The principal leads a group past cardboard-covered artwork leaning against walls in the office on a recent summer day at J.B. Young K-8 School in Davenport.
“That’s from Lincoln school,” Marianne Corbin says over her shoulder, as she heads into the hallway.
Sounds of buzzing construction tools and radio music waft out of several classrooms, where workers are installing air conditioning and making other improvements.
Then, she steps into the dimly lit gymnasium, which is packed with tables, chairs, easels, desks, computers and other furniture from Lincoln, a Davenport elementary school the district closed at the end of last school year because of budget constraints.
“Look at all of this,” Corbin said, with a big smile. “And there’s no elevator at Lincoln, so someone had to carry all this down the stairs.”
These are some of the physical transformations happening at J.B. Young, where about 60 students from Lincoln will transfer this fall, as the district changes the building from an intermediate school to one that serves children from kindergarten through eighth grade.
But other work has been going on behind the scenes all summer, too, to get ready for a unique competency-based curriculum, which is new to the district and much of the Quad-City area.
Instead of focusing on grade levels, the school’s primary students will proceed to the next level of study when they show proficiency in the material rather than waiting to graduate to the next grade.
“Our expectation is if you ask a first-grade-age student what they’re studying, where they’re at on the ladder and when they’ll be able to progress up to the next level, they’ll be able to tell you,” Corbin said. “The kids will be very much in charge of that.”
Because nothing quite like this has existed in Quad-City area schools, Davenport district officials have been studying research about the model in other schools across the world, Corbin said.
The district also hired three teachers to lead the instruction at J.B. Young. They were hired from within the district through a bidding process, which means those with the most seniority and qualifications were chosen, Corbin said.
Those teachers include Jenny Strang, who will teach students who typically would fall within third through fifth grades.
She said she most recently taught first-grade at McKinley Elementary School in Davenport and realized the children in her class “were really at kindergarten through sixth-grade level” in their academics, anyway. So, this new teaching approach is intriguing to her, she said.
Another teacher, Sarena Yeager, will teach primary-level math, and she is transferring from teaching in the upper grades at J.B. Young.
The third teacher is Casey Fleming, who will teach students whose ages align with kindergarten through second grade. She most recently was a teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Davenport but previously worked 14 years at Lincoln during its fundamental and integrated arts school models.
Fleming said she is familiar with that student population and excited about new possibilities for those students at J.B. Young, where school will be “innovative and student-centered.”
“Students will be assessed for their initial placement, but we have a lot of flexibility,” Fleming said. “In this program, the students get to select the topics and reading material they’re interested in, so that helps for a high level of engagement. For a lot of academics, they get to choose the books they want to read, and they can write papers on subjects they’re interested in.”
Fleming said she imagines the children designing and creating their goals, which will be aligned with the Iowa core curriculum.
“Our philosophy is if it’s not working, then the teacher needs to change,” she said. “We need to change the way we’re teaching that skill so the student has a better opportunity to master that skill.”
As these teachers prepare curriculum, read books about competency-based instruction and work together to prepare for the start of school, they also are attending training sessions for this new model, Corbin said.
The principal and several of her staff members are in Philadelphia this week, receiving specialized training for the new college-readiness program called AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, which will get introduced to a group of about 20 sixth-graders this fall at J.B. Young.
The program is meant to help them accelerate learning and encourage them to take honors and Advanced Placement classes in high school, Corbin said.
Meanwhile, district staff members have been working to make the transition as smooth as possible, including moving the furniture from Lincoln to J.B. Young. The furniture donation will allow the entire J.B. Young building to change over from traditional desks to tables and chairs in the classrooms, which encourages more collaboration and group projects, Corbin said.
“There will also be some soft seating areas for kids to read in,” she said. “It will be different than what people think of with rows of desks and chairs.”
Instead of computer labs, the building is now set up for wireless Internet, and every child will have access to an iPad. In an old computer lab area of the library, the library books and shelves from Lincoln have been moved in, so the primary students can have an age-appropriate library space, too.
The SmartBoards and classroom microphone systems from Lincoln also are being installed at J.B. Young, along with other leftover supplies and décor, including the stage curtain.
Workers also are installing a new fire-safety sprinkler system, intercom and lights, a new outdoor playground and making food-service changes to accommodate the little students, Corbin said.
She said it’s amazing how many people have reached out to help.
“From the day school ended, every single district department has supported the Lincoln move,” she said. “The staff at Lincoln worked two extra days to pack up the curriculum and label it. They closed Lincoln with such integrity and such respect.
“Everybody really shows enthusiasm about this transition. They put so much time and effort in, so much support.”