USD 410 leads the way for project-based learning

Jonathan Hinerman, a Hillsboro High School sophomore at the time, prepares his robot for competition at the VEX Robotics event hosted by HHS in March 2015. Robotics is one example of the hands-on learning that has taken center stage in USD 410.
Jonathan Hinerman, a Hillsboro High School sophomore at the time, prepares his robot for competition at the VEX Robotics event hosted by HHS in March 2015. Robotics is one example of the hands-on learning that has taken center stage in USD 410.
Unified School District 410 achieved a lot during the 2015 calendar year, according to Superin?tendent Steve Noble, despite another year of reduced funding, thanks to the state?s block-grant funding strategy.

Noble listed progress in teaching and learning, student testing, stream?lining administration, merging buildings and main?taining facilities.

Teaching and learning

The 2014-15 school year marked the district?s first experience with all-day kindergarten.

?That was a big change for us,? Noble said. ?We had a few families opt out for the half-day program (in fall 2014), but this year almost every family is in all-day.

?We view that as more proof that our board of education is committed to the importance of early-childhood education as a way to get a child off to a good start.?

Noble highlighted achievements in its Project Lead the Way program.

?We continued to be a school that has successfully implemented Project Lead the Way in (kindergarten through 12th grade), one of the few schools in Kansas to offer the entire project-based learning pathway at every grade level in every school.?

Noble said it?s been a team effort.

?Our teachers have embraced that (program),? he said. ?The ones that are teaching Project Lead the Way are doing an outstanding job implementing it. It?s very rigorous; it?s very application-based. Our kids are highly engaged in that process.?

For the first time, a group of local elementary students presented at a Project Lead the Way engineering conference hosted by Wichita State.

?They presented solutions to two or three different problems that were proposed,? Noble said. ?Engineers from the Wichita area, as well as professors, interviewed our elementary kids, and they did just an outstanding job.?

A group from the high school placed second in a competition at the same event.

?This was against schools of all sizes in the region,? Noble said. ?Our group of kids at HHS finished second with an auger straw ?Slur?pee? design that is actually eligible to be patented.?

Student testing

This past year was the first year of transition to ACT Aspire, which is the testing program used to ensure students are on track for success in college.

?All the way down to third grade, we start preparing students and getting them ready for success on our ACT standards and college readiness,? Noble said.

On the career-tech side, the district also implemented certificate programs as a certified nurse aide or in the field of welding.

?For the first time last year, we paid for every senior to take the ACT Work?Keys Assessment, which indicates our students are career ready,? Noble said.

?Then, for the first time ever in spring 2015, we paid for every junior that was eligible and able to take the ACT, which is the first time we?ve been able to offer that assessment for every kid.?

Noble said the district will continue that effort this spring.

?It?s just another indication that we mean it when we say we want every student to succeed,? Noble said. ?We?ve put in things that assure they are being supported. We are also measuring that level of success to show us if we?re meeting the students? needs.?

Combining buildings

Noble said the need to find ways to do more with less funding prompted the merger of the high school and middle school under one administration and faculty.

?We reduced administration at Hillsboro High School, closed one of the two offices in that building and put the offices under one roof in the Hillsboro Middle School office,? he said.

?We also changed the name of the building to Hills?boro Middle High School, and we operate as one faculty and one administrative team.?

Noble noted the hiring of Clint Corby as the district?s first principal for grades 6 through 12, and the hiring of Robert Rempel as assistant principal and activities director.

?Mr. Corby?s vision of a cohesive 6-12 faculty in vision and mission and goals is coming into focus there, and I feel very pleased with his leadership,? Noble said. ?I think the merger of buildings is moving in the right direction.?

Another transition of note was the retirement of Diana Holub as counselor and the hiring of Jill Hein as student services coordinator.

?She?s serving in the counselor?s duties for grades 6-12 and is doing an outstanding job of keeping our vision alive for college and career readiness,? Noble said.

The new playground at Hillsboro Elementary School has been a big hit with students since it was opened in fall, the result of a community-wide fundraising effort led by the HES Site Council comprised of parents.
The new playground at Hillsboro Elementary School has been a big hit with students since it was opened in fall, the result of a community-wide fundraising effort led by the HES Site Council comprised of parents.

Facility improvements

Two projects highlighted the past year, according to Noble: the construction of a new playground at the elementary school and the remodeling of the middle school gymnasium.

?It was a huge effort on the part of our parent-led site council,? Noble said of the playground project. The community responded to the grass-roots leadership with institutional, organizational, business and private contri?bu??tions.

?We also conducted two carnivals for the first time in many, many years at the elementary school that were really successful,? Noble added. ?They did more than just raise money. They also brought our families together around a common cause, and I think that?s always exciting.?

The playground opened this fall.

?It has just been a huge asset, not only to our school but our entire community because it serves as a playground after hours and on weekends as well,? he said.

The middle school gymnasium was long overdue for some upgrades, Noble said.

?That was a major project that took three years to complete, starting with the roof, a new ceiling and new lighting, and then eventually the floor was refinished and repainted and a new set of bleachers were installed on the west side where our public sits,? he said.

?It just goes to show you that if you care for a facility, even an old facility like that, can look brand new again,? he said. ?We?re very pleased with how that turned out.?

The next upgrade is the installation of an emergency-preparedness system at the schools that would limit access to those buildings ?in the name of safety for our students and staff, and protect the investment of our equipment and supplies we have in those buildings.?

Every school employee will receive a card that will enable them to enter the areas where they are needed. If the employee resigns or loses the card, the original card can be deactivated from a computer system and a new one activated if needed.

?It?s just an easy, adaptable system that is much more cost-effective and it helps with the security of our buildings,? Noble said.

Vision and transition

Noble recently accepted the superintendent position at Topeka Seaman. One of his priorities before completing his service at USD 410 at the end of this school year, is to have the district?s new vision and mission statement approved and implemented.

Over the past year and half, Noble and the board gathered input from a variety of groups.

?We have completed our draft, but the board has not approved it yet,? he said.

?I?m very excited with what we?ve come up with on our vision statement, our mission statement and then finally the goals and objectives will be approved for how we move forward.?