LP Quinn Elementary School.
Even with the heavy hand of state government reaching down and forcing New York school districts to change their teaching and learning standards this year, Tupper Lake school officials are embarking on an ambitious plan to redefine the way they teach children and prepare them for the labor force after graduation.
Starting Sept. 6, education in Tupper Lake will change forever.
School Superintendent Seth McGowan says the philosophy of education needs to change in order to properly prepare students for a world that, more than ever, relies on technology for continued success. And the key to that success is research.
“I think we’re rethinking how we bring up kids through schools,” McGowan said. “We have to. You’re job, my job, everybody’s job requires an ability to do accurate research and relevant research, and it’s too late to start that in ninth grade. We have to start them thinking in those terms and actually physically doing those tasks at an age-appropriate level from the minute they walk into our school.”
In order to teach students proper research techniques, educators at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School and Tupper Lake Middle/High School will marry computer skills with library skills in a way that will cross traditional boundaries. In the future, it may be hard to tell whether a research project originated from a math class, art class or computer class, for example.
“So we’re really trying to intentionally blur the line between the research, the library, the computer and the curriculum itself,” McGowan said.
For example, at the elementary school, teachers have traditionally given computer lessons in a computer room independent of the library. That’s no longer the case. This year, computer classes will be taught with the library and research in mind. So instead of focusing on Microsoft Word or keyboarding alone, the library skills will be taught through the computer applications.
“We’ve sort of crushed them together toward the same goal of research,” McGowan said, adding that the educational goal is not just computer literacy or determining valid sources on the Internet. “There’s a real push to create a generation of students graduating from Tupper Lake from kindergarten on, from the minute they have the first computer class and the first library class, to develop a generation of researchers basically. That’s what we’re doing, and that’s actually happening in both buildings.”
To further apply this educational philosophy, Tupper Lake has developed new electives for students to earn their “research methods” credit for graduation. Not only is research embedded into standard courses, such as English and math, new courses have been created, such as “genocide” in the social studies department and “sports statistics” in the math department.
The New York State Education Department this year is requiring a number of new mandates that school districts must follow in order to improve teaching and learning standards. Mandates from the Dignity for All Students Act, the Common Core standards, and the state’s new Annual Professional Performance Review Law (teacher evaluations) have changed the landscape of education for the educators and administrators.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous burden on the schools this year,” McGowan said. “We’re going to be spending more time on things like that than we ever have before. And I think the outcomes will be worthwhile, but it happened too quickly ... It was 10 inches of water through a 2-inch pipe.”
Although the school district already has a program for documenting and addressing bullying issues, the Dignity for all Students Act is being formalized throughout the state. Signed into law on Sept. 13, 2010, it took effect on July 1 of this year. It was designed to provide students “with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.”
And the all districts’ teacher evaluation programs must be approved by the state Education Department. That’s an ongoing process right now.
Asked if all the state mandates are time consuming and burdensome, McGowan said, “I think that would be an understatement, certainly where the teacher evaluation process is concerned. It’s overwhelming. It will overwhelm the administrative offices, and other things will cease to happen as a result of it. We don’t know what those things are yet.”