By Amy Crawford, Sun Staff Writer Jul 14, 2017 Updated 10 hrs ago
Laurie Doering believes in the power of true grit – and instilling it in children.
Doering, who officially took Crane school district's top seat July 1 though she had been “in the chair” for several weeks prior, has several goals and challenges to tackle.
“There are a lot of challenges that face us, but I'm relentless in making sure our kids succeed,” said Doering, who has been with the district for nearly 35 years in various teaching and administrative roles.
LITTLE TEST TAKERS?
One concern Doering hears from parents is that the district tests students too much, she said, and this year there will be fewer tests.
“What I want parents to understand is a couple things,” she said. “One is those tests are so critical for us.”
“Back in our day,” Doering explained, a test was taken and put in the gradebook and its purpose was to measure outcome. “No longer do we look at tests that way.”
Now, Doering said, the purpose of “testing is to help us manipulate and change and adjust what we're doing to better serve children.”
But to do that, teachers need a starting point, Doering said, to see what areas need concentration.
“The second thing is we don't want to prepare kids to be test takers,” Doering said. “That's not what we want to prepare them to do. What we want them to do is to be prepared for real life tests in the real world. The real world requires tenacity. The real world requires grit. The real world requires perseverance.”
Testing helps kids learn those traits, Doering said.
“Some of these tests that seem long and grueling, they are for a purpose. They are because that's real world. That's what we've got to get kids through. What's the No. 1 predictor of a child's success? It's grit. It's persevering. It's not giving up... That's really the dialogue we're having with children. One, I need to know this so I can help you. And two, I'm teaching you about grit and tenacity and perseverance because that's a skill you'll use the rest of your life.”
Another challenge Doering knows full well is the district’s high poverty rate (which for 2014 was an estimated 27 percent of those under age 18, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics). All of Crane’s schools offer free breakfast and lunch through the National School Lunch program, according to the district’s “at a glance” page on its website.
“When you take a look at the No. 1 predictor of how well students will do, it's based on poverty level,” she said. “It's an unfortunate reality, and research after research has proven that.”
But Doering said she believes kids can succeed no matter their socioeconomic status; she’s committed to making sure that “the nurturing and well-being of our children is a priority, as well as a world-class education.”
“These kids should get the same education that somebody does in New Hampshire or somebody does in California, you know, in Orange County, wherever. They should get as good or better of an education (because) they need it,” she said. “We all know it's the one ticket that can change a kid's life. It can change and transform their lives. So I'm very, very committed to that.”
Doering said that research called the “30 Million Word Gap,” shows that by the time kindergarten starts, children from impoverished homes hear 30 million fewer words growing up than their peers from mid- to affluent homes.
“When they come into kindergarten, and there's a difference of 30 million words, who do you think is going to be more literate?” Doering asked rhetorically.
What Crane does in its classrooms is to ensure those kids don’t fall further behind, Doering said. Teachers focus on vocabulary, making sure students speak in complete sentences, using full dialogue to speak among themselves and with staff.
“We have structures in the classroom that don't allow for just the kid to raise their hand that knows the answer. We put structures in the classroom to make sure every child is fully and actively engaged in that learning,” Doering said.
LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCE
Kids grow through their experiences, Doering observed, recalling a time from her teaching days when she led a group of 12-year-olds on a field trip to the hospital.
“The kids got in the elevator and were afraid. They'd never been in an elevator,” she recalled. “They didn't understand what an elevator was.”
Another component of exposing kids to different experiences is through the district’s use of technology, Doering said, and even though this is the last year for the Apple ConnectEd grant, the district is committed to using technology in the classroom.
“We have to prepare our kids for the world they're going to be living in,” Doering said. “The world they're going to be living in is with technology and the use of that.”
Technology has also made classrooms more efficient and teaching more effective, Doering said. Teachers don’t have to take time, or ask students, to hand out worksheets. If a student is struggling, teachers can instantly analyze data and refocus that student’s individual learning.
Apple is working with the district on a “knowledge-base” sustainability plan. Last year, 82 percent of Crane’s teachers were Apple certified, and new teachers are brought on board with the technology through working collaboratively with their peers, Doering said.
Paying for the technology is the real challenge, though, as school districts statewide have had their capital funding slashed by the state Legislature.
“What are we in talks of right now is trying to figure out the sustainability plan, for the finances of it, because we know it has transformed the education in the classroom,” she said.
Doering said her years as a middle school principal have motivated her to set a positive tone for the entire district.
“If (kids) don't feel connected to a school or connected or (have) a sense of belonging ... at-risk behaviors increase,” she said. “We really worked on making sure that we had a culture where kids could go to an adult if they had a problem, they felt comfortable, and they had a sense of belonging.”
Fostering a kind, caring environment district-wide continues to be imperative to the district’s philosophy, she said, noting the district looks for those qualities in the teachers and staff it hires.
“We need people that are committed to kids, committed to their education, and committed to each other, that we hire people that are positive because our emotions are contagious,” Doering said.
The district also focuses on hiring “team players” who are “kid-centered and know that they can transform a child's life and know how important their job is every day,” Doering said, noting that “coachability” is also a big factor for the district.
“I'm most proud of the quality of people that we have in Crane School District. They're committed to kids, they're committed to growth, and they know the important job they have,” she said. “I'm in a career where I know when I take my last breath of my life here on earth, I'll be able to say I made a difference in the world. That's what I love about this job, is that we can make a difference by educating children. It's the most important thing we do.”