AUBURN — The School Committee on Wednesday night met the coaches who are helping Auburn’s 300-plus teachers get ready for new state-mandated diploma standards coming by 2021.

Two of the coaches, Stephanie Marris and Jenny Johnson, filled new positions this year. One was approved in last year’s budget, the other was created by shuffling teachers’ jobs at the high school, Curriculum Director Shelly Mogul said.

The third coach, Val Brown, is not new.

“Every teacher in the system is working to make significant changes in the classrooms, like working with the new standards” and using new expectations to come up with a new grading system, Mogul said.

Proficiency-based education refers to any system of academic instruction, assessment, grading and reporting that is based on students demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level or receive a diploma, according to the Maine Department of Education.

The general goal of proficiency-based education is to ensure that students acquire the knowledge and skills that are deemed to be essential to success in school, higher education, careers and adult life. If students struggle to meet minimum expected standards, they receive additional instruction, practice time and academic support to help them achieve proficiency, according to the DOE.

The purpose is to make diplomas more meaningful. Students will no longer get credit for passing classes. By 2021, diplomas will be awarded only when students demonstrate they’ve mastered necessary skills. 

The new learning also supports Auburn goals of mass customized, or individualized learning.

The new ways are a shift in how teachers teach, students learn and developing new grades, Mogul said. Teachers are working on “how do we grade in a proficiency-based system? How do we make learning targets transparent to students? How do we have a culture in classrooms that allows students to have control and self-direction? All of that is new learning,” Mogul said.

“With 300-plus teachers doing that, they need people to support them,” she said.

Johnson works at the high school, while the others work with lower grades.

To avoid problems that Lewiston High School encountered last year when implementing proficiency-based learning before teachers were ready, Auburn schools will slowly introduce new standards and grades, Mogul said.

“We haven’t gotten rid of the 100-point scale at the high school,” she said.

But later this year, freshmen will start to be given grades from one to four in three subjects: math, English and science, Mogul said.

Next year at the Auburn Middle School, there will be the familiar 100-point scale, plus side-by-side grades on new standards.

Without the coaches, “teachers would be even more challenged to make changes in their classrooms,” Mogul said.

For instance, on Wednesday, Marris and Mogul worked with grades K-2 teachers at Park Avenue Elementary School customizing proficiency-based learning, while Brown worked with fifth- and sixth-grade teachers.

“The K-2 teachers needed to focus on something different than the (grade) 5, 6 teachers,” Mogul said. Principal Vickie Gaylord asked for help. “So it was all hands on deck today at Park Avenue. But we’re everywhere.”

In other business, two committee members said they are trying to improve relations between the School Committee and the City Council, which in recent years didn’t work well together on budgets.

Ward 2 committee member Bonnie Hayes said she had coffee with Ward 2 City Councilor Bob Stone, something that was encouraged last month by Ward 1 City Councilor Jim Pross, the mayor’s representative on the School Committee.

“It was very nice to meet with him and talk to him,” Hayes said.

Ward 3 committee member Tom Kendall said he, too, met with his counterpart, Ward 2 City Councilor Andrew Titus.

“I had hot chocolate,” Kendall said with a smile. “We all have priorities. It’s good to have a little bit of personal understanding.”

Hayes encouraged other School Committee members to reach out to councilors in their wards with one-on-one social meetings “to show we want to be respectful; we want to work together.”

Pross thanked Hayes and Kendall. “I’m so happy to hear that you guys reached out.”

Laying the groundwork for understanding will yield better results come budget time, he said. “The City Council takes very seriously the role that education plays in the future of our city,” Pross said.

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