Next year, the student who makes the best use of SuccessMaker at Beaty-Warren Middle School may be going to Disney World.
Leaders from the National Education Foundation visited the Warren County School District, and Beaty in particular, on Wednesday.
They were doing more than checking on the progress. Beaty was named STEM+ Academy of the Year.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
NEF Founder Dr. Appu Kuttan watches as Beaty-Warren Middle School seventh grader Ashleigh Deppen works on SuccessMaker software Wednesday in the school’s STEM+ Academy.
The academy was one of the requirements for receiving millions of dollars in low- to no-interest Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) funds for construction projects at Beaty, Eisenhower and Sheffield.
In Beaty's case, that academy was provided by the National Education Foundation.
NEF founder Dr. Appu Kuttan, a philanthropist, author and global leader in digital and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, presented a check for $12,000 to the district and complimented the students, teachers, and administrators on their efforts, with particular accolades for STEM+ Academy Director Misty Weber and Assistant Director Jen Dilks.
"We are so happy to give these awards to Misty, Jen, the whole district, and a surprise award to (Director of Buildings and Grounds Services) Norbert (Kennerknecht)," Kuttan said. "Thank you for your time, your efforts, and most of all your dedication to the kids."
"We have really enjoyed working with Beaty this year," Weber said. "We look forward to the next couple years of finding ways to motivate the students and help them learn."
Beaty is a model academy. Kuttan said NEF plans to put six academies in six major cities. Those programs will be able to look to Beaty for advice.
"Our ambitious goal is to be in every disadvantaged school by 2020," Kuttan said.
Students are encouraged to use the SuccessMaker curriculum program, by Pearson, at school and at home. The hours spent on the system are tracked and there are incentives for students who reach certain targets throughout the school year.
Some of the incentives are significant technology items - Kindle Fire, Xbox, and iPod were some of the items given to students.
"If we can motivate these kids, they can do very well," Kuttan said. "Maybe we should send the best student to Disney World every year. That's one of the things we can do."
He wasn't offering to let the district fund a student's trip to Orlando, Fla.; Kuttan said the company would fund the trip.
"They've fully funded every single thing that we've done," Weber said. "They've paid for all the prizes. They've funded teacher training. He paid for gift cards for parents at parent night."
The NEF, Pearson, and other visitors met with teachers, administrators, and board members. They posed questions about the incentives and other aspects of the program to math teachers Matt Madigan and Lisa Franklin.
Because the students work at their own pace at individual stations, they feel more comfortable asking questions, Lisa Franklin said.
Teachers receive feedback on individual and class progress. "You can see what strand they're struggling with," Matt Madigan said.
The visitors also stepped into a computer lab in which students in Lynn Shultz's seventh-grade reading class were working on SuccessMaker. The students provided some feedback on the program.
"If you get the questions wrong it has a tutorial," Abi Peck said.
"For the reading, there are mini-videos to explain it if you don't understand," Mariesa Clarke said.
Trinity Pojar complimented the vocabulary used in the program - "you use it a lot."
But she complained that there was not enough support for some concepts and the tutorials didn't always continue until the student had mastered the subject.
Jason Panella, senior vice president at Pearson, said he would look into the possibility of additional tutorial options and speculated that the program "thinks you're fluent in that concept" before a student truly achieves mastery.
Panella said Pearson works with students in the Phoenix, Ariz., area to improve "the user experience."
"We can monitor anxiety - what kinds of problems give kids stress," he said. "We can correlate brain function to certain activities."
The group uses equipment that tracks eye movements by the users. In addition to providing data about what catches the students' attention, that kind of information tells the designers "where the tutorial should show up," Panella said.
"If we involve the stakeholders and make it their project, then we have a very good system," Kuttan said.
Pojar suggested that students who meet all the requirements on SuccessMaker receive an incentive. Students can miss out on group rewards if classmates don't finish the work, and the individual rewards are given out on a lottery system this year.
It is possible the district would not have applied for QZAB without assistance from NEF.
When schools were reluctant to apply for QZAB, Kuttan asked why. He was told districts couldn't come up with the required 10 percent match and didn't feel confident setting up the required academy. "We'll provide the 10 percent match and we'll set up the academy," he said.
After that, there were many applications that added up to more than the available dollars.
In the Warren County School District's case, the driving force behind applying for and receiving the QZAB dollars was Director of Buildings and Grounds Services Norbert Kennerknecht. "What you did for this school district was just an amazing thing," Kuttan told him.
He also complimented Director of Business Services Jim Grosch for successfully negotiating the complicated finances of the program.