District part of pilot program

Published 1:05 pm Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes, the barriers to a student’s education lie beyond the walls of a classroom.

And it’s those obstacles that the Butler County Board of Education is aiming to eliminate with the implementation of the Learning Supports Initiative, a proposal set to analyze the environmental issues of each school and tackle them with a particularly different approach.

Instructional Accountability Specialist Rheta McClain said that the program is all about utilizing the resources available — especially those not necessarily considered educational ones — in the most effective way to fix problems in classrooms and beyond.

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“For example, take tutoring — a lot of students want tutoring, but they don’t have the transportation for it,” McClain said. “So if students live in housing authorities, are their funds that will allow us to bring teachers to the housing authorities for tutoring?”

That was one of several questions asked during last week’s informal gathering of school leaders, alongside other topics such as physical and mental health, self esteem, absenteeism and many more.

The ultimate question, however, involved finding a way that the community as a whole could lend a hand.

“There are students that come with emotional barriers, some that need mental help and other things that our regular counselors are not necessarily trained to deal with,” McClain said. “So we’re knocking on mental health doors and seeing how many counselors they can provide for us. We have buildings full of qualified teachers that can teach the curriculum — we just have to eliminate the other barriers around those students so that the teachers can really teach.”

Butler County was one of only 10 districts chosen to participate in the program, and the state has committed to help those chosen for two years to ensure the initiative’s success and eventually implement it within the other 125 districts in the state.

Superintendent Darren Douthitt was among the most enthusiastic present at last week’s gathering and, when the opportunity presented itself to participate in the program, there was zero hesitation on his part.

“I’d like to extend thanks to Linda Felton Smith, director of Learning Supports for the state, and Rhonda Waltman, a consultant who has facilitated Learning Supports before, because both of these people have been really helpful to us in getting this going,” Douthitt said. “I appreciate the state department for providing this free resource, because I think it’s going to help us out a lot. Having grown up in poverty with meager resources, my teachers, administrators and people within my community removed obstacles and made a path for me toward this profession that I’m in, so it’s easy for me to make a decision to want to be a part of this initiative.”

Douthitt added that what happens in the classroom can no longer be used as the only measurement of success for students, citing poor attendance and behavioral problems that often conflict with the learning process regardless of academic efficiency.

“Sure, academics and the teaching and learning are where the rubber meets the road —that’s where most of our accountability is pegged — but I think we’re wrong in that regard and I think the state is starting to get that right now,” Douthitt said. “The big picture involves many different moving parts that must work in concert to develop a child that is college and career ready.”

New meetings will be held beginning early next month among the individual learning support teams across the county.