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West Fargo Public Schools: The District of Choice

Beth Slette

Today, I have exciting news to share regarding two opportunities recently afforded our district. The first is receipt of a $4.3 million grant that will provide literacy initiatives for children from birth to grade 12 over the next three years.

The second is the opportunity to pursue personalized learning for our students, with guidance from the state and KnowledgeWorks, an organization with nearly 20 years of experience partnering with schools and state and federal policymakers to create a system-wide

approach to grow and sustain student-centered practices.

In September 2017, the State of North Dakota was notified it had been selected for an award of funds from the U.S. Department of Education for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant in the amount of $28.8 million. The SRCL grant requires a comprehensive literacy plan that must address the needs of children from birth through grade 12. Fifteen sites have been awarded a total of $27.3 million over three years. Due to the work of our district's Reading Coordinator, Liz Mackowick, West Fargo Public Schools will receive $1.5 million the first year, and a total of $4.3 million. The grant will fund professional development in effective strategies for teaching reading and writing, intervention resources, classroom libraries, assessment training, pre-K reading corps, public preschool, and early literacy programs for parents and toddlers.

Through collaboration with the YMCA of Cass-Clay, we are able to provide birth-age five activities, such as public preschool.

Personalized, Competency-Based Learning (PCBL) is a state initiative supported by KnowledgeWorks.

Personalized learning, according to KnowledgeWorks, means meeting each student at their own level, challenging them with high expectations for academic achievement and growing student agency through:

• Instruction aligned to rigorous academic standards and social-emotional skills students need to be ready for college, career, and life.

• Customized instruction that allows each student to design learning experiences aligned to his or her interests.

• Varied pacing of instruction based on individual student needs, allowing students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery.

• Real-time differentiation of instruction, supports, and interventions based on data from

• formative assessments and student feedback to ensure every student remains on track to graduation.

• Access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so students and families understand what is expected for mastery and advancement.

On April 6, four North Dakota school districts were selected to lead the way for the state:

New Rockford-Sheyenne Public School District; Northern Cass Public School District, Oakes Public School District; West Fargo Public School District

Over the next three years, our district will receive guidance, personalized coaching, and technical support to transform our school district from traditional to personalized, competency-based learning.

The 2018-2019 school year will be a year of planning, with gradual implementation the following three years.

We are pursuing personalized learning because our vision, "Educating today's learners for tomorrow's world," is not just a feel-good statement that we stamp on our letterhead. It actually means that we need to educate today's learners for tomorrow's world - a world where students can learn anything, anytime, anywhere. We can't prepare students for college and the careers of tomorrow without understanding what the future will require of them. Our factory-era education system has to be abandoned and replaced with schools that put learners at the center and create environments that foster a growth mindset, the cultivation of essential social-emotional skills, providing opportunities for learners to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways and make meaningful connections with what they are learning.

Although we are asking our community to fund a $106.9 million bond referendum to build much needed facilities, the two projects I outlined in this article are excellent examples of how WFPS is diligently applying for grants to support advancement and initiatives in the district. Our growth has not and will not hinder our ability to do what's best for students. The vast majority of professional development activities are paid for with federal funds earmarked for professional development. These grants free up general funds for staffing and other operational expenses. Our School Board and administration are cognizant of our duty to provide the best education possible while trying to keep taxes at a minimum.

As superintendent of West Fargo Public Schools, I want to assure our stakeholders that I do not

"experiment" with children, nor do I support opportunities being afforded to some but not all. We will move forward as a system, with early-adopters in the beginning, but with support, we will all move forward. It is my responsibility to ensure West Fargo students are ready for the path they choose: post-secondary ready, workforce ready, and/or military ready. Our community needs graduates in all three areas; we need them all.