By Madelynn Coldiron
Wolfe County Schools Superintendent Kenny Bell says he need look no further than the district’s 2013-14 state assessment results for proof that nontraditional instruction days last winter were effective for students.
“We’re a high progress district and I really think that had we not done this program, we couldn’t have been there,” he said.
The Wolfe County school district was one of a handful of school systems that piloted nontraditional instruction days – dubbed “snowbound project” days – during inclement winter weather during the past few years.
Of the 15 districts that submitted plans to implement nontraditional instruction this year, 13, including Wolfe County, were approved by the state education department.
Wolfe County Schools uses a combination of online lessons for students who have Internet access and paper copies for those without it. Some teachers even videotaped their lessons, Bell said. One rule of thumb the district uses for judging the effectiveness of this instruction is a 95 percent completion rate on those assignments, he said.
“We review enough of the assignments to validate that they’re continuing the learning that’s happening in the classroom as if they were in the classroom,” Bell said. “Then we looked at the rigor of the assignments to make sure they were project-based learning and higher-order thinking skills and things of that nature.”
The program worked well, said Wolfe County school board Chairwoman Susan Cable, especially considering the 32 days the system had to close schools last year.
“As many days as we missed, I think they would have been so far behind had we not done that,” she said. Most parents were happy with the plan, she added.
Bell said with the pilot experience under the district’s belt, he expects the program to be even more effective this year. “We’re kind of getting better as we go,” he said.
For one stretch this past winter, teachers had prepared five days of lessons, Bell said, and then were asked to come in and produce five more. They knew which students had Internet access and provided them with contact information, keeping in touch via telephone, their Facebook page, and in some cases, through home visits when safe during lengthy closures, even delivering food and water for those with frozen pipes.
Bell said teachers received training during professional development days and used after-school meetings to prepare lessons.
Cable said the teaching staff did a good job in making the transition to this type of teaching and learning. “I think our teachers are really good at adapting to what they need to do,” she said.
School buildings also acted as social service hubs, the superintendent added. “We even opened up our schools and fed suppers a couple of times, and anybody could come in. And we read to the kids there, and went over our homework there.”