Forest Grove district roadmap adds applied arts to areas officials want students to study

The capital A has joined S, T, E and M to give the Forest Grove School District’s strategic plan an extra head of STEAM.

School board members last Tuesday adopted a new five-year visioning document, drafted by Superintendent Yvonne Curtis over the summer in concert with district administrators. In the early drafts the plan dealt only with STEM education, but the most recent version added the arts to the list of intended educational outcomes.

STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, applied arts and mathematics.

Fred Marble, the longest-term member of the five-person panel, said the revamped plan — which replaces one that expires this year — includes stepped-up expectations for pupils and “ways to measure how (the district) is doing in terms of student achievement.”

Marble also said the strategic plan approved in 2007 “was developed totally by the community” and lacked methods for monitoring the achievement of goals and adjusting objectives.

John Hayes, who joined the board earlier this year, had another point of view.

“(Gov. John Kitzhaber) mentioned STEAM, rather than STEM, in his comments to the Oregon School Boards Association last weekend, indicating that at the state level the inclusion of the arts is also important,” Hayes said. “It’s something the district leadership team has been bandying about at various strategic plan planning sessions, and the time just seemed right to amend our plan to include the arts.”

Hayes said district officials “did this for a variety of reasons,” including the following three:

n Forest Grove High School has a “fabulous hands-on applied arts program with Viking House,”b uilt by teacher Chris Higginbotham’s advanced construction class each year. “These are the kind of programs that really engage students, including some who might drop out without them, and that provide them with a career focus that could easily lead to lifelong engagement,” noted Hayes.

n The original STEM emphasis has a major component of “relevant, hands-on learning,” continued Hayes, with a focus on direct student engagement in learning “rather than relying on lectures. That is the exciting part, because abundant research shows that students so engaged learn better and retain more. We intend, eventually, to extend this learning to most disciplines that we teach, but it is easiest to do so with STEM and with applied arts fields, and that is why we added the A to STEM.”

n Part of the citizen feedback the board received on the strategic plan could be construed as a concern about (an) overemphasis on science and mathematics, said Hayes. “By including the arts, we acknowledge that we have not forgotten the other areas of the curriculum. The arts have suffered greatly as schools across the nation have had to cut back on programs, so it is more than symbolic that we added the A to STEM.”

Roadmap to future

The 2012-17 plan, which provides a roadmap for instruction, budgeting, curriculum, partnerships and staffing, calls for quarterly reports to the board that key in on progress toward five major goals. “Three times a year we’re going to look at how we’re doing,” noted Marble, who approved the plan along with board members Hayes and Alisa Hampton.

The objectives include:

n Providing the tools to help students reach learning targets attached to the district’s “pathway to success” toward college, career and citizenship by 2017.

n Implementing a plan for technology integration that includes STEAM education in all schools.

n Providing a system for continuing, effective educator development that leads to “transformational” learning.

n Educating and engaging the community in the district concepts of its “pathway” and STEAM.

n Creating an organization that “can weather and adapt to change and stay focused on the district’s mission” to “inspire excellence while preparing all students for college, career and citizenship.

‘Holds us accountable’

“The district’s No. 1 priority is to prepare students well for college and career,” said Chief of Staff Connie Potter, who added that Curtis “said the plan makes it clear that a high-quality, well rounded educational experience is rigorous, culturally relevant, engaging and healthful.”

“This is a plan that ... holds us accountable for making sure we provide our students with the skills, inspiration and challenge they need for success,” the document reads in part. “It aims high because we are preparing students for success in a world in which many of the jobs they will be holding haven’t yet been created.”

Curtis, who has led the 5,700-student district for four years, partnered with officials at Hillsboro-based Intel Corp. to develop specific pieces of the strategic plan.

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