The Pittsfield School District announced today that it has received a three-year, $2,000,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF), the largest charitable organization in New England focused exclusively on education, to support student-centered approaches to learning.
The grant will be used to support the long-term school transformation workplan developed over the past year by the Pittsfield Schools’ Community Advisory Council, a collaboration of students, parents, citizens, civic and business leaders, and educators. Among the priorities identified are a new staff position to support dual enrollment (courses bearing both high school and college credit), professional development for staff to strengthen literacy and mathematics learning, and personal electronic devices for each and every student that will allow students to take advantage of current technology for personalized learning.
In order to prosper as a community, both the Foundation and school district believe that communities need more learners achieving at higher levels. Student-centered approaches are aimed at reshaping education to move away from the current system’s “one-size-fits-all” methodology to a truly personalized, highly empowering learning environment.
Student-centered learning models are built around the recognition that different students learn in different ways, including being flexible about how time is used for both students and educators, such as accessing learning opportunities outside the traditional school calendar; harnessing the broader community to support and deepen learning experiences; articulating and employing curriculum, instruction, and assessment that promotes the skills and knowledge needed for success in college, work, and life; basing advancement on demonstration of proficiency in skills and knowledge.
“This grant acknowledges all of the hard work the people in Pittsfield have been doing. It is another example of the successful programs we have to provide students with multiple pathways to graduation, more relevant and applied learning, extended learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and expanding our online learning opportunities for all students,” said Commissioner of Education, Virginia M. Barry, Ph.D. “We are proud of Pittsfield and look forward to working with them and other districts to enhance their Student Centered Learning programs.”
The Pittsfield School District’s mission, that was articulated during a series of community forums during the 2008-2009 school year, states the aim to “engage our children and youth in dynamic learning that is personalized, monitored, and adjusted to promote growth in each and every learner.” The community is committed “to a comprehensive system of support that ensures that our graduates possess direction in life, sound academic skills, commitment to hard work, an ethic of involved citizenship, and thoughtful plans for the next phase of their lives.”
"Members of our Pittsfield community have expressed their strong support of student-centered learning through their work over the past year and a half to develop a long-term plan for the development of our schools,” said John Freeman, Superintendent of Schools. “Our community has articulated an exciting vision for the future of Pittsfield’s schools, one that demonstrates a high level of caring for our students and a strong commitment to positive school change.”
The Pittsfield Youth Workshop (PYW) is collaborating with the school district to actualize the ambitious plan for school transformation. The PYW is a nonprofit youth organization committed to providing programs and services that empower youth by helping them to develop useful skills, self-esteem, and meaningful friendships by involving them in activities that are interesting, challenging, and healthy avenues to self-discovery.
“There has already been a lot of change happening in Pittsfield, and we look forward to being an integral part of this transformation over the next few years,” said Zach Powers, executive director of PYW. “We are most excited about giving community members, especially students, a chance to take the lead to make education in Pittsfield more collaborative and student centered.”
Grants are being made under NMEF’s District-Level Systems Change (DLSC) initiative that the Foundation is using to promote the implementation of student-centered approaches.
“The combined challenges of more learners needing to succeed and succeed at a higher level, led us to these partners,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “We believe that these grantees are most aligned with our theory of change, had a three-year plan that was developed collaboratively by the district and its key stakeholders, and display strong collaborations with community partners. We are looking forward to seeing their successes.”
About the Nellie Mae Education Foundation
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest charitable organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle and high school levels across New England. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a three-part strategy that focuses on: developing and enhancing models of practice; reshaping education policies; and increasing public understanding and demand for high quality educational experiences. The Foundation’s initiative areas are: District Level Systems Change; State Level Systems Change; Research and Development; and Public Understanding. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $123 million in grants. For more information, visit www.nmefoundation.org.