Taking Competency-Based Learning to the Masses: Sanborn Leads Competency Design Studio

Learning, PreK-12

Dr. Brian J. Blake, Ellen Hume-Howard & Brian Stack

To be named one of the 25 Districts Worth Visiting in November 2014 by Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart was humbling. To make that same list again in 2015 was an honor and a testament to the hard work of the district’s 200+ teachers and school administrators who have maintained a laser-focus on competency education and personalized instruction. For seven years, the educators of the Sanborn Regional School District have openly shared their journey of transition from a traditional to a competency-based education system. Doing so has been a part of our professional development and a reflection of our own practices.

By the time Tom named us a district worth visiting in 2014, we were already averaging 2-3 requests per month from schools and districts who wanted to come to New Hampshire’s seacoast to learn more about our school redesign and competency education work. Since that time we have been averaging two to three requests per week. As one could imagine, our little school district of just 1,850 students and 200 teachers isn’t equipped to handle visits on this scale during the school year. Doing so would take us away from our important work with our own students. Our first Competency Design Studio in the summer of 2015 was our solution to this dilemma.

CBE-studio-editIn our first design studio, we envisioned a place where schools and school districts could send a team to learn more about our competency model and have some time to work on their own. Whether they were just starting out or deep into the planning or implementation phases, our studio offered support and resources to teams large and small. That first year, we invited national competency education specialist and our dear New Hampshire friend Rose Colby to deliver the keynote address. She shared time that morning with Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s Deputy Commissioner of Education and Dr. Brian J. Blake, Sanborn’s Superintendent of Schools as they set the stage for competency education at the national level and at Sanborn. Over the next three days, teams worked closely with twenty Sanborn teachers and school administrators as they studied many of the design and implementation facets that schools are faced with when they do this work.

Creating the conditions to help others succeed is one of the highest duties of a leader, and one that we practice in our school district as much as possible. For the last seven years our district has strived to be a learning institution; where every member of the community is learning, improving, striving, facing challenges together, understanding learners, and sharing as a collaborative team. The power of this collaboration has sustained our progress as a district and the positive energy of collaborative practice has made room for inviting other districts to learn and share with us. The power of sharing collaboratively moves all of us forward.

CBE Studio1-editIn its second year, we hope to welcome back many of the teams who participated in the first studio as well as many new teams. The registration cap has been increased and we feel confident we can support at least double the number of teams as last year. A two-day “boot camp” has also been added for New Hampshire schools who are hoping to be considered for the Performance Assessment for Competency Education option, the state’s innovative school accountability waiver that in 2015 garnered a lot of national attention and was considered one of the catalysts for change with the new Every Student Success Act (ESSA) law that now encourages states to develop personalized learning systems similar to the ones created in New Hampshire.

Our design studio is planned for July 20-22, 2016 and will be held at our high school in Kingston, NH. Registration can be done using our online form. You can also email us at [email protected]. This summer, we invite you to come spend some time on the beautiful New Hampshire seacoast with some of the most innovative and forward-thinking school districts in the country as we redesign and reimagine our schools to meet the needs of all learners.

For more on Sanborn, check out:

Dr. Brian J. Blake is Superintendent of Schools for Sanborn Regional School District. Follow Dr. Blake on Twitter, @BrianJBlake.

Ellen Hume-Howard is the Sanborn Regional School District’s Curriculum Director. Follow Ellen on Twitter, @MrsHumeHoward.

Brian Stack is the Principal of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, N.H. Follow Brian on Twitter, @bstackbu.

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Carol blake /

So proud of Dr. Blake and the rest of the team. Continue doing great things for the good of all especially the children!