

Now that we have begun year two of our school redesign process, I thought it might be prudent to begin blogging our journey. I’d like to highlight where we’ve come from and the structure in place to move us forward.

The incredible thing about us here in Buhler is that we had some redesign happening before the state even started their “Kansas to the Moon” Redesign initiative. Our high school ELA department decided there was a need for increased engagement in their classes. They designed new interest-based courses to offer to students, including Pop Culture Literature, Media Criticism and Review, Heroes and Mythology, and more. Union Valley began developing high interest student clubs and BHS also debuted their redesigned, student-centered seminar, called “Cru Time,” all before we officially began the redesign process.

Investigation Teams

What we have done with Buhler 3D is take those successful redesigns and scale the process district-wide. Think of our investigative teams as individual research and development teams. Your teams are researching big ideas and dreaming big for our schools. After each team has a “product” designed, they show it off to the staff at their building for feedback, and go back to the drawing board and either tweak or rethink the idea.

There may need to be a prototype or pilot period set to truly get a good feel for the idea. For example, a prototype period for a schedule redesign may be 2-3 weeks before reflecting upon it as a staff, while a semester or year long pilot period would be needed if the high school wanted to try out meaningful job shadowing or internships. We use the term “safe enough to try,” a lot in our redesign meetings, which are why prototype and pilot periods exist.

Ultimately we are looking for buy-in from a solid portion of the staff, building administrator, and district administration and school board if it is a large enough change.

Remember to refer to the redesign process as you start dreaming

Your Classroom

You also have permission to prototype and pilot things in your own classroom. Make sure to do some research before implementing and decide a time frame. Also, let your redesign pilots and building administrator know what you’re trying as they can help you decide whether your student’s parents and/or district administration should be notified as well.

After you have finished implementing, the most crucial step is meaningful reflection with your colleagues. The idea here is to share what was successful and what was not so that we can truly build on one another’s ideas. This could be a short five minute explanation at a staff meeting, a blog post published here, or a chat with your content team over lunch. Just make sure you don’t keep your findings to yourself.

Know Your Why

Remember it is important to hold to purpose throughout this process. Let’s say the high school decides each student needs to create an invention and business model for it during their time there, but with no purpose behind it. Students likely won’t know why either, therefore won’t engage in it, and likely won’t be successful.

There will be multiple “whys” along the way. For example, my personal “why” for redesigning school is because my son will graduate from high school in the year 2036. He needs school to prepare him for a world and economy that will look radically different from what we know now, starting the second he steps foot in kindergarten.

Hopefully you have a personal why as well. Each BIG idea we explore ought to have a “why” as its foundation as well and each school may have a different “why.” The important thing is to start with why, then figure out “how”, then design and deliver the specific “what.”

ESSA Accountability

**FULL DISCLOSURE:  IF YOU DON’T LIKE DATA, NUMBERS, AND CHARTS, THIS POST MAY NOT BE FOR YOU.  I, HOWEVER, AM IN HEAVEN.** (special shout-out to Charlene Cooper for her data help)

Accountability.  It sure has taken on some negative connotations in education the past few years that sometimes have been warranted.  It really isn’t a bad thing to be held accountable.  We do it all the time: we hold our students accountable for work, we hold our colleagues accountable for professionalism, we hold our spouses accountable, we hold our children accountable…the list could go on and on.  Every morning I hold Caseys accountable for having Diet Coke available for me.   When they don’t meet my expectation, it is a bad day.  🙂

Last week the federal government approved the state of Kansas’ ESSA Accountability Goals.  The goals are as follows:

  • Academic Proficiency – Seventy-five percent of assessed students should achieve an academic performance level score of three or higher on state assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics by the end of the school year 2030.
  • High School Graduation – Based on a four-year adjusted cohort, ninety-five percent of all students will graduate high school by the end of the school year 2030.
  • English Language Proficiency – By 2030, ninety-five percent of English Learners’ enrolled for at least one year will show progress toward proficiency on the Kansas English Language Proficiency (KELPA2) state assessment.

If you notice we have until 2030 to reach these goals and will have indicators to show our progression to those goals.

  • Academic Achievement Indicator – Percent of students achieving level three or higher in ELA and math on the Kansas State Assessments
  • Other Academic Indicator (grades 3 – 8) – Building and district subgroup gaps in ELA and math on the Kansas State Assessments will be calculated using the state mean Assessment Performance Index (API) score
  • Graduation Rate Indicator – Rate calculated on the four-year adjusted cohort
  • Progress in Achieving English Language Proficiency Indicator – Individual student progress towards proficiency will be calculated by the student making positive growth in performance as compared to prior year’s performance on the KELPA2
  • Student Success Indicator – Decrease the percent of students scoring at level one in ELA or math on the Kansas State Assessments

So it brings up the question, “Where does Buhler stand right now compared to the goals?”  My quick assessment would be, “we have work to do with one, we are close on another, and we have no idea on one.”   So as Sgt. Joe Friday from Dragnet would say, “Just the facts, m’am.”

