Berkeley Co. School District considers curriculum change to meet industry, workforce needs

VIDEO: Berkeley Co. School District considers curriculum change to meet industry, workforce need

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County School Board is considering a change to the district’s mission and vision in an effort to shift the district’s curriculum to an approach that aligns with the 21st century.

It’s an effort to create new ways for Berkeley County students to learn and be prepared for post-graduation life and work.

“This is so important for us to get to 21 century education,” said Dr. Kelly Wulf, the district’s Chief Academic and Innovation Officer.

A design team has been tasked with researching and developing this change, which will impact K-12 students in all schools in Berkeley County.

“With so much information readily available to them, 21st century skills focus more on making sense of that information, sharing and using it in new, innovative ways,” according to the design team’s proposal to the Berkeley County School Board.

A presentation was made in front of the board Tuesday evening. It outlined how the “21st century education” concept would translate to the classroom.

Officials said learning would be more project-based, and it would focus on real-world skills like adaptability, critical thinking, communication, resilience, initiative, advocacy, and collaboration.

“They are going to get excited about learning. I really think it’s about equity. It’s about engagement. It’s about kids being able demonstrate learning, not just by bubbling a test,” Wulf said. “An example is, we heard from our community that we needed financial literacy. That was missing, and we hear that from our parents. And so, we’ve now put financial literacy into all of our high schools where kids are learning how to do their taxes, how to be able to look at how much of an apartment I can afford.”

The move to change the district’s curriculum was fueled by surveys and meetings with students, teachers, community stakeholders, and business leaders.

“Graduation rates are not an indicator of success. Success is really our kids being successfully employed 3, 4, or 5 years out and how we are tracking that,” Wulf said. “Really traditional education was about English, math, science and social studies, but that’s an industrial age education. That’s not 21st century education…Information is at the fingertips of everyone. You can google anything. So, it really is how do we move to 21st century education.”

Part of this change is in response to Berkeley County businesses seeking employable workers. Wulf said students are not prepared to enter the workforce when they graduate.

“The first and foremost, they don’t come on time. They aren’t timely. They don’t take initiative,” Wulf said. “Almost every industry anymore, it’s about team work, collaboration. Those are the skills our kids are missing.

Wulf attributed some of that to the “accountability era” of education. She said this new approach would create multiple pathways to meet the individual needs of every single student.

“Berkeley is booming in terms of industry, and we’ve got to listen to what they need because our kids are their future,” Wulf said.

Wulf said this approach could help students come out of school debt free, by offering them multiple pathways to employability.

This change in curriculum won’t impact the standardized tests required by the state and federal government, but Wulf argues that it could improve scores.

“That’s one of the things we heard from our community and business leaders more than anything. When you go to work for a business, you don’t work in isolation and your content isn’t in isolation. It’s interdisciplinary,” Wulf said. “We are preparing them for work, but you’re also going to see that deeper learning is going to occur.”

Berkeley County is the first district in the Lowcountry to try to implement this kind of shift in curriculum.

The next step is to expand the design team with teachers and principals who are innovators within the district.

Then, the design team will start working on the curriculum. Units and authentic assessment rubrics will be developed. Wulf said this will not be more work for teachers but different work.

Officials expect these proposed changes to go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year.

The Berkeley County School District is also a part of a Lowcountry consortium of schools included in a waiver from the SC Department of Education. It gives districts the ability to research new ways to measure learning.

“I do think folks are starting to listen and say, we’ve got to do school different,” Wulf said.

The proposed changes would also include a new grading system and report card based on progress and mastery of skills, rather than test scores and completion of assignments.

That’s something that’s already being done in at least one Berkeley County school.

“This system does not grade behavior. This system only grades learning, and so we don’t penalize kids if they don’t have a support system at home or if they forget their homework or if they’re not quite organized enough yet to keep up with things,” said Westview Elementary Principal Shawn Wimmer. “Right now, we have kids that are doing poorly because they don’t have developmentally the behaviors that support academic success mastered yet. This pulls that off the table so that the child is not penalized for that. We really are evaluating true genuine deep learning using this system.”

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