Just as we want our classrooms to focus on differentiated learning for students, we wanted each of our schools to create a unique plan of attack when implementing the Keys to Success. We put the power in the hands of the principals (and their teachers) to choose how their schools could best address the Keys.

Principals are the ones who know their students and teachers best, and therefore the best steps to take to reach our common goals. For example, students attending one school on the west side of the county have different needs than students on the other side of the district, a more urban area. A blanket plan for all schools was not going to work. Each school was empowered to create its own plan by engaging teachers and staffs into the Keys’ strategic planning and budget preparation; as a result, teachers entered the school year laser-focused on what they needed to do in the upcoming school year to address our Keys at a classroom level.

To meet Key No. 1’s mandate that all students should be reading at grade level by third grade, many schools requested more access to books. Our elementary and middle schools adopted myON, a digital literacy environment that provides more than 10,000 digital books to match students’ interest and ability level. When students take state exams, those scores only tell you if a student can answer a question right or not. With myON, we can take a new approach to literacy assessment: measuring reading with reading. The built-in Lexile exams and reporting features let teachers measure how close students are to reading at grade level, and allow them to provide digital intervention if students start to fall behind.

96 new instructional coaches and no new hires

Based on our conversations when building the Keys, my leadership team and I knew we had to provide our teachers with more ongoing training on project-based learning, how to use data to drive instruction, and true differentiation. Instead of hiring a variety of instructional coaches, we wanted to utilize the talent and drive of our teachers already on staff and in the trenches, doing the good work.

As a result of this initiative, we now have 96 instructional coaches—all current Maury County classroom educators—focused on working with teachers in each school to better manage their classrooms and differentiate their instruction for students at a wide range of ability levels.  Each of the coaches receive both soft and hard skills training; time out of the classroom, during the day, to do their work; and a stipend to compensate them for the additional hours they work beyond their contract.  Each of the coaches went through panel interviews at their own schools and were selected by their peers for the positions. We saw all of these buy-in pieces as a recipe for success.

Our coaches help teachers “rethink” formative assessments and assess students more often than at the end of a unit or semester. Less formal, more frequent assessments allow teachers to adjust the curriculum to match our students’ varying ability levels and put each one on track to meet the Key goals on time.

Nobody said basing your entire curriculum on seven goals and differentiated learning would be easy, but, in Maury County we’re doing it—and doing it well. With the help of our school-based instructional coaches, digital curriculum catered to student interests, and our seven Keys to Success, we’ve created a sustainable approach to educating each of our students that everyone in the community can be proud of.

About the Author:

Chris Marczak, Ed.D., is the Superintendent of the Maury County School District in Tennessee. He started his career as a classroom teacher, and accepted his first administrative role in 2009. Follow Dr. Marczak on Twitter at @cjmarczak or email him at cmarczak@mauryk12.org.