THE TRANSFORMATION AT RED BANK ELEMENTARY BEGAN in 2009 at a voluntary summer retreat. Starting with the question, “What’s wrong with education today?” a group of educators launched an inquiry of discovery. And, over time, this quest landed them on their ultimate wondering: “What if we decided to change everything?”
Although fears of failure and the unknown were certainly present, the possibility of this new future of learning trumped all. With the support of district leaders, Principal Marie Watson and her team of educators began exploring the potential of a competency-based, learner-centered environment.
Fast forward to today, and Red Bank has positioned itself as a leader in education transformation—preaching to “just get started,” make progress along the way, and keep in mind that this new field of learner-centered education is about the journey, not the finish line. Red Bank views a learner’s mind as a developmental puzzle that should always be recognized for its unique strengths and weaknesses. Red Bank leaders understand the inefficiencies of age-based cohorts and standards-based design. They ask, if a learner isn’t developmentally ready to learn the basics of language or the foundations of mathematics, how can they possibly move on to more advanced study?
Starting with learners as young as four years old, they are met where they are. No matter how fast or slow a learner picks up new knowledge and skills, once “it” clicks, they are supported to jump into the next possibility. All of this happens through personalized, relevant, and contextualized pathways that are designed for each unique learner.
Imagine two learners: one whose fluency in math is moving along more slowly than his grasp of language and another, who’s a natural at all STEM-related work but struggles with reading comprehension. Throughout the day, each learner has the opportunity to not only learn how to lead but also how to be led. In the morning, the young, aspiring polyglot helps his friend with her Spanish vocabulary. And, in the afternoon, they ip roles as the future doctor shows her friend a new way of adding improper fractions. Both learners take agency over not only their own learning but also that of their peers, cultivating a socially embedded culture of collaboration.
The leaders at Red Bank Elementary remain humble in their transition, acknowledging they aren’t able to go as quickly as they want. But when looking back at that summer retreat 8 years ago, they are reminded of how far they’ve come. They are an example to all educators of what can come from “just getting started.”