Staff from 17 Beyond Textbooks partner districts gathered for a “data dig” to analyze student achievement results.
Vail’s Beyond Textbooks team: Back row (left to right), Eileen Short, Kathleen Arvizu, Suzanne Logsdon, Chelsea Yager, Brittany Bourgeois; and front row (left to right), Justin Chesebrough, Megan Kapp, Jen Strosin, Kevin Carney.
a strong base of lesson plans that integrated the Common Core Standards, but Baker says active participation and sharing by all partner districts through Beyond Textbooks is a critical element of the platform’s success. “Teachers from participating districts all across the state are uploading things all the time,” he says. “In fact, the last report we ran shows that our partner districts have now uploaded more material than Vail has. Our teachers benefit just like teachers from our partner districts.” Beyond Textbooks runs deeper than content building and sharing, however. Vail employs a staff of eight full-time instructional leaders who work with partner districts to provide training and staff development to support their use of Beyond Textbooks and implementation of the Common Core. All were hand-picked for their records of boosting student achievement as Vail teachers or administrators. Participation comes at a cost: approximately $7 per student. Revenues do not supplement Vail’s budget; rather all the funds generated go back to the Beyond Textbooks program to pay for staff and resources. The dollars also come with a bold promise: “We absolutely believe that if our partner districts implement with fidelity, their students are going to be ready,” says Baker. Dr. Steve Poling, superintendent of Palominas ESD in Hereford, Ariz., is counting on that. The district is now in its second year with Beyond Textbooks and already is seeing payoffs. “You certainly can’t argue with Vail’s success – they have proven expertise, and we knew they had done a great deal of work on creating a roadmap for transitioning from the current standards to the Common Core,” he explains. “But the things that really make it are that it’s a teacher-driven program and the professional development is excellent.” Palominas focused on the math standards last year and students’ learning gains were “phenomenal,” according
to Poling. He attributes the district’s recently awarded “A” grade to the hard work of district staff and Beyond Textbooks. Wickenburg USD was the first adopter in Maricopa County and is now in its fourth year with Beyond Textbooks. Dr. Howard Carlson, the district’s superintendent, says the small district simply didn’t have the staff capacity or expertise to tackle pacing calendars for instruction, to “unwrap” standards or create formative assessments to the degree available through Beyond Textbooks. A further benefit has been the ability of the district’s teachers to collaborate with teachers from districts statewide. “We got involved before Common Core was a big issue, but this is making the transition a whole lot easier,” Carlson said. Baker says putting the Common Core to work to improve student achievement is like weight loss: it requires an intellectual understanding of what needs to happen coupled with behavior change – “and behavior changes are tough.” The Arizona Department of Education sets the standards, assists with tracking and recording weight and body mass, and provides information about training, nutrition and exercise. But knowing you need to lose weight and having some ideas about what might be required to do so isn’t enough, according to Baker, who likens Beyond Textbooks to a specific program to lose weight. “Like weight loss, our program isn’t the only way to get there,” he says, “but if you follow the program as we’ve created it, you will get there.” Earlier this fall at a leadership retreat, members of the Vail board and staff reaffirmed their vision for Beyond Textbooks. “We considered whether we should set some specific goals for growth,” says Baker, “but we came to the decision that we got to where we’re at by simply doing what we believe is the right thing to do, which is offering our assistance to others if they want and need it.” Fall 2012 I ASBA Journal 29
The quarterly member magazine of the Arizona School Boards Association