GOAL 1:  Below are the percentages of Buhler students scoring in level 3 or 4 on state assessments in ELA and math, respectively.  The goal is to get to 75%.  Why 75%?  To meet the work force needs by 2020, Kansas needs 75% of our students to either hold a certificate or have a degree. On our state assessments, a score of 3 or 4 indicates the student is college and career ready.  Our state education department has correlated the state test (grade 10) with ACT scores.  In coming years, they will be correlating other grades to the ACT.  Those correlations are below.  Of course, I have some questions regarding this goal.  If the English ACT score for college readiness is an 18 and that actually falls in category 2 on the ELA test, maybe we should be using the raw scores rather than categories, but that is for another post.

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GOAL 2:  Buhler’s 4 year cohort graduation rate is pretty good but will need some growth to get to 95%.  So why 95%?  As a part of achieving our state vision, (spend some time on that hotlink ) “Kansas will lead the world in the success of each student,” Kansas needs to have the highest graduation rate in the world.  From what I can find, Iowa currently has the highest in the nation (around 91%) and Portugal leads the world (around 95%).  In 2016, the state of Kansas had a graduation rate of 86.1%.  Below is a quick graphic of our graduation rates.  If you like data, I highly encourage you to check out the state link for any school Report Card.   Look up data for any school in the state (please ignore the freeze frame shot of me – worst. picture. ever.)

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Goal 3:  This one is pretty vague as the state assessment for our English Language Learners known this year as the KELPA2, has changed format and platforms for the last 4 years in a row.  This year we will have some data to look at growth the last two years.  What I can share is we currently have 40 students (1.8% of students) identified as ELL students.  The state choosing this subgroup to focus on is an interesting choice for me. Some districts will not have any identified students and some will have many.  Plus, it feels a little like a double-whammy as the students who struggle in learning the English language and showing progress will also probably struggle on the ELA state assessment.  I can’t share how if students made progress on the KELPA2 until next year but I can share how we did compared to the state group.  Seriously, check out the report card link above.  I could spend hours on it.

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Summary:  Our philosophy has not changed regarding the state assessment.  We expect teachers to align the curriculum with our state standards, focus on improving instructional strategies, provide opportunities for authentic learning and meet the child where they are.  I firmly believe if we continue to focus on those areas, our scores will improve.  I don’t want to chase a test score but also realize we do need to be making progress each year.  Getting our core curriculum set and all teachers implementing the curriculum with fidelity will be a huge step in making the scores move.  The math scores are showing that progress the last 3 years.  All buildings are making changes in MTSS, Individual Plans of Study, relationships, career awareness, authentic learning, redesigning the school day, etc that will have positive effects in many areas. Mostly, we want our staff, students, community to have “an exceptional educational experience.”





Why Wait?

So I have been thinking about starting a District Newsletter or District Update Blog for a couple years now.  It seems the logical thing to do is start at the beginning of the year but the beginning of the year is super busy and I simply forget.  Consequently, I am starting today…why wait for a date on a calendar?!

The purpose of this blog will be to share district happenings, things to be aware of, or just a place to share my thoughts.  Reflection is a great way to grow.  When I went through National Board Certification and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, reflection was one of the most beneficial aspects of the process. Hopefully, this blog will be an outlet to grow and also an informative process for those in our district.

What is first up to share? Culture.  It has been something that I am passionate about.  It is my belief that we …and I do mean WE…control our culture.  Our administration, teachers, students, aides, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, cooks, and everyone who walks through the doors of our buildings shape our culture.  It is not an individual that shapes culture which is why it is so hard to change.  And at the same time, it is so easy to change because we each have the power to do it.  As Jimmy Casas says in his book, Culturize, “No one person is responsible for determining your success or failure but you, and no one is responsible for your morale but you.”  To help shape our culture, our administration team developed our expectations.  We struggled for quite some time developing them and what to call them.  Norms?  Beliefs?  Values?  Non-negotiables? We decided upon Expectations.  They are:

  • Champions for All Kids
  • Committed to Excellence
  • Better Together
  • Directors of Hope

We have taken a culture survey for the past 3 years to give us feedback on the 3 rocks of Buhler:  Collaboration, Innovation, and Culture.   This is hard stuff.  Our administration team has to be very vulnerable, open to feedback, and reflective when reading the comments and results.  We must read them without being defensive, admit where we can get better, and come to terms with what we just aren’t willing to compromise on.  Not for the faint of heart.  When I taught, I had my students evaluate me twice a year.  It wasn’t any easier as a teacher but it made me better, made my students know they are valued, and we grew together.   And, this district survey will make us better.  We will be getting those results back to you all soon.  One suggestion was this blog.  It is something I have wanted to do for awhile and on this cold day, I decided why wait?  Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 8.40.30 PM