Shenendehowa schools are doing what they’re supposed to do, the state’s top educator said during a Thursday visit to the suburban school district.
“You can feel the sense of optimism and energy that comes from the students,” Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said after touring a variety of high school classes and an elementary class where students were using iPads in a pilot program.
King visited a life skills class for developmentally disabled children, a ninth-grade engineering class, a graphic arts class and an advanced placement calculus class. He was encouraged to see students understanding the relationship between what they are learning in school and what they can do with it after they graduate.
In a class that introduces students to science, technology, engineering and math fields, King asked how many of the freshmen thought they would study one of those fields in college. Most raised their hands.
In calculus, “Students spoke very specifically about how AP calculus really builds on what you learn in all the previous grades,” King said.
When the state Education Department last month released its list of schools’ accountability statuses based on standardized test scores and graduation rates, Shenendehowa’s schools were among the many ranked in “good standing,” which is between the handful of high-achieving “reward” schools and the lower-ranking “focus” schools.
On Thursday, Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gave King, who has been commissioner since June 2011, an overview of the district’s buildings and operations, and stressed that high-performing Shenendehowa is focused on a target beyond doing OK on the next standardized test.
“Accountability to me is not about how a kid scores on a test,” Robinson said, adding it’s more about making a positive impact on a child and individual children making progress.
“We’re not going to sit on our laurels,” added school board President Mary Blaauboer.
King also said he wants school districts to step back from focusing on “the minutia” of regulations to see the big picture.
When filling out student learning objectives at the beginning of the year, “It’s actually more about the spirit of, ‘What do I hope to accomplish this year, and how do I know if I accomplish it?’ ” he said.
In Rebecca Lemieur’s third-grade Orenda Elementary School classroom, students are taking part in a pilot program using iPad tablet computers to learn. During the tour, the students demonstrated their independent work on a math program, which they had started Wednesday, the first day of the new school year.
The students were so excited to start that work that at lunchtime Wednesday, “the kids were like, ‘We don’t want to go to lunch,’ ” said Principal Michael Smith.
“They worked very hard yesterday,” Lemieur said.
King makes the rounds as commissioner, visiting about one school district a week, but is trying to do more at the beginning of this school year, said Dennis Tompkins, chief of external affairs for the state Education Department.
“We’re going across the state,” he said. “He loves to go to schools.”
Commissioners don’t often visit Capital Region districts that are right in the backyard of the state Capitol, Robinson said.
Robinson said the last time a state education commissioner visited Shenendehowa was seven years ago, in his first year as superintendent.