QUINCY -- Shifting the learning philosophy beyond the classroom walls could better prepare Quincy High School students for college and career opportunities.
Known as competency-based education, the approach provides more flexibility in completing coursework to earn credits toward graduation.
"At its heart, the foundation of competency-based education is determining those skills, that knowledge kids absolutely have to have to earn that credit or show mastery in any particular class," QHS Principal Jody Steinke said. "From there everything changes how you go about meeting kids' needs."
Quincy Public Schools applied to be part of a statewide pilot program for competency-based education -- and participating could waive many existing school code requirements including seat time.
"The way it operates in Illinois is you have to be in a seat so many hours to get credit for a class toward graduation. If we waive that requirement, it gives kids opportunities to accelerate, opportunities to earn credit off site," said Steinke, who remembers learning "every bit as much geometry" working on job sites with his dad, a contractor, as he did in the classroom. "They could work out in the community and learn as much or more than they're learning sitting in the classroom, or if nothing else, complement what they're learning in the classroom."
As a first step, QHS offers a hybrid graphic arts/English class this school year, while planning continues for next year. Plans call for looking at some of the semester electives at QHS and identifying one team in each core department to get a head start.
"Some classes may require all of 2018-19 to prepare for the transition. Some may be able to prepare the coursework in the first semester and then execute the coursework in second semester," Director of Student Services Carol Frericks said.
"Teachers involved in courses that will utilize competency-based education will need to define specifically for the students and their families what are the specific competencies for each course to demonstrate mastery. We want to make sure teachers have a definite plan and that students and families are aware of the plan so it will provide an opportunity for teachers to really adjust their syllabus for the class and their projects for the class."
Key changes will target the amount of time students spend in classes along with the chance to think innovatively about coursework.
One student might need a couple of months, not a full school year, to finish Algebra I or English 1, while another might need a full calendar year.
"Identifying competencies up-front allows us to identify kids a little easier and meet needs, accelerate when needed and slow down when needed," Steinke said. "This is one of those unique opportunities where we get to impact across the whole spectrum of kids. Typically, we do something for kids at risk, for kids who are advanced placement. This has the opportunity to impact all kids."
More help will come through a new advisory committee with representatives from QPS, the community, business leaders, Quincy University, Western Illinois University and John Wood Community College.
Jana Hattey, community bank president with People's Prosperity Bank, said the experiential learning in additional traditional academics, will benefit students.
"It sets them apart from students at other schools when they apply for a job. Having real-life experiences helps prepare them for the real world and can only benefit the community … to retain local students and talent here in our area," Hattey said.
"If a kid is really thinking about going into banking, we can get very specific information in kids' hands about job readiness for banking as opposed to just job readiness," Steinke said. "That's going to change the game a little for our kids and our staff that we get to be a lot more specific on what were preparing kids for."
In years to come, Steinke could see individualized graduation plans for students tailored to their future needs and new ways of tracking credits. Maybe a student doesn't need Algebra 2 to be successful in college or career but would do better with a different kind of math experience.
"We've got an opportunity to fundamentally reshape Quincy High School," Steinke said.
But students and families shouldn't expect wholesale change.
"We're not getting rid of the traditional environment. We know that serves a lot of kids well, but also know a pretty good chunk it doesn't serve well," Steinke said. "We don't want to harm kids that school's working for, and we're not going to, but we want to provide those multiple pathways."