PHOTOS COURTESY OF TETON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT #1
Secondary schools, especially high school schools, have master schedules that assume all students learn at the same pace. Master scheduling traditionally reflects set times for all students to attend and participate in courses, defined by a set number of hours. Regardless of the student’s achievement data, they must learn within fixed time structures for a variety of academic levels (regular, honors, and AP) and specific content of classes. To counter this traditional approach to meet the individual needs of students, Jackson Hole High School implemented a FLEX Program.
The FLEX Program is academic time for teachers to provide specialized, small group, and individual support. It includes a Daily FLEX Program during every regular school day and a Friday FLEX Program during strategically chosen Fridays throughout the year. Teton County School District #1 earned a Silver 2022 Magna Award in the under 5,000 enrollment category for the program
Following a weekly schedule, students engage in academic remediation, reteaching, and enrichment opportunities with their teachers for a 35-minute period every school day. Students can participate in school clubs or take a college- and career-ready educational program delivered by school counselors. Enrichment programs and teacher-led alternative offerings are available as well.
Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, Teton County includes seven unincorporated towns and the town of Jackson. The county encompasses Grand Teton National Park and a portion of Yellowstone National Park with over 3,900 square miles of land that is rich with majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and extraordinary wildlife. Approximately 96 percent of the land ownership is under public domain. Tourism is the primary economy of the county, which has a population of approximately 23,854. The Hispanic population is 19.6 percent, an increase of 9.1 percent from the previous census.
Our district has 10 schools, serving nearly 3,000 students. Of our seven elementary schools, three are small schools (under 58 students) and considered remote and rural. The district has been experiencing significant growth, adding more than 100 students in the high school and 80 in the middle school in 2021.
Teton County attracts families from all over the country, especially those who can afford to own a home in the most expensive ZIP code in the country. Counterintuitively, poverty is high in the region. The only industry is tourism, which pays relatively low wages when considering the high cost of living, including high housing rental rates. Many families live with other families, and most service industry staff work multiple jobs.
The pressures of living in one of the most expensive places in the county, on top of being in a small town with millions of annual visitors, creates unique challenges for schools, families, and the community. To manage these challenges, it takes a community committed to excellence and to supporting every student as if they were their own. FLEX is an example of how we have addressed inequity and found ways to provide access to every student while honoring that high school students need choice, place, pace, and voice in their educational experiences.
The FLEX Program allows teachers to provide specialized, small group, and individual support during the school day. The work is rooted in increasing positive academic outcomes for our students.
The Daily FLEX program was created to ensure all students have access to support during the school day while also providing choice for students. In addition to providing learning support, all students learn how to better manage their academic day and make centered selections to get support to meet their individual needs.
Following a weekly schedule, students engage in academic remediation, reteaching, and enrichment opportunities with the teachers of their classes. Students can participate in school clubs during flex time or take advantage of a college- and career-ready educational program, delivered by the counseling office. Teachers also run enrichment programs and alternative offerings.
The Friday Flex Program is approximately 12 identified Fridays that have been modified to target any student who needs additional support. Each identified FLEX Friday consists of four one-hour classes. Students who demonstrate the need for additional instructional support are required to participate. Students who demonstrate advanced proficiency in classes are not required to attend but many do.
The Daily and Friday FLEX programs provide access, opportunity, and support to all students and are customized to meet individual needs. The Daily FLEX program is intentionally built into the regular school day to eliminate any before or after school conflicts that may lead to barriers to student participation. Friday FLEX program is offered during normal school hours, and district transportation is provided to any student who would like to participate. Breakfast and lunch are provided free of charge so students can get what they need from individual teachers and have the structure of the school setting.
FLEX allows teachers to work directly with students in small groups or individually, thus removing the barriers that exist in a traditional classroom where it is difficult for a teacher to meet the individual needs of students when class size can be between 20 to 40 students.
The mission of Teton County School District is to ensure that all students have the foundation for success and are challenged to reach their full potential. A central part of that mission is to reduce the K-12 student achievement gap. A specific target is the achievement gap that exists between our Hispanic and white students. For Jackson Hole High School, one critical data point used to assess student achievement is the ACT. As part of our state’s high school accountability system, all 11th grade students, regardless of background or academic standing, take the ACT during an established test date in the spring.
The ACT measures college readiness in math, reading, writing, English, and science. While we are making strides toward narrowing the gap, we are not where we want to be. The FLEX program is one effort that supports us reaching this goal for the district, and for individual students.
In 2019, we applied for a grant with the SWIFT Center to focus on equity across all our schools. We have intentionally examined our practices to ensure that traditionally marginalized student groups do not experience that in our district. Researchers visited each of our schools, conducted on-site interviews, and examined details like the schedule, content and resources, correspondence with families, and culture within the classroom to help us develop equity goals.
The grant also supports coaching for district leaders, classroom teachers, building-level teams, and individual coaching for principals. The district is committed to continually examining equity and ensuring that all students have access and support to engage in opportunities and high-quality instruction. These conversations are sometimes hard and leave our staff drained, yet we are committed to supporting the work so we can intentionally design our district around supporting the needs of individual students, even when they vary from one child to the next. Our district’s commitment to equity is evident in our daily efforts and our long-term goals.
Given the FLEX Program is built into the normal school day, there are no significant budgetary costs. Sustainability of the program is based on maintaining our current master schedule structure in which the FLEX program is built into the normal day. Additional classroom curriculum costs and materials are generally not needed, because the FLEX Program builds on existing classes versus an additional program.
Evidence of the program success includes overall student engagement. The high school has a 98 percent daily attendance data, more than 95 percent of students participate in one or more school activities. The graduation rate is 96 percent, and the average ACT score is 23 or higher, which includes all 11th grade students tested as a state requirement.
The FLEX program aligns with the district mission—vision, strategic plan, and core values. Opportunities to engage all students during FLEX and to ensure we are reaching our underserved populations are a priority for us.
Gillian Chapman (email@example.com) is superintendent of Wyoming’s Teton County School District #1. She was named the 2022 Superintendent of the Year by the Wyoming Association of School Administrators.
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