NEIHOF: Goal-setting efforts paying off

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The first goal for students in Shelby County is being pursued with great focus: Send all elementary students to middle school on grade level in 2012.

By James Neihof

This BIG Goal was introduced to staff and students three years ago, a lofty goal with high expectations, intense monitoring, and consistent engagement.

The focus never wavered. The hard work got harder. The efforts were never-ending.

“Not all of my students are on grade level but by golly way more than the majority are,” is what Pam Pickens from Painted Stone Elementary said on the last day of school, June 4. “Setting that bar so high made us aim high, and it worked.”

Her belief supports my belief that when you set low expectations, students perform at an acceptable level. Yet when you issue a challenge, they are competitive enough to want to achieve beyond their potential.

“Having the kids set their own goals – short-term and long-term – was a reality check. We called them the Class of 2019, brought in college flags, and continued to remind them when they would graduate and the importance of being on grade level for college and career,” Pickens said.

For some families, having a high school graduate is a monumental endeavor. To have a child wanting to go to college would be an eye-opener. I want all eyes wide open for all the possibilities the future could hold. I want fifth-graders to look ahead and picture themselves in a graduation cap and gown. I want them to realize failure is not an option and we stand ready to pursue successes together.

“The kids set weekly goals, nine-week goals and end-of-year goals,” Pickens said. “We did a lot of one-on-one sessions so each would take ownership in the goal and the outcome. They quickly understood it was not just the teacher’s responsibility, even though I would be there no matter what.”

Immediate goals are those students can see overnight, such as learning spelling words and making 100 on the end-of-week assessment. Nine-week goals would be establishing better reading habits in school and at home, finding out how to improve in math and setting out to accomplish the tasks – not for the teacher, not for the parent... just for the individual.

“One child wanted to read more non-fiction. Another didn’t want to be stuck on the lower level in multiplication tables. All wanted to make gains.”

Those gains came through MAP (Measure of Academic Progress). Students know their scores, know where they should be, know how to get there. To see a fifth-grader make 12-point gains at Winter Break was phenomenal, since typically a 5-point gain is gauged as yearlong progress.

 “We knew intentional work had occurred,” Pickens said. “Even when we saw little gains, we knew what had occurred was making a difference. Students were taking stepping stones toward that BIG Goal.”

I am thrilled every fifth-grader knew the BIG Goal and the BIG expectation. I am proud that the teachers took the work to heart and saw the challenge as meeting students’ needs, rather than meeting a district expectation. I am confident the enthusiasm generated by the fifth-grade teachers and students will carry over into the new school year and future BIG Goals.

“Most hit the mark. Some got so very close to that high bar. All celebrated their successes and had every right to,” Pickens said. “It was not us. It was not them. It was teamwork between both.”

I couldn’t agree more. Every result led to enrichment or intervention. Every result led to rethinking lesson plans and instructional strategies. Every result led to an individualized focus in the classroom as opposed to a blanket look at 25 students.

Pickens concluded, “We might not have gotten all the way to the moon, but we certainly reached the stars.”

More probably reached the moon than would have under lower expectations. That is why work is already under way to reach for this BIG Goal again next year, along with working toward our next BIG Goal that we will celebrate in two years...

Send all middle school students to high school on grade level in 2014.


James Neihof can be reached at james.neihof@shelby.kyschools.us.