Dr. Shaner: Quotes on Gifted Education
Dr. Robert Shaner of Warren Consolidated Schools is being considered by the Rochester Board of Education for Rochester Community Schools Superintendent. Dr. David Richards of Fraser Public Schools withdrew his candidacy for the position. The quotes below are from a meeting with Dr. Shaner and members of the PTA, Rochester SAGE, Rochester African American Parent Network, and high school students and the Board of Education’s interview.
Parent, Student, and Community Meeting with Dr. Shaner
Parent 1: How will you guide Rochester Community Schools to meet the needs of neuro-diverse and twice-exceptional students within the general education classrooms? I’m speaking Pre-K through 12.
Shaner: I think identification is critical to it and you probably hear differentiation and that word quite often. How we support the differentiation and I think critical to that is professional development for the teachers, how to identify the kids and how to provide them services. I think technology can help with that, but I don’t think technology is a replacement for effective instruction in the classroom or effective training in differentiation. Where I work now, we don’t have a gifted and talented program, per se, at the elementary level, but we do have a number of options as you move on and we identify students going through middle school and I think that’s really critical to the process.
Parent 1: Can I have some specifics as to what professional development you might be able to use and how technology might be integrated?
Shaner: The technology that we have recently installed in Warren Consolidated Schools is pretty interesting. We have interactive whiteboards and media streaming in almost every classroom. We do have it every classroom. What that allows the teacher to do is to use that system to differentiate instruction to the needs of the kids. We also recently started Iowa Testing, K-12, so we can identify earlier and know what the needs of the kids are. With our recent language arts adoption, we’ve moved towards balanced literacy approach in our leveled readers and our literacy library has also helped that situation where we can actually meet the kids where they are at and carry them even further.
Parent 1: What professional development resources?
Shaner: We’ve accessed the ISD when we can. We have a very strong partnership with the ISD. We are really moving closely to training all of our teachers in classroom instruction that works so that we can help learn to differentiate instruction, use different techniques in the classroom to appeal to different kids’ needs. It’s Marzano’s work.
Parent 2: Do you believe that advanced and gifted childrens’ learning needs are currently being appropriate met in the classroom through differentiation and what do you think could be done differently if you don’t think those needs are being met?
Shaner: You mean in Rochester?
Parent 2: In general, but if you have information on here.
Shaner: I think we can always do a better job of meeting the needs of kids. As the world changes, the profession changes and I think that we have to roll with the punches and continue to attack the problem. I can’t speak to Rochester honestly. I have a lot to learn and I hope that you respect that I can’t make a value judgment based on that right now. Resources across the state of Michigan are at a premium and I’m going to try to allocate those resources in a way we can meet the needs of the kids. I can tell you that where I work now, although we are in a pool of diminishing resources, we are committed to helping all kids achieve more and better. We are in the process of exploring, and it probably will come to fruition, that we’ll have a middle school math/science program by next September. We’ve revamped our middle school electives. We don’t have things like Home Ec any more. We have STEM. We have technology class.
Parent 3: What is STEM?
Shaner: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Parent 3: Instead of Home Ec, is that what you are saying?
Shaner: Yes. We’ve revamped and reorganized our entire middle school electives. We don’t have the traditional middle school wheel, if you will, in terms of going to Home Ec or choir class or something like that. We’ve prioritized and we wanted to get kids exposed to that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and give them some exposure and hopefully inspire them to move into some higher expectations as they move through our system.
Parent 2: Are the kids in Warren, particularly in elementary, having their needs met through differentiation currently?
Shaner: We’re getting better at it. I think we’re getting better at. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it. I work in an extremely, extremely diverse environment. 44 different ethnicities. We have some elementary schools that are in excess of 70% free and reduced lunch. So I think we are doing a pretty good job of it. Do we have some ways to go? Sure. We have a population of English Language Learners that bring with them not only a great deal of assets in terms of their cultural perspective, but a great deal of challenge in terms of the things they’ve experienced before they came to us. We recently had another influx of an ELL population that came from a refugee camp in Jordan where kids speak any language. They have no decoding skills and we’ve met that head on with our ELL program. We’ve used our ELL aides to start to teach that academic vocabulary and very specific professional development in meeting those needs.
Board of Education Finalist Interview
BOE: If you could summarize for us and our community, what is your core educational philosophy? We’ve heard lots of words and phrases used to describe you, but we want to know what do you live by as an educational leader?
Shaner: Thank you. It is an honor to be here this evening. As I think about my core beliefs as an educator, what really comes to my mind is the power an educator has in the life of a child, of a student. And that means all students. Sometimes we talk about the top 1% of our students. Sometimes we talk about what we can do for high achieving students and that’s all well and good and very, very important, but I think as educators, at our core, we are really here to move all students along and move them forward and get them into a position where they can be successful in life and have a bright future, whether it is in the 21st century or beyond. It’s incredibly important in my core to have an education philosophy based in the ability to create a positive environment for students and make an environment with professional staff to have that profound impact on a child’s life.
BOE: I’m going to follow up some more. You mentioned in your response something about personalizing the curriculum based on the data. Can you expand a little more? How far do you take that?
Shaner: You take that as far as you possibly can in terms of a classroom of students in trying to drill down with data to find out what their needs are. I talked earlier today with folks from the gifted and talented community. We talked about what it means to be gifted and talented, how we identify that. The importance of identifying that, especially at an early age, is to be able to tailor instruction focused on students. For instance, one of the things that we try to do at an early age with gifted and talented students is compact curriculum so they can spend more time problem solving, more time focused on more challenging curriculum, while also not catapulting them into a situation where they are maybe not in an age-appropriate situation. That situation is two-fold when you talk about children that may struggle in areas. It’s really important to have that data and to drill down so you can personalize that instruction. One of the things we’ve done in Warren Consolidated Schools is to put a two hour literacy block or English & Language Arts block in the middle school. And in doing that, we’ve also asked those middle school teachers to go down and find out what’s going on in the elementary school and how they teach in those center-based programs, because at an elementary school, differentiation instruction is kind of the way they do business on a daily basis, in centers and making sure that instruction is tailored for each and every student.
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