2018-09-09 / Insight

Dryden focuses on competency learning

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Fifth-grade student Ian Tresnak and sixth-grade student Noah Hall tackle seventh grade pre-algebra. Dryden Community Schools is shifting its focus to challenging students when they’re ready. 
Photo courtesy Dryden Community Schools Fifth-grade student Ian Tresnak and sixth-grade student Noah Hall tackle seventh grade pre-algebra. Dryden Community Schools is shifting its focus to challenging students when they’re ready. Photo courtesy Dryden Community Schools DRYDEN — Traditionally when children turn five they go to kindergarten and then spend the next 13 years moving from grade to grade until they graduate and get a job, go to college or join the military.

At Lapeer County’s smallest school district, said Dryden Community Schools Superintendent Mary Finnigan, “We do have traditional grade levels, but to a certain extent we’re trying to blur the lines.”

Finnigan said there is a growing realization that putting kids in cohorts based on age may not be the best way to educate them.

Over the past four years, she said, Dryden Community Schools has shifted toward competency learning, an approach that’s been adopted by school districts in Armada, Dexter and Fraser, among others.


Dryden French teacher Kimberly Sakowsky leads her class through the alphabet. 
Photo by Phil Foley Dryden French teacher Kimberly Sakowsky leads her class through the alphabet. Photo by Phil Foley Traditionally, Finnigan said, schools have “moved kids in herds based on date of manufacture, not based on what they know.” She said that results in some children being moved too fast and others not fast enough.

She noted that people like British educator Ken Robinson has suggested that standardization and testing have resulted in the killing of creativity.

Finnigan said Dryden’s staff is reading Todd Rose’s “The End of Average.” Rose, director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Mind, Brain and Education Program, argues that a one-size-fitsall approach to education is antiquated.

“We are redefining what smart is,” said Finnigan, noting that while she has multiple college degrees, her husband, who works with robots, doesn’t and he can “fix anything around the house,” while she can’t.”

She said four years ago the district began to focus more on how students learn. As a result, the district now has some fifthand sixth-grade students in seventh-grade history while other students are getting more attention in early elementary math.

Finnigan said the district has been shifting toward more individualized education. She said because of Dryden’s small size, “We are able to be nimble and offer more opportunities.”

She said Dryden was an early adopter of the Early College Program, which allows students to earn up to 60 college credits while at Dryden Junior/Senior High School and attend their first physical year of college as a 13th year of high school, with the state foundation grant picking up the cost.

Dryden recently signed an agreement with Oakland University, giving the district six colleges it has early college agreements with. “It’s about being flexible and planning with kids in mind,” Finnigan said.

She noted that one of Dryden’s graduates last year actually earned her associate’s degree diploma the week before her high school diploma.

Finnigan noted that the district already has two students enrolled in their 13th year at Oakland University.

But she added, the district is just as focused on ensuring that students are as ready to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, if that’s what they want to do, as they are the college entrance exam.

Finnigan believes the approach is working, noting that while the district has become less test focused, its students had the highest overall SAT scores in Lapeer County last year.

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