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Reimagining Education to be Responsive, Representative, and Data-Informed: 3 Phases to Rochester’s Transformation

By: Barb White on March 12th, 2024

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Reimagining Education to be Responsive, Representative, and Data-Informed: 3 Phases to Rochester’s Transformation

Personalized Learning  |  School Districts  |  Strategic Planning  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

Picture this: sunrise in Rochester, NH, where the promise of a fantastic day starts with the aroma of fresh coffee and the delightful sight of pastries from the local gem, Potter's House. If you haven’t visited, you're missing out on a slice of Rochester's personality—hard working, welcoming, curious, and determined.

During a recent trip, while gearing up for one of our sessions, we made sure to kickstart the day with something sweet. Chatting in line with a local Potter's House patron, she asked why we were visiting Rochester. Her response was heartening: "I love our schools, and our students are amazing. I am so excited for the strategic planning that we are doing with you." Being part of Rochester's dedication to nearly 4000 students is a true privilege.

Over the past seven years, Rochester has nurtured a deep partnership with Education Elements, working hand-in-hand to design and implement personalized learning that fosters student choice, voice, ownership, and agency. From training staff to engaging with personalized learning teams and building leadership capacity, it's been a collaborative effort.

If you ask anyone in Rochester about their school community, they'll tell you it's all about deep roots, small-town vibes, big hearts, and a collective commitment to ensuring every student has a powerful and successful experience. 

Eight years ago, the Rochester School Department (RSD) embarked on a journey to personalize the student experience. With a firm belief in empowering all learners, they embraced Education Elements' Core Four areas: Student Ownership and Reflection; Data-Driven Decisions; Targeted Instruction; and Collaboration and Creativity. These principles became the foundation for Personalized Learning (PL) in Rochester. During the 2016-17 school year, Rochester MS launched PL, and over the next few years, it became integral to instruction  at all eleven schools. Rochester SD’s ability to embrace different instructional models was crucial to student success: from flipped instruction to station rotations to personalized playlists, Rochester prioritized various methods to engage students. PL helped students reflect on their progress and practice setting realistic learning goals. Customized dashboards tracked progress while fostering new habits and mindsets. Creating real-world connections for students has always been a focus for RSD. The foundation of Personalized Learning also supported conversations around Rochesters’ s Competency-Based Learning Model that is driven by clear learning targets (competencies) which students are expected to master by the end of each grade-level/course. This approach embeds work skills, such as self-direction, communication, collaboration, and creativity to build towards a successful educational experience and essential lifelong skills.

But the journey didn't stop there. By the spring of 2023, the COVID-19 pandemic had shaken things up, providing an opportunity to reimagine education in Rochester. As one leader put it, "It is time to reorganize, rebrand, and have us all moving in the same direction with intentionality and safety." With Rochester’s PL house in order, the timing seemed right to shift focus. Enter Rochester’s new strategic direction–a three-part recipe for achieving the greatest outcomes for learners.

Phase 1: A Foundation of Responsive Practices

In the wake of COVID, the educational landscape had shifted. Rochester felt called to recommit  to improving collaboration, communication, and teaming. As remote learning receded and re-entry to buildings began, the priority of supporting and focusing on people was paramount. RSD started the 2023-24 school year by using the Responsive Practices framework as a roadmap to support school and district leadership in making decisions for the future.

Roadmap from New School Rules

A cohort of teacher leaders was invited to join the learning by implementing the principles from The New School Rules–Six Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools. The energy and focus are contagious. One leader stated: “We have been able to take these practices and completely flip our team leader meetings, which has impacted our weekly Teacher, Admin, Guidance meetings for each team.”  One of the New School Rules focuses on schools as learning organizations grounded in the belief that schools grow when people grow. Responsive Practices has helped Rochester strengthen team habits by offering concrete approaches to shared decision making,  aligning on meeting structures and deepening the skills and knowledge of leaders. This continues to build the strong foundation of inclusive and equity focused systems that keep people at the center–students, educators and the community. 

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Phase 2: A Strategic Plan Representative of the Vibrant Community

Rochester believes in the power of the community, and in revisiting their strategic plan, committed to gathering community input through surveys and focus groups to determine priorities and set the right initiatives in motion. Rochester kicked off this process in January and with the support of Education Elements, the diverse steering team meets to look at responses and discern the best approach for Rochester SD. After a recent full day session, one steering team member commented, “This was a powerful day of hard work. [It is] a unique and incredible opportunity to help move our district in the right direction.” Already, we see the power of an integrated, intentional process and the profound impact it can have on the district culture. Rochester’s updated Strategic Plan will be launched and in place by June 2024.

Phase 3: A Data Culture to Drive Decisions

With a plethora of established data streams and the necessity for strategic plan monitoring, Rochester is exploring their beliefs, habits, and structures around data to drive decisions. This effort aims to cultivate new or improved norms, spaces, and resources that align with the district's vision for a robust data culture. By articulating a collective vision for data culture, and fostering a shared understanding of their strengths that can be utilized to realize that vision, Rochester is well-positioned for ongoing growth, performance, and adaptability.

So, what's next for Rochester? Stay tuned for the exciting future plans as they continue to shape education in this dynamic community. It's a journey worth following—one that involves not just coffee and pastries but a whole community coming together for the love of learning. Cheers to Rochester and its commitment to student success!

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About Barb White

Barb is a Design Principal, and advocate for change. Good coffee, intentional questions, and blooming flowers keep her energized.

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