Farmington Schools on the brink of change

Independent learning, budget challenges in future

Big changes are in store for Farmington Schools in 2013 and beyond.

Jake Cordes and Laura Beem, both political newcomers, will take the oath of office on the School Board alongside returning incumbent Julie Singewald in 2013.

Cordes, a lifelong Farmington resident and 2009 Farmington High School graduate, said during the 2012 campaign that he wanted to serve on the School Board to give back to his community.

He emphasized the need for more technology in the classroom and a focus on individualized learning.

Beem was president of the North Trail Elementary Parent Teacher Partnership for two years and has served on numerous school-related committees, including the district’s Strategic Planning Committee.

During the campaign, Beem noted the district’s financial challenges and advocated for closely managed spending.

Board members will soon be grappling with decisions about funding, programming and planning.

Leaving the School Board are Tim Burke, an outspoken advocate for transparency, and 13-year member Julie McKnight, who after overseeing more than a decade of unprecedented growth, is leaving to spend more time with family.

A primary topic for 2013 is likely to include the district’s aggressive initiative, now underway, to provide every student with an iPad by the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

The district is just beginning its plan to promote individualized learning that promises to transform the way education is delivered in District 192.

Plans are for students to eventually advance in school, not by age or group, but based on their own progress. Along the way, students will build a portfolio of work reflective of their strengths and abilities.

The 2012 Farmington School Board took a major step toward accomplishing the district’s goals in October when it authorized spending $559,480 to lease 1,420 iPads for high school students as part of the district’s phased implementation plan.

The ultimate vision, according to Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen, is to make Farmington Schools a district of choice for families.

In 2012, he oversaw controversial changes to help accomplish those goals by restructuring the district’s cabinet.

Last spring, Assistant Superintendent Christine Weymouth resigned and the School Board eliminated that position.

Also eliminated was the director of teaching and learning position and two teacher-mentors who provide district-wide support to staff, one focused on technology integration and the other dedicated to secondary literacy.

As part of the change, Boeckman Middle School Principal Barb Duffrin was named the director of educational programs to support professional development.

She is working closely with Haugen to write grants and provide instructional and technology support.

She also led a strategic plan process that will be further implemented in 2013.

While some of the reorganization steps Haugen has taken have been controversial, survey results show that now in his second year with the district, Haugen has made measurable progress toward changing public perception.

Just two years ago, the board was embroiled in controversy, with disagreements among members and public battles between Burke and former Superintendent Brad Meeks regarding information requests.

Haugen has worked with the board to resolve differences, and survey results shared with the board in September showed that 66 percent of those polled rated the quality of the district’s schools as “good,” and 18 percent said the schools’ quality is “excellent.”

In 2007, 54 percent of those surveyed rated Farmington schools as “good” and 12 percent rated them excellent.

According to the results 40 percent of those surveyed found the district’s quality over the past five years is either somewhat better or much better; 41 percent said its quality was about the same.