When Silver Schools Superintendent Lon Streib looked back over his first month with the district nearly two years ago, he said he remembered wishing for more time; there were gaps in the educational process that created problems for students, and some of the curricular foundations needed to be rebuilt.
But, he said, there was no time to do that. School was in session, and they had to look at the final product, especially for seniors, and make them the priority. They had to assure the best possible ending for them and work backwards to fill in as many of the holes as they could. (That was the class of 2012-2013.) They just did their best.
This past year, he said, with the help of high school principal Beth Lougee, they had more of the year to catch things up, and they did a better job. More seniors graduated. "Now," said Streib, "we are catching up. And we can go back to the lower classes and bring the curriculum into better shape. We are catching up fast."
Lougee explained that those "holes" were glitches in the sequence that had some skills being taught in senior level classes, but sophomores or even freshmen needed those skills to do their work. The teaching staffs of some departments had to go back and look at all the weaknesses that were costing students the lower scores. That is where they discovered the skills holes or gaps, and they had to teach some things sooner. She said both English and math had these problems, and more of this work continues.
Streib said the district is making progress with rebuilding these foundations, and this part should be completed before long. But another problem, he said, was the student need for a different kind of skill: the ability to look at a problem, break it down into its many parts, figure what didn't work, and make a plan that would lead to success. Spending lots of time didn't mean the work was being done successfully.
Problem solving is done by each individual. This need affects job performance in life, and they were weak in many common thinking tasks that come with experience, Streib said. He mentioned again analysis and added decision making, speaking and writing skills, the need for cooperation and sharing points of view, compromise and team work: these are important in today's working conditions. Very few positions now give individuals an assignment where they can work entirely alone and not depend on others for success.
Streib noted that local businesses wanted and needed to hire graduates with more of these skills, but the district would have to design situations where students could learn and apply them before they graduated. He said Freeport McMoRan was an example; they had the jobs, but district graduates were not ready to fill these jobs. Silver has to redesign school experiences to make this possible. The schools continue to develop and implement the teaching of the skills.
One difference teachers and administrators were already working on was to find more scholarships for students who excelled in the arts, music and other academic areas. Streib said there were good athletic scholarships, but much more could be done in other areas.
Everyone wants the Colts to win, but he remarked that "we are not destroyed by losses."
He said he thought the district could improve the academics a lot and not lose out on sports. The end result should be a well-rounded student competent in many areas and ready for employment. Another underrated need was time and opportunity to develop leadership. He said there were many ways to develop that, and many more students needed to do it. Along with career path plans, Streib said he would like to see more complete programs with certification at the end of certain classes, and he hoped that area schools could be included in these educational benefits.
When he looked over the district's teachers, Streib said he saw a lot of state and federal mandates for them. Local needs got a lower priority. Some teachers also needed to develop their thinking skills to be more effective and not do needless work. Teachers complain of the paperwork, and he hoped the improvements in the schools' computers were helping. He was trying to show where information and efforts were duplicated many times over and how to get rid of the unnecessary repetitions.
The district's computer department has made great strides in the past year, and he gave much credit to Ben Potts, a Silver graduate who had worked until recently in Hatch as a teacher, and who had turned into a terrific Tech. Hired last June, Potts was turning the schools' communications equipment around, and very quickly.
Streib said Potts has four technicians with him, and his department was changing drives, upgrading, doing small miracles with what they had. Almost nothing is thrown away. Old junkers get new drives or cloned drives. Downed systems are returned to action fast, causing much less headache for teachers. Maintenance is greatly improved. He estimates that in the future, equipment will be on a three-year cycle.
A recent windfall is the gift of 80 computers from Sandia Labs. Potts had the connections and brought them in. Streib said all were newer, two to five years old, and a few were top-of-the-line, worth about $10,000 each. Every unit improved what the district had. The best were reworked into servers. Potts and his team upgraded infrastructure for greater volume and classroom storage and retrieval, so current information can also be used later.
Other benefits are automated work orders for teachers, recertified machines, improved software and increased on-task time. Efficiency is increased for everyone: students, teachers and other staff. Streib says Potts is a teacher, thinks like a teacher, and knows what will help them most. And the value of his services? "Priceless!" says Streib.
Looking at the plat maps, someone discovered land irregularities. They existed in the Cliff area and on high school property in Silver City. Communicating with the city and others, the district worked out agreements for swaps that gave something to the fairgrounds, cleaned up the maps in a few places, and it was all done without cash outlay, leaving no loose ends.
Many of these changes are small, easily overlooked. But taken all together, they benefit teachers, students and staff. The improvements are coming to all areas, in as balanced a way as the district can do it, but some needs were critical, said Streib. Seniors were a major focus. Now, others are getting a share. Little by little, things get better. He believes student grades should be next.