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Smaller staffs force rural districts to improvise on Common Core

Filed by KOSU News in Education, Feature.
August 21, 2013

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The third part of our Common Core series studies how rural districts face different challenges in integrating the standards into their lesson plans. Previously, we’ve looked at how the standards have forced difficult decisions on textbooks, and the new technological demands.


More than 5-hundred school districts cover Oklahoma, from Sweetwater – one of the smallest, to Oklahoma City, the largest. But students in every district will all have to meet the same Common Core standards. When you’re a district that’s already short staffed, wading through the standards, translating them into lesson plans, and then teaching kids in a whole new way can be a challenge.

“I drove a bus last year for the last 38 days, and I’m a great custodian. There’s a lot pulling me. I feel the pressure to serve as instructional leader in the school.”

Bobby Simma is the Principal at Perkins Tryon Elementary School, in a district of about 1,500 kids. On top of all those administrative duties, driving a bus, mopping floors, and doing whatever else comes up, he’s trying to figure out how Common Core will change things at the small school just off State Highway 177.

“I read at night. It’s going to be part of my job description, to be as informed as possible.”

“For me, when I’ve gone to my associational conference and they bring speakers in or have breakout sessions relative to that, I have to say that’s where I feel like I have had my best learning. Though that has been sketchy at times, in an of itself.”

There’s no shortage of information out there. The problem for Bobby, and other rural principals and superintendents, is finding reliable information, and then turning it into something their teachers can digest.

The State Department of Education has divided the state into regions and put what they call Reach coaches in each – they help answer questions on Common Core. Despite the help, you don’t have to go to OKC or Tulsa to find educators who see the pain rural districts feel.

“It’s the difficulty knowing that you have these standards, you know that the assessment is so high stakes now, that you can’t let this just take its time into that. There’s an urgency.”

Gay Washington is one. As Stillwater’s Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, she helps ease the load on teachers.

“I think it’s the amount of work that you put in before you get into that process. You have to have had the foundation, you have to have a strong knowledge of what is expected at each level.”

This is just the start. Go to Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and you talk to a herd of officials.

I think we always have an advantage over rural district when it comes to making it…

There’s a much deeper analysis because…

Well now Common Core is going to ask you to go a lot deeper than that.

So we’re encouraging teachers to allow students to talk more. Allow students to respond to what they have been taught.

Tulsa has at least eleven curriculum managers – including English Language Arts at the elementary and secondary level, and same for Math. In Oklahoma City, there’s Wilbur House, the executive director for curriculum development, and a couple others.

In Oklahoma City, teachers and principals get help, but in a different way. Michael Lisenby is Principal of Ridgeview Elementary, tucked away in the Village, in the northwest corner of the city.

“I went with my lower grade teachers and my upper grade teachers to the training, 20 hours of training for 4 months, 5 months so a lot of training last year.”

There’s a trickle down effect. Since OKC administration breaks down part of the standards, Principal Lisenbee can get it almost ready made to his teachers. Which gives them time to push it even farther. Listen to second grade teacher Susan Maxwell.

“We have our PLC groups, we have our working groups here in the building, we have a leadership team in the buildings, I think its all connected.”

Inside the Perkins Tryon first grade classroom of Mrs.Vang, she’s checking work, circling homework on the sheet, and sending her kids home with a message for their parents. Rhonda Hover, Title One specialist at the school, has kind of added another title recently.

“We don’t have the curriculum directors, we don’t have all of that here, so I don’t think I wear that hat, but maybe I step in and do some of the duties a curriculum director would have done.”

At Ridgeview Elementary, the sounds are the same, the kids just as important. But one has the resources to break down the Common Core standards, while the other is trying to improvise its way through.

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