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Nurturing the art of concept mastery

Kenowa Hills hires competency-based education specialist

A new face will be making his way around Kenowa Hills Public Schools this year thanks to funding from the Michigan Department of Education.

Steven Lavoie, a 35-year educator in Maine’s public school system and Kenowa’s newest competency-based education specialist, says he would not have come out of a two-year retirement unless he was in it for the long haul.

“I wouldn’t be here unless I was going to work with good people doing good things,” Lavoie said. “It was a glove that fit.”

One of the seven Michigan schools to receive a part of $500,000 in grant funding, Kenowa received $147,550 for the implementation of competency-based education programs. According to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), Section 21j of the 2017-2018 State School Aid Act provides grants for such programs.

In a competency-based education system, students do not move on in subject material until they have demonstrated concept mastery. It’s a cornerstone of the district’s Journey to Excellence program adopted in recent years.

“We’re making sure that we are thinking outside the box on how we’re serving our kids,” Lavoie said. “We’re making sure that every student has what they need to succeed.”

Superintendent Gerald Hopkins said he feels confident Lavoie will help with the transition to competency-based education.

“Steve was chosen through a nationwide posting that garnered phenomenal candidates who have a mutual desire to transform education through competency-based practices,” Hopkins said. “Steve is passionate about meeting the needs of all learners.”

Jack of all Trades

Lavoie is a recently retired educator with more than 35 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in Maine’s public school system.

Most recently, Lavoie led two secondary schools through the transition from traditional methods to a competency-based approach for students.

Prior to these two principalships, he served as a middle school principal, assistant principal, athletic director and science teacher.

Over the course of his career, Lavoie earned recognition as a thought leader on competency-based education best practices and was a presenter at numerous conferences – including the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the New England Secondary School Consortium and the Maine Association for Middle Level Education.

Meeting Student Needs

Catering to the needs of students means a transition from a traditional approach to a competency-based model, Lavoie said.

“It was normal that if you demonstrated that you understood 70 percent or so of subject matter, it was okay to move on. In reality, what you’re doing is moving people along with holes in their learning — what I like to call swiss cheese learning.”

This deadline-focused element of traditional education is one of the biggest errors in traditional education, Lavoie said.

“Everyone moved together in the old system,” he said. “There were kids who had to wait, kids who were right where the teacher needed to be and kids who lagged behind.”

In a mastery based system, students move on when they show they are proficient in a subject.

“When you finish, you can go deeper or move to what is next,” Lavoie said. “I have had kids graduate with a full year of a college transcript at no cost to them, and kids who have been given the time they need to truly grasp curriculum.”

Getting to Know District

During his first year with KHPS, Lavoie is in assessment mode.

“I am learning and getting to know what is already in place at Kenowa and finding the next steps and supporting them in their transition,” he said. “Every school is in a different place, that’s what I’m figuring out.”

Though competency-based education is becoming more common across the nation, it’s overall a new approach, Lavoie said.

“It’s hard work. This isn’t tweaking or putting a Band-Aid on something, it’s wholesale change. It’s really a mindset we’re working on with all stakeholders, as well as the school (system).”

After Lavoie’s extensive experience in Maine’s public school system, Hopkins is looking forward to seeing similar results at Kenowa.

“He has proven experience in successfully transitioning schools to competency-based education, and it quickly became clear to our interview committee that he will be a tremendous asset in advancing out work,” Hopkins said. “We are excited to learn from him and look forward to sharing our implementation journey with others.”

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Hannah Lentz
Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.

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