Curriculum Interview with Stearns


School Principal, Jed Petsinger.


hello, I'm Jed Petsinger, the principal of Stearns High School in Millinocket, Maine. I am going to take you on a tour through my high school and the town.

Mr. Petsinger, how is the curriculum developed for Stearns

High School?

The curriculum that we have now at Stearns High School is both inherited and constantly evolving as state and national standards change. Teachers and departments work closely with administration throughout the year to update and change curriculum.

Who are the people involved at each level in the curriculum development process? Who leads or facilitates each part of the process? Who must approve the curriculum before it is implemented?

Stearns High School receives students from one middle school which is located upstairs in this building. The school system also has a K through five elementary school. The individual teachers and departments start the curriculum development process to align their content with state and national standards. Each building has a curriculum coordinator who is in charge of maintaining the curriculum documents and reporting to the superintendent and school board. The K through five coordinator is Linda McDonald. In this building, our six through twelve coordinator is Heather Girsa.

Heather reports to me as the six through twelve principal. When the project is completed, the curriculum will be presented to the school board for approval. Realistically, however, the curriculum is always being changed and updated as standards change.

How are curriculum needs assessed for Stearns High School? How are curriculum needs prioritized and scheduled?

Now, the state dictates our curriculum focus. Currently our focus has to be meeting A Y P, annual yearly progress. Because of this focus, the priority classes are English, math, and science. The other departments are also working on their needs, but No Child Left Behind law really drives where we put our biggest efforts.

What format does the curriculum take?

The Millinocket School system uses a curriculum template to guide the development of subject matter. This template is available through system-wide conferencing on our e-mail network. In accordance with our school board policies and state laws, a the high school level, we have a program of study which tells the students and parents what courses the student needs to graduate. The guidance department publishes this book and gives it to students in the spring during course sign up. The information is also available online so that anyone can access it. There is also a Student Handbook.

Once the curriculum has been designed, who monitors it to ensure implementation?

The principal and assistant principal monitor the implementation of the curriculum through classroom observations. What we often find is a disconnect between the written curriculum and the "true", or actual curriculum that the teachers are teaching. The main reason for the mis-alignment is that we get kids who are not at level for the course content, so teachers have to remediate to get students up to the subject matter level.

How is the curriculum assessed and evaluated to make sure it's doing what it says its doing? How often and by whom?

The assistant principal and I regularly review how our students perform on standardized tests. We have to meet regular annual performance goals on the Student Achievement Test, the S A T, and the Maine science augmentation, so we review this data. We also do item analyses of the middle school performance on the NECAP and the N W E A tests.

What are current curriculum directions at Stearns High School?

Stearns High School is leading the nation to open American public high schools to receive tuition paying Chinese students. We have up to sixty five international students ready to matriculate once the school board approves this program that has received approval from Homeland Security. This is going to have a big impact on our curriculum directions. We will need to add more A P (Advanced Placement) or I B (International Baccalaureate) content. This will have a positive effect for our students who will be exposed to diverse cultures and global learning.

How are professional development (PD) needs tied to curriculum? What time is available for teachers to work together on curriculum issues and improvement? What online opportunities for PD are available?

We do have a big need for training on curriculum. Currently, we have a Curriculum Institute during June which allows teachers to work alone or on teams on their curriculum. We have had several trainings on how to write curriculum. During the year, several workshop days are devoted to professional development for curriculum, as well. Our staff is split between knowing that we need to change and not wanting to change. Some teachers take graduate courses to keep up to date. We are part of the Virtual High School network, so teachers can take online courses in twenty first century skills.

How has Stearns High School curriculum been influenced by Maine's Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction, NCLB, the new Common Standards, and standardized tests?

N C L B has had a huge, positive impact on our school. It's no longer acceptable to accept complacency. On the other hand, many of the state and national mandates for education have had an unintended outcome. Many of our elective courses like art, foreign language, and business have been cut to make room for these mandates.

If you could one thing to improve curriculum, what would it be?

What we need now is more flexible scheduling. Some courses need to meet every day while other courses can meet every other day. I'd like to find a way to make the daily schedule more flexible and still be able to accomodate our vocational students who attend Region Three. I would also like to have top level instructors in every class. I mean teachers who can use technology, assessment data, and drive the curriculum.