Earlier this spring, Ottawa USD 290 Board of Education members gave a thumbs up to a plan outlining the district’s priorities and goals for the next five years.

Regarded as a strategic plan, the outline served as a road map of sorts, showing the direction the district needed to go to make certain students succeed.

And in keeping with that plan, board members approved a proposal Monday night aimed at helping educators better serve their students and further discussed another designed to give instructors some assistance in enriching their teaching practices.

Amy Bybee, district curriculum director, introduced board members to a new instructional framework system designed to help teachers focus on three key areas: planning, teaching and reflecting. Bybee said the district considered developing the instructional framework idea after student test data indicated a need for effective teaching practices for all students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We have phenomenal teachers,” Bybee said. “Our teachers work very hard, and we should provide a tool to help them get even better.”

The idea, which was patterned after another instructional structure, was developed for the Ottawa School District with help from administrators and teachers. The plan, she said, underwent several revisions before it was presented to the board.

By using the system, teachers can evaluate themselves on how well they’re meeting specific goals by using ratings such as highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.

Bybee stressed the plan was designed as a self-evaluation tool for teachers and would not be used by administrators in employee reviews. Other intended uses would be as a coaching tool for administrators and instructional coaches; as a professional learning focus for new teachers; and as a focus of professional conversations between administrators and staff.

“This is a tool for them, and not an evaluation tool,” she said. “I wish I would’ve had something like this when I was in the classroom.”

USD 290 Superintendent Ryan Cobbs said he didn’t believe the district, in the past, adequately laid the groundwork for new teachers and outlined expectations for educators. But by providing the framework, teachers would now be able to hone their craft, and in turn, help more students succeed.

“We have not done a very good job of explaining what it means to be an effective teacher,” Cobbs said. “But with this, we can say, ‘Here is the bar,’ and ‘Here is our expectation.’”

In a letter to staff last spring, Cobbs introduced the idea of instructional framework, describing how the district had fallen short by not providing a detailed structure for teachers to work from. While the district successfully used a classic instruction strategy in the past, those educators had retired, leaving less than half of the remaining staff being trained in the same practices.

The board approved the instructional framework plan, which Bybee hopes to introduce to teachers in August.

“If you do find yourself in the ineffective (category), don’t throw it away and avoid it,” she said. “As educators, we should all want to get better.”

In other business, the board also discussed the purpose behind early-release Fridays and the development of a Professional Learning Community for educators.

Beginning with the upcoming school year, there will be certain Fridays when Ottawa students will be dismissed from school a little earlier than normal. Based on the 2019-2020 school calendar, there will be 25 instances when students will be released early, allowing needed time for teachers and staff to collaborate on district and school goals.

While the district explored different options, officials finally settled on Friday dismissals — a time parents said they were most indifferent to. In May, Cobbs said officials intended on keeping the schedule in place for the next year or two, creating some consistency for parents who struggled to find childcare.

During early-release Fridays, Ottawa middle and high school students would be released at 1:50 p.m., followed by Sunflower/Garfield students at 2 p.m. Lincoln students would be released at 2:05 p.m.

The whole idea behind the earlier release times relates to the district’s development of a Professional Learning Community or PLC. Bybee described a PLC as a professional learning approach for teachers and staff to improve the effectiveness of their teaching practices. The ongoing process, she said, gives teachers a chance to collaborate to review and improve classroom practices, and in turn, achieve better results for students.

PLCs, Bybee said, concentrate on three ideas: a focus on learning; a collaborative culture and collective responsibility; and a focus on the evidence of student learning. Both the instructional framework and PLCs have high expectations and goals, Cobbs said, but that they give teachers a road map and directions to reach their destination.

Officials said both documents were the result of long hours and a significant amount of work by district staff members. Still, both documents will be continuously reviewed and re-evaluated.

While Bybee couldn’t give a timeframe on how long it could take to see improvements, she said that, by the following year, officials could begin to see some signficant changes.

“Our teachers are willing and want to do the work to see our students achieve,” she said. “...I feel very positive about it.”