NLR school to use online tool to help 'personalize learning'

Posted: May 19, 2017 at 2:13 a.m.

North Little Rock Middle School will draw from the Summit Public Schools in Redwood City, Calif., for an online academic support program to be used starting with sixth-graders in the 2017-18 school year.

The North Little Rock School Board on Thursday approved a memorandum of understanding with the California system for the free use of the Summit Learning Program, an online platform intended to help pupils in all of the core academic subjects.

"We have applied and been accepted to use a program that will personalize learning for students and will allow us to dig down deep and find the gaps in these kids' education," Lee Tackett, North Little Rock Middle School principal, told the School Board.

She said schools across the state -- including the Mountain Home district -- and the nation are turning to the online platform and its accompanying training and other support for teachers.

The Summit memorandum of understanding comes after the North Little Rock district last week received the Arkansas Board of Education waivers of state statutes and rules on teacher licensure and on maximum caps set for class size and teaching load.

The district asked the state for the waivers to support the 1,800-pupil middle school's transition to what is called the Opportunity Culture instructional model as well as the Summit Learning platform, Tackett said.

Act 1240 of 2015 enables traditional school districts to acquire waivers of state education laws, standards and rules that have been waived for open-enrollment charter schools that serve at least one student living in the traditional school district.

"We're trying to make it a little bit smaller for these kids," Tackett said about the use of the initiatives in the large school. "We want to make small communities within the sixth-grade building."

The Opportunity Culture instructional model is meant to extend the reach and pay of excellent teachers, increase teacher planning and collaboration time and create more support and individualized teaching for students, according to the school district.

Teachers designated as "lead teachers" will teach their own classes 50 percent of the day but spend the rest of their time co-teaching, modeling instruction, analyzing data and creating new lesson plans with their teaching team. That team will be made up of experienced and novice teachers, as well as aspiring teachers and teacher interns. Each teaching team will be assigned to a group of students.

Students will benefit from the Opportunity Culture and Summit Learning programs by having access to excellent teachers, materials and small group instruction that might not otherwise be available to them, district planners say.

The waiver of the state teacher licensure requirement will allow the district to hire teachers who have outstanding credentials and expertise but may not have a state teaching license or middle school teaching certification.

The waivers of the 28-student cap on class size and 150-student cap on teaching load is meant to recognize that instruction will be a blend of traditional classroom and online work. While teachers will be assigned to groups of students, there may not be an assigned schedule of courses as is typical in a traditional middle school. Teachers will be able to work with more students in a subject area because of the blended classroom and online instruction.

Metro on 05/19/2017