One USD 373 school — Santa Fe 5/6 Center — has already launched its new educational model as part of the Kansans Can Redesign Project, an initiative of the Kansas State Department of Education to redefine how schools are structured in the (near) future. While fellow district schools Slate Creek Elementary and Chisholm Middle School are getting set to join that initiative in 2019-2020, the latter is dipping its toe in this year — starting work with half of the seventh grade class — in hopes to get acclimated before fully taking the leap.

Chisholm Middle School teachers Monty Graber, Corina Enns and Kimberly Tate spoke to the Newton Board of Education this week about how preparations for the redesign are going. Having done some intense Kansans Can training over the summer, staff has come back with a vision and four focal points for its redesign model — to get students to engage (in school culture), explore (personalized learning), grow (through social/emotional learning) and serve (engaging in the community/their civic identity) — and staff will be focusing on the "explore" idea in the trial phase this year.

Based on the Summit (personalized) learning model, there are three pillars to education Chisholm teachers will be focusing on under the "explore" banner of the redesign— one-on-one mentorship, real world projects and individualized pathways.

Real world projects are where staff noted students will spend a majority (70 percent) of their time in the redesigned learning model doing a number of projects facilitated by teachers, while the pathways — or self-directed learning — will comprise significantly less of the daily routine (about 30 percent). Meanwhile, the mentorship is an opportunity for teachers to check in with students and help them strategize ways to reach the goals they are setting, a key component of the personalized learning.

"It feels like being in a college advisor role," Graber said.

"We're going to try to get them to think past tomorrow," Tate said.

Projects can be grand lessons over the course of nine weeks and that shift, Enns noted, allows teachers to get away from worries over students having to learn "this content." The self-directed learning also adds to that freedom. While there will be some common lessons there (i.e. how to take notes), Tate stated that approach will also allow students to progress at their own rate and broach higher levels of learning in various subject matter if they so choose.

"I appreciate the fact that it is kind of tailored to their personality, because they don't work the same," said board member Jennifer Budde.

"That's one of the things that's exciting to me is we're getting closer to an individualized learning plan for each student," said board vice president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs.

Full adoption of the plan is coming in 2019-2020, with staff and administration looking forward to that implementation.

Questions from the board centered on that personalized learning, how new teachers will be trained (with seminars being offered free of cost to new hires) and how some of the other aspects of the redesign will be integrated — like social/emotional growth.

Looking at some of the behavioral issues teachers will see, Graber said that may often come from students who are not being taught they way they need to learn, so he sees the redesign as potentially extremely beneficial for such students.

"I think sometimes this idea of personal learning gives kids the opportunity to make it," Graber said. "We're teaching to the kid where they're at."

With the personalized aspects and the focus on an overall development for students, staff aren't the only ones looking forward to the redesign.

"You're not just teaching anymore," Budde said. "I'm excited to see what comes of this."