Social-emotional learning, or the process of acquiring social skills and the ability to control emotions, has a direct bearing on academic achievement, according to a pair of conference panelists who discussed the subject Thursday morning.
Traci Davis, who is in her seventh year as superintendent of the Washoe County, Nev., School District, began the hour-long presentation by explaining the logistics of their SEL program that uses data collected and analyzed through software developed by Panorama Education, a Boston-based tech company.
Her district began its investment in SEL five years ago with the help of a grant by a former superintendent. Despite the transition in leadership, the district’s commitment remains strong.
Regarding the particular challenges in her school district, Davis said. “It’s an interesting time to be living in Reno. With the new Tesla power plant, you have a lot of people making money (but) we have to deal with homelessness and transience quite a bit.”
Although the district’s graduation rate has reached 84 percent, “the real story here is the 16 percent who aren’t reaching the finish line,” Davis said.
Early detection of academic and other problems is key to raising the graduation rate, according to Davis. “Instead of telling a kid they have to make up 15 hours his senior year, it’s far more efficient to check in with the freshman who’s a credit behind,” she said.
SEL does not replace attention to student equity and diversity. In the district, the two departments for SEL and the multi-tiered system of support, which identifies and supports the needs of special education students, are closely connected.
One major change was to amplify students’ voices within the district. As a result, the district randomly chose 12-15 high school students as representatives to the board and their input has informed decisions and raised community confidence in the board.
Elementary, middle and high school students attend a regular community conference where teachers, administrators and community members discuss issues.
Davis admitted that initially it was difficult to prevent students from griping about disagreements with individual teachers, but by teaching the students an appropriate way to talk about their grievances, they had productive contributions to make.
“We once had a punishment system for kids not showing up for class because that’s the No. 1 barrier to graduation,” Davis said. “These kids complained about it, so I suggested a positive rewards system.”
Read Sue Givens’s blog post about this event.
(Riley McCormick, a freshman at Vanderbilt University, is an intern with Conference Daily Online.)