USD 290 is at the forefront of the Kansas schools redesign effort, with new changes to be implemented as soon as this May.

“Our administrative team believes wholeheartedly in the innovations we’ve seen as a district and the initiatives that we’ve created with school redesign,” said Ryan Cobbs, superintendent. “Redesign efforts are really beginning to take shape and take hold, they are going to impact our district in a huge way. We look forward to seeing them all to fruition.”

Three educators gathered Monday night to give the district’s board of education a picture of what these changes will look like. The three areas that will soon see changes are standards-based grading in the lower grades, flexible scheduling at the middle school, and the addition of an open hour at the high school.

Standards-based grading

First up to bat was Amy Bybee, district curriculum director. Bybee discussed the shift in emphasis to learning outcomes that marks standards-based grading as distinct from traditional forms of grading.

“Our purpose for doing standards-based grading is to get to the point where we are focusing [on outcomes],” Bybee said. “The grades are not about the grade, but about the learning that is taking place, and that our students are aware that the grade they receive is about the learning that they have done or the improvements that they still need to make in order to attain the standards that are set for us.”

The process of phasing in this grading style has begun in the lower grades, and is making its way upward into the middle school. There are plans to eventually phase standards-based grading into Ottawa High School. Through the process, the focus will be on creating consistency between classrooms and schools across the district, Bybee said, adding that the district is working on reconciling the new grading practices with high school students’ need for a traditional GPA when applying for college.



Next, Charlie Stoltenberg, Ottawa Middle School principal, updated the board on the school’s soon-to-be-implemented “drop schedule” option, which will give seventh and eighth graders more control over where they spend their time learning.

“If they decide to choose a drop schedule and it is okayed by their parents, what will end up happening is that they will meet individually with their counselors prior to the end of the school year to develop a plan on how we are going to communicate with those teachers, how we are going to progress monitor to make sure it’s still effective for each student,” Stoltenberg said. “The students are going to be responsible for managing the drop schedule. So in order to be able to take and enroll in these multiple courses, you’re going to have to show us that you able to create, manage, and succeed with your plan.”

The schedule will be similar to how choir and band students currently manage their schedules.

“We have students that already do this due to band and choir and a lot of these other year-long courses, so now we are just expanding that to our other elective offerings,” Stoltenberg said.

OHS open hour

Last was Kelly Whittaker, Ottawa High School principal, who updated board members on the implementation of an “open or flexible hour” at the high school. Much research has gone into exploring this option, Whittaker said, including USD 290 staff and students visiting other area schools that utilize an open hour schedule, like Blue Valley Northwest, Basehor-Linwood, and Emporia.

“This is an opportunity within their schedule for students to make decisions about where they best need to spend their time,” Cobbs said. “”So, if I’m struggling and I need help with math because I was gone yesterday, I have the opportunity during that time to go spend time with my math teacher and get caught up. It gives students some control over their learning.”

The hour may have secondary benefits as well.

“We are seeing this as an opportunity to help our students start to learn self management skills,” Whittaker said. “They leave high school, and we expect them to be young adults out in college, in the workforce, and technical schools. They have to learn those self management skills, and a lot of times kids will tell you, “I didn’t have time to practice those while I was in high school.”

Whittaker, along with a cadre of students and teachers, are collecting data to compare metrics like student stress levels before and after the implementation of the open hour in late May.