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Forsyth County Schools to begin personalized learning program

Also during a recent work session, the Forsyth County Board of Education received an update to its construction projects:

• Construction is six months ahead of schedule for all high schools in the county
• All four high schools under construction – North, South, Central and Lambert – will be complete by the end of 2016

Forsyth County Schools will roll out a new personalized learning program aimed at “banning the average” scheduled to begin next year.

At a Board of Education work session Thursday, the director of instruction for the Gifted Education Program, Connie Stovall, presented the board with a plan to enhance the way the county’s students learn.

The new program is intended to reach all students, whereas currently, the school system teaches to the “average” student, she said.

“Forsyth County, just like so many districts around us and across the country, tends to teach to the middle,” she said. “We teach to that average learner, and because we teach to the average learner, we miss so many opportunities with so many students.

“If you think about it, so many things in our schools are designed for the average learner. From the size of the student desks to the height of the water fountains to the textbooks and curriculum we use … And the question is, is that really good enough?”

Though the county’s average graduation rate is nearly 95 percent, Stovall, along with Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden, hope the program will push that number closer to 100 percent.

“If a high-achieving system like Forsyth County is going to move from a 93-94 percent graduation rate to close to a 100 percent graduation rate, it really is about reaching every single child, personalizing the experience, every child finding their niche and making sure we have programs and services in place so every child feels like when they come to school every day, they’re engaged,” Bearden said.

Stovall said there are four basic tenets that will go into FCS personalized learning program.


Student ownership


“Students are able to do school as opposed to school being done to them,” Stovall said. “It allows our kids to be able to have choice, not necessarily over what they learn, but how they learn.”


Social and emotional learning


The second tenet, which FCS already heavily emphasizes, is social and emotional learning. This refers to addressing the whole child and his or her social/emotional needs as well as the academic needs.


Competency-based learning


The third principle guiding the program is competency-based learning, which allows students to self-pace.

“Learning in this tenet is not based in a lock-step progression that’s dictated by a teacher or grade-level standards,” Stovall said. “Instead, our students would be able to advance in content by demonstrating mastery or competency of skills.”


Student interests and passions


“I think this can be a game-changer for our students,” Stovall said. “Students don’t find school relevant sometimes and it’s because they can’t find ways to connect or be personally interested in what they’re learning. Being able to help them make those connections will be able to increase the relevance of school and increase the levels of engagement of our students.”


How the program works


Though some schools already have personalized learning programs, Bearden said the countywide initiative is intended to ensure the program is done correctly and evenly through FCS.

“I was in Big Creek Elementary [Thursday] morning in a fourth grade classroom and I was asking a student what he was working on,” Bearden said. “He said ‘I’m working on my choice board’ and I said, ‘explain to me what your choice board is.’ He said, ‘well, I recognize that I’m struggling in this area in math, so my teacher has designed specific lessons for me to help improve in that area and then if I need some additional help, I go and meet with her.’ That’s exactly what we’re talking about.

“We have exemplars all over the system, but what we do not have is a consistent, personalized learning movement — and we are in the process of developing that.”

Stovall said the process will begin with two cohorts of eight schools.

Cohort 1 will begin training in August 2017, with implementation set for January 2018.

While Cohort 1 is implementing the program, Cohort 2 will be training and its implementation will be set for August 2018.

Each training should take about a semester, she said.

District 3 board member Tom Cleveland emphasized that personal learning does not mean individual learning.

“It’s group learning. I almost [compare] it to the personality tests we all take,” he said. “We have to know what kind of learner we are, just as we have to know what kind of person we are and personality traits we [have.] Then you connect with those people who are very similar to you to gain experience from each other and work together as a team.”

He also said today’s workforce is looking for collaborative employees who know these skills.