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Superintendent Search: Fred Clarke – Albion Superintendent

March 15, 2011

I have sent each Rochester Community Schools superintendent candidate questions about Advanced & Gifted Education. Here are the questions and Fred Clarke‘s responses. All candidates’ responses have now been received and added.

1) What advanced and gifted programs are currently offered in your school district?

2) What do you believe the ideal advanced and gifted program would be?

3) For Rochester Community Schools, what advanced and gifted program should be implemented based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

4) What would your timeline be for implementing these programs?

5) Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

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I am very impressed with the work SAGE has done for the benefit of the children in Rochester Community Schools. It is clear that your group understands the importance of ensuring students have optimum opportunities for advanced learning.

In Albion, we have been faced with meeting this challenge to ensure our gifted and advanced students receive the best education possible to promote college readiness. Albion, a small urban school district, has been described by many as a “Little Detroit.” We are a majority minority school district (58% African American, 40% White, 2% Hispanic) with over 88% of our students on Free or Reduced Lunch. Yet, we are still making staggering gains in student achievement, particularly at our elementary campus. Five years ago, Albion was at or near the bottom of the county in Math. Today we are at the top (achieving 100% proficient for all students) in 3rd grade Math; near the top in 4th through 8th grades. One contributing factor was our implementation of Full Day Kindergarten the first year I came on board. I believe that to build a solid foundation to success you need to look within our early childhood development initiatives.

Our high school, going through difficult times, will see the benefits of the initiatives we’ve put in place over the past 4 years. My experience tells me that it can take up to 8 years or more to turn around a high school that is struggling. We are already seeing gains due to the systemic academic changes made at the middle school level.

1) What advanced and gifted programs are currently offered in your school district?

Albion has lacked the resources for several years; however, we have managed to supplement programs using Title funds and other resources. Our differentiated instruction through the co-teaching model has enhanced our efforts to provide an enriched learning environment for our elementary students. As Rochester has come to realize, differentiated instructional environments are critical. I believe the DI concept is the most impactful educational reform model within the past 4 decades! Our elementary has implemented several programs to help enrich the students: Love of Languages, Robotics, and Destination Imagination. At the middle and high school level, implementation of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) College Readiness program for at-risk students has opened several doors for many. AP English is offered at the high school and students can attend the Battle Creek Area Math Science Center to take additional AP science and math courses. In addition, students can participate in the ATYP program through Western Michigan University. Many districts in the county do not send their students to the BCAMSC or ATYP due to the cost. Our current philosophy is that the benefits far outweigh the costs so we will continue to offer this opportunity for our students. In addition, we implemented Dual Enrollment through established partnerships with Albion College and Kellogg Community College.

2) What do you believe the ideal advanced and gifted program would be?

An ideal program would be one that meets the needs of your advanced learners, challenging them to think critically and value learning. In my last district, we had the resources to implement an enrichment pull-out model along with a separate self contained gifted classroom. This worked well for addressing the multiple levels of gifted students. High quality and rigorous classroom environments are keys to successful gifted and enrichment programs, however. The two must go hand in hand. Each program, whether gifted/enrichment or regular education, must address the needs of the “whole” child. Research tells us that successful programs provide a mixture of three experiences: academic, cultural, and recreational (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). I have found this to be true based on my experience. Choosing the type of program you want to implement requires collaboration. For Rochester, everything begins and ends with community and staff communication to determine which is best for the students.

3) For Rochester Community Schools, what advanced and gifted program should be implemented based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

It would be difficult to pinpoint which program would be better suited for Rochester before going through a collaborative process. My leadership style relies heavily on community involvement and feedback to look at the data and determine which programs are going to have the greatest impact on the students. I will involve staff, business leaders as well as parents as we work to develop an action plan for implementing a research-based best practice program. My experience in financially strapped districts has taught me several things, first of which is to look at your budget in terms of concentric circles. The innermost ring represents student achievement and the classroom. Moving outward, each larger circle represents categories that are less likely to impact the classroom. When Rochester is faced with needing to cut from $11 to $14 million, it is important that we address the outer circles first. A gifted and talented program would certainly be closer to the middle. Impacting the center circle would have a profound effect on the community. After all, the foundation for a community’s success lies within its most precious resource: the children.

4) What would your timeline be for implementing these programs?

This would be determined by the collaborative process. As a systems thinker, I will diligently approach this issue by 1) determining the current shared values and vision, 2) discovering the underlying deep assumptions or mental models, 3) working to build our shared vision, 4) emphasizing team learning as we implement the best model, and 5) using the process of continuous improvement once implemented.

5) Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

I am familiar with this process. While serving as an administrator in Texas, we were working towards becoming an IB school. Ultimately funding kept us from moving forward, much to the disappointment of many. In terms of college readiness, I would say that nothing can compare to the curriculum offered in an IB program! It is interdisciplinary, inquisitive, and engaging. It does draw from other programs; however, as I’m sure Rochester has discovered when it entered into the consortium with the International Academy. Again, I would use a collaborative process with staff and community members to determine if Rochester can move towards offering an IB program within district. Anytime a school district such as Farmington pulls out of a consortium, you have to reassess what impact that will have on Rochester and whether or not the needs of our students are being met. We would also need to determine the impact on the district’s finances.

Thank you for this opportunity to express my thoughts. I look forward to working with you in the future!

Any members of Rochester SAGE, please take the time to introduce yourself to Mr. Clarke if you attend Thursday’s interviews.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE!
Rochester Supports Advanced & Gifted Education!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 12:03 PM

    “I believe the DI concept is the most impactful educational reform model within the past 4 decades!”

    Great-sounding concept. Impracticle to implement. ABSOLUTELY ZERO accountability.

    ’nuff said.

    I am curious… he goes on to say, “In my last district, we had the resources to implement an enrichment pull-out model along with a separate self contained gifted classroom. This worked well for addressing the multiple levels of gifted students. High quality and rigorous classroom environments are keys to successful gifted and enrichment programs, however. ”

    So which is it? DI (Differentiated Instruction) or G&T programs?

  2. March 17, 2011 6:41 PM

    Differentiated Instruction might be “most impactful”, perhaps because it touches the most students. It doesn’t appear that it provides the most impact individually.

    It seems these “enrichment pull-out programs”, the separate classes and schools where advanced education could flourish, would be the ultimate level of differentiated instruction. But apparently resources are a problem to implement these programs in Albion – and necessarily, they won’t be implemented in Rochester while we face multi-million dollar deficits each year.

    Mr. Clark’s improvements in MEAP scores shows the Differentiation is heavily focused towards the students lacking behind in education – which is important to be sure. But based on Albion’s College Readiness and MME scores, the district does not appear to be nearly as successful at setting the expectations high, let alone meeting those expectations.

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