NH school once in crisis, now a national model for student-centered learning

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Pittsfield Middle High School has undergone a significant transformation over the past several years. Facing a 40% reduction in enrollment, reduced funding, and low academic achievement (the district was one of the bottom 5 in the state), Pittsfield focused on student-centered learning to turn the school around. Now, it’s a national model for student-centered learning.

Pittsfield started their journey by engaging the community:

In essence, we were looking for a school that personalized learning. They felt that it was a small school, so they wanted their school and their students to be known, to have their passions recognized and encouraged, to have their deficits recognized and addressed, and they wanted their students on graduation day to come off that stage with a realistic but ambitious plan for the rest of their lives. That really was the start of the transformation here at Pittsfield Middle High School,” said John Freeman, Pittsfield’s Superintendent.

The school set out to personalize learning and empower students in their education. From inquiry-based learning, to competency education, to allowing students to have real, authentic decision making in their schools, students are more engaged and more likely to stay in school through graduation.

As one student said: “It’s about teaching to the students, rather than the students adapting to the teacher.”

“One of the big changes in my classroom is trying to do more student-led discussions because it’s about them and their inquiry, not me and my preconceptