Kyrene exploring traditional approach - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Kyrene exploring traditional approach

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Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 1:19 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series of stories exploring new programs the Kyrene School District may provide to students next school year.

Over the years the Kyrene School District has implemented a diverse range of programs from its dual language classes at Kyrene de los Niños Elementary, where children start learning a second language in kindergarten so they become fluent more easily, to Cerritos' Leadership Academy, which follows the philosophy of Steven Covey's "7 Habits of Happy Kids" and lets children lead their own learning.

Many of these programs use new, cutting-edge methods of teaching but one program the district is looking to implement sometime before fall 2012 draws inspiration from a system that has been around for decades.

The traditional school program being worked on at Kyrene would offer parents the option to place their children in a structured and rigorous learning environment complete with school uniforms.

Although Kyrene's traditional school will have the look and feel of a prep school, the district plans to put its own stamp on it, said Superintendent David Schauer.

"We've been reluctant because of the definition of traditional as we know it," Schauer said. "There are people in the traditional world that are purists that would say grouping kids based on academic need is not allowed. What they believe in is whole group instruction for children and that's extreme in our view."

Instead of copying older traditional schools Kyrene plans to pull inspiration from components like the structure, high expectation on students and difference in curriculum.

"It has taken time but we are finally convinced that we can create a traditional program that is our own and something we believe in philosophically. We have struggled but we believe we can do it and do it better than what we've seen around us," Schauer said.

District officials plan to do this by maintaining a balanced curriculum whether it's between book and technology or full class instruction and individualized learning.

Another component of traditional school that the district is interested in is the parent involvement requirement. It is common in traditional schools for parents to sign a contract committing them to a certain amount of involvement, said Assistant Superintendent Gina Taylor.

"In Kyrene we have a very high level of parent involvement, it's probably a bit unique that way, and we really appreciate it. In a traditional program there is also an expectation for it," Taylor said. "So rather than it being something that a parent may or may not decide to be involved in a school, when parents send their children to a traditional school they are choosing to be involved."

Part of what sparked Kyrene's interest in traditional school is the program's success in districts like Chandler where the program has expanded to multiple campuses and interest is so high that there are waiting lists to get into the schools.

"There are likely to be Kyrene families on those waiting lists and there are likely to be Kyrene families at the traditional schools because we don't offer it here," Taylor said. "We don't want our families to have to go elsewhere to look for things they are interested in for their children so we want to offer a wide range of things that would keep them in Kyrene where we have quality education and we do things well and we think we could do a traditional school well."

Since the program is still in the early stages of development the district does not know where or when a traditional school will be available. They are still looking at different existing campuses that will provide enough space to either convert the entire school to traditional or implement a school within a school program where only a section of the campus would follow traditional instruction.

"In the long run it would be better to have a school be an entire traditional school," Taylor said. "We want to honor families' choices. People are very connected to their school and their neighborhood and to have the school in your neighborhood change could be unsettling. We have to do it in such a way that people are prepared, they have choices and they don't feel they've lost something in that process."

Kyrene expects the project to be up and running a year from now, but Taylor said there is a chance that could change.

Before a campus is selected or a timeline is decided the district has to find a principal for the school.

"We are trying to find someone to lead this effort because I need someone to champion that project," Schauer said. "Whenever you are trying to implement something like that you need someone in charge and, at the same time, I'm faced with pretty severe budget reductions so that's a challenge."

Because of their tight budget Kyrene will have to come up with some creative financial solutions during the planning process but that has not deterred them from perusing this option and providing families with a variety of options.

"The strategies used in a traditional approach are very successful in student learning and they do require training and expertise on the part of teachers which takes time and money," Taylor said. "We are willing to commit those resources because kids learn in different ways. There's no one-size-fits-all. It is important to us that people have the options that they want for their children."

• Whitney Begin is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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