Thom Schnellinger: Moffat County High School works hard

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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part commentary about education in Moffat County.

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Thom Schnellinger

In conceiving this commentary, I wish to place forth that any small community is great to the degree to which it rolls up its sleeves and supports its schools. I desire to seek a greater conversation, offer more information and help people understand our work. What is that work? Providing our children with a challenging and engaging education to be ready for the demands of the future.

Admittedly, our scores are not what we desire. Growth in 10th-grade reading is very positive; however, we have serious work to do in writing, numeracy and math. We look for more growth in science this year. But, I would be remiss to not point out that we send many successful students to colleges, universities and technical schools. In the past two years, we have had two students appointed, admitted and currently attending the military academies. These are students who maximize our most rigorous course offerings. This too, is a measure of our school.

Our goals as a district and across the high school are to develop an aligned curriculum that assures that what is taught in one grade is linked to the next. Further, alignment extends and links across grade levels. What is taught in one ninth-grade English class should be similar and connected to the curriculum in a ninth-grade English class taught by another teacher. Without a doubt, classes will look different from one teacher’s personality to another, but differences should not exist in the knowledge, skills and concepts due to these differences. Alignment is developed around overarching concepts and “big ideas” focused on the Colorado standards. The vehicle that we use to do this is called Understanding by Design. This is not a small job and requires that everything we have done in the past needs to be reviewed, redrafted and realigned. Our plan begins now with teachers creating units. Teachers are instructing out of these units and critically reviewing them in their weekly teacher teams (collaborations). This is a three- to five-year plan.

I also am a parent, and my concern always has been, “What are you presently doing for my child?” Curriculum alignment is of paramount importance that affects your child now. To that end, I would like the community to know what we are doing at Moffat County High School currently.

This year we have moved the schedule from a “frenzied” seven-period day to a block schedule with a four-period day. Our reasons are many. Moffat County High School’s old model was in place for more than 40 years. Frankly, we could not see many advantages of our students rushing from one class to another with teachers not having time to address unique needs and unable to develop deep understandings in essential concepts. With our block schedule, teachers now are able to address the needs of most students because they are advantaged by an unbroken 85-minute period. Additionally, it is the goal of the staff to break up instruction so the students engage in at least three activities across the period. Therefore, this is not 85 minutes of lecture. We are guarding against such complacency and will not allow that to happen.

Currently, I am thrilled to report that the school climate has slowed down. Moffat County High School is a very different place. Instruction is more thoughtful, intentional and in depth. Students report that it is better to focus on four classes daily as opposed to the past seven. Additionally, students have said that the less frantic pace is making MCHS a pleasant place to foster more respectful relationships. Also, teachers report that they can take time to get to know their student better. We will continue to monitor this schedule as it is a major change in the way we do business. We will make small adjustments to perfect the system as we move along.

Thom Schnellinger is the principal of Moffat County High School.

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