Northern Cass School District
Dr. Cory Steiner
We had a system that had really good results, but we believed those results weren’t linked to the right things.
FACTS & FIGURES
Ages of learners served
Free and reduced lunch
American Indian/Alaska Native
Imagine you are leading a district that is considered successful based on conventional metrics—high scores on state assessments or nationally normed tests, limited “achievement gaps” among subgroups of learners, and exemplary professional development opportunities. Now, imagine looking at those results and concluding you should change everything you’re doing.
Crazy? Not for the educators at Northern Cass School District. They looked at the shifting landscape of the working world and began exploring the ambiguous idea of “personalized learning.” Intrigued by the possibilities such an educational model could open up for their young learners, there were only two questions to explore: Why should they do it? And, why shouldn’t they do it?
After visiting learner-centered environments like Harrisburg School District in South Dakota and Lindsay Unified School District in California, the “why we shouldn’t” list quickly shrank. Through conversations with learner-centered leaders at each site, the Northern Cass team solidified what “personalized learning” meant to them: “Every learner can change the world; therefore, we must provide a world class education.”
At Northern Cass, celebrating the unique capability of “every learner” means cultivating learner agency. Learning targets are entirely transparent and molded to the interests and passions of each child. Take one young learner who discovered a passion for music. Over the course of the year, during a three-hour block that is loosely designated as online learning time, she opted to meet with her music instructor and compose an entirely new song for her concert band. Her ultimate goal is to have her piece ready by senior year—acknowledging the complexity of music theory and composition.
Northern Cass School District also recognizes learning happens anywhere, anytime. Only in their second year of implementation, they are deeply exploring how open-walled experiences can be credited as the powerful learning experiences they are—providing young learners the opportunity to submit personal reflections on events like camping trips, community service, and internships. One can easily see how a young learner interested in composing music could gain valuable insights through mentorships with local, professional musicians in their surrounding communities.
As their learner-centered transformation continues, the Northern Cass community knows one thing for certain—this is the exact path they should be on. From parents to young learners to educators to administrators, everyone sees new possibilities emerging every day. And, they are keeping each other accountable to continue pushing forward. They have shifted from asking “why?” and “why not?” to simply asking “what’s next?”
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