WALES — Parents of public school students in Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales can learn about the new customized learning program in public forums set for today and Wednesday.

The forum in the cafeteria at Carrie Ricker School, Litchfield, is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight. The other forum is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sabattus Primary School.

Prior forums were held at Oak Hill High School in Wales and Oak Hill Middle School in Sabattus.

“Attendance has been low, but the reaction of the people attending has been very positive,” said Jim Hodgkin, superintendent of Regional School Unit 4, which serves Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales.

The school district, which has about 1,500 students, has signed on with the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. The initiative includes more than a dozen other districts all dealing with the same process and all sharing information about what works and what doesn’t in customized learning, also known as standards-based education.

Hodgkin said the whole delivery model — in which a block of time is reserved for a single subject — has to change.

“We need to break the model and rebuild a new one, and we need to do it collectively,” Hodgkin said. “We really have to break the way we structure learning opportunities for students.”

In the process, students will get a voice in deciding what to learn and when to learn it. In customized learning, students who master a topic move on to the next. Eventually, they will be grouped by proficiency, rather than grade level or age.

Hodgkin said the new system will clarify standards so students know what will be assessed.

Teachers also are seeking the opportunity to offer their expertise, Hodgkin said. A districtwide workshop was held last month to present the ideas to staff and get feedback.

Last spring, Oak Hill High School was designated as “a persistently low achieving school” and became eligible to compete for federal dollars, which the school board declined to seek. That designation provided some of the impetus for change, Hodgkin said.

“It wasn’t the Oak Hill issue by itself, but it gave us permission to talk about systemic change,” Hodgkin said.

He said the changes will not be enacted fully for some five years.

“We need to teach teachers to teach differently and teach students how to be in charge of their own learning,” he said.

School board members signed on to the change in September, and a one-page summary defining customized learning is posted on the district’s website,

The summary says the learning model “is a system that will permit students to leave RSU #4 with a skill set that is consistent in some areas and diverse in others to meet the individual interests and strengths of the individual students.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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