In 2002, Dr. Jim Lewis, Superintendent of Blaine County School District from 1999-2009, envisioned a system – to improve student learning by bringing students and parents back to the table of accountability. A district committee comprised of teachers and administrators began the brainstorming sessions in the fall of 2002. Dr. Lewis presented a history lesson of the nation’s system of education over the last eighty years, boiling it down to the basic fact that educators were taking all the heat for the failure of our nation’s education system. It was his theory that we had made the colossal mistake in the early 70’s when we readily agreed that retention was a disaster for students and quickly inserted social promotion as the cure-all without ever stopping to consider the consequences of that quick-fix action. What we really accomplished was a loss of accountability for learning that became solely placed on the educator’s shoulders for families and students that were not as focused on a good education, or did not have the means to support early learning difficulties. We were so accustomed to moving children along in the factory-like fashion of 24 per classroom and expecting grade level abilities to emerge that we did not stop to think about a consistent method of remediation that would bring parent, child, teacher, and administration back to the table of accountability.
Teachers also voiced frustrations about the lack of student motivation and parent involvement, as well as a lack of communication and collaboration among their own colleagues. The assignment for this exceptional teacher-administrator committee selected was as follows: “To develop a comprehensive district achievement plan that focuses financial and human resources on instruction through a carefully articulated series of prevention, intervention, and corrective retention strategies. All of these strategies must be based on growth and directed toward providing all student the best pedagogy, the richest learning environment, and sufficient time to meet high standards. In addition, you must also develop a complete system that documents all of this progress and incorporates a method to include parents, student, teacher, and administration in the accountability equation.”
Over the next few years, this Mileposts Committee outlined the needs for teachers to become more effective, students to take ownership for their learning, and parents to become active participants in their children’s education. Our chief software engineer, Jeff Smith, took these ideas and created an innovative and dynamic software program which stores student profile information, files assessment data (both state and district), monitors student benchmark progress, as well as records documentation of accommodations, interventions and plans of all students during their school career.
The power in the system lies beyond the dynamic software – in the 360° accountability philosophy for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. All stakeholders sign an Accountability Agreement every three years. Students take ownership and responsibility for their learning. Parents agree to become active partners with the school to facilitate, promote, and encourage their child’s learning. Teachers agree to keep students and parents informed of progress toward goals, differentiated instruction to better meet the needs of each student, and collaborate with parents and colleagues to find the best strategies/interventions to ensure growth for all students. Administrators vow to hire and develop the most effective teachers, align curriculum to meet state standards, and supply appropriate instructional resources.
In 2005, our district put the Mileposts Program into place and provided training at each school site. Feedback from the staff continued to flow back to the committee, allowing for constant improvements and additions in the program. With continual training over the next few years, the Mileposts Program became a part of everyday life for teachers. Positive results ensued, with word spreading over the southern Idaho region. Other districts wanted to know what we were doing to make such big improvements.
By the spring of 2009, the district agreed to share the program with several interested districts: Castleford, Twin Falls, Jerome, Shoshone, Gooding, and Caldwell. Training sessions began in August and continued through January of 2010 as a Trainer of Trainer Model. This group of districts became the first Mileposts Consortium, and has provided valuable input for improving not only the product, but the model of implementation. In the fall of 2010, Filer, Minidoka, and Camas school districts joined the Consortium ranks.
During the summer of 2010, Blaine County School District entered into a partnership with Silverback Learning Solutions, the new parent company of Mileposts. This will allow the program to expand at an accelerated pace, both regionally and nationally, as well as continue to improve and enhance the software itself. As of January 2011, the Mileposts will be taken to a national stage in Washington, D.C. at “Beyond i3: The Aspen Institute’s National Education Innovation Summit and Venture Fair”. We are excited about helping our nation revitalize our education system to better meet the needs of all students by inspiring students and parents to partner with educators to invest of their time and talents to improve the learning for all students.