Personalized learning model grabs out-of-state attention

EVANSTON — Administrators and staff of Uinta County School District No. 1 met with officials from the Kansas Department of Education on Thursday, Sept. 7, to discuss the district’s personalized learning program, including blended learning. 

Blended learning, a priority of the district over the past several years, combines traditional face-to-face instruction with the use of technology and online learning.

Jaraun Dennis, UCSD No. 1 director of personalized learning, said, “As a district we usually talk about needing four components — small group instruction, integration of digital tools, the use of data to make data-driven decisions, and the idea of self direction.” 

According to Dennis, blended learning is just a part of the district’s move toward a personalized learning model that includes “some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”

This model is a departure from the traditional educational model by including not only academics, but student choice and the sort of soft skills that are also necessary for student success.  Dennis said that the model includes a “partnership between not just teachers, but also students and parents.” 

The work being done in Evanston schools has come to the attention of other districts around the nation, said Dennis, and five other districts have visited in the past two years. The district was also featured in a video last spring from personalized learning consultants Education Elements. 

That video, featuring district superintendent Ryan Thomas, Dennis, North Elementary principal Diane Gardner, EHS assistant principal Scott Kohler, and teachers throughout the district, focuses on the changes the district has been making to move toward personalized learning and meeting the needs of each individual child. 

Dennis said that UCSD No. 1 is the only district in Wyoming to tackle the challenge of integrating the personalized learning model into the classroom and to be several years into the process. This distinction is what has prompted the visits from other districts. 

Brad Neuenswander, Kansas DOE deputy commissioner, said that Kansas is in the process of totally redesigning their statewide system of public education.

He said that Kansas wants to “move away from the century-old conveyor belt model … to a more personalized approach to learning for every kid.” 

In order to initiate this process, Neuenswander said a group with the Kansas DOE had been traveling the country to visit with districts who are already doing what they plan to implement.

He said, “There are adult excuses, but there are also adult solutions, so we wanted to come out and find out what these adults out here have done and put in place for their kids.” 

Both UCSD No. 1 staff and the representatives from Kansas DOE said their meeting had been a productive one that allowed for idea and resource sharing in both directions. The personalized learning model is one that all parties involved said they are excited about and that they feel would best serve kids. 

Perhaps Neuenswander said it best when he said, “We’re not looking at just redesigning a building — we want to redesign the entire K-12 experience.”