St. Regis School receives rare accreditation

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St. Regis School recently received its AdvancED Accreditation certification and is one of only 26 Montana school districts to have received it. St. Regis moved to a personalized learning system three years ago, and with the Measured Academic Progress or MAP test scores, the school has seen huge increases.

“They were very impressed with the level of student engagement, our test scores and how students are responding, not only to learning, but taking responsibility for their learning,” said St. Regis Superintendent Joe Steele.

AdvancED, which is a national school accreditation organization, has a Montana office based out of Hamilton. They sent a team to St. Regis and looked at student engagement, teaching practices and interviewed school board members, teachers, parents and students. St. Regis in one of only five Montana schools to use personalized learning and it was the first time the team from AdvancED had been able to see this type of learning environment.

Because this teaching platform is so new, St. Regis didn’t have all the data collected they wished they could have provided to the team. “But we do know that our testing scores are going way up,” Steele said.

AdvancED is one of only a few places that handles accreditation for institutions moving from, “the same evaluation expectations into a continuous improvement system.” Montana schools need to be accredited in order for teachers’ experience to be counted.

“We had a teacher who taught at an uncredited charter school and those years can’t count for her years of experience,” said Steele.

LATER THIS school year, there will be an AdvancED conference held in Bozeman, and a team from St. Regis will be presenters. It will give other schools the opportunity to see how this type of learning system works. Currently, St. Regis gives tours of the school to those interested.

“It keeps us plenty busy,” Steele said.

High school students take advanced placement tests and Steele said they are starting to see improvements in those scores as well. Advanced placement (AP) gives high schoolers the opportunity to test out of beginning classes at the university level. This saves students time and money on lower-level classes.

“Those students then don’t have to take remedial classes, like math, which is more expensive and they don’t necessarily count as a credit toward their degree. If you can get an advanced placement you can skip directly to those higher level classes that do count toward your degree,” Steele said.

ANOTHER benefit of personalized learning is that students can advance at their own pace and by high school, they may be taking college level classes. They can possibly receive their associates degree by the time they graduate.

Because of several factors, including the lack of housing and employment for spouses, there is a high turnover for teachers in St. Regis. As a result, the school has decided to take the approach that they are a “teaching school.” “We really want our teachers to be the best they can be,” Steele said.

Providing mentors was also an area of weakness AdvancED had reported. As a result, St. Regis hired a company called Better Lessons, which provides coaching for teachers. Last year, three teachers were funded for the online program. This year, four teachers will participate.

For example, Brooks Sanford, who teaches Science, wanted to implement more technology into his classroom. He participated in the program and was able to teach his students how to create videos to do their presentations instead of using Power Point. The videos were then shared with parents and posted on YouTube.

“It was a lot of fun and a good learning experience, and it definitely increased the students’ level of engagement,” said Steele. “If you can get them engaged and they understand the relevance of what they are learning then they are more willing to take on that responsibility of learning the material and going a step beyond. That’s what we are finding with our personalized learning.”

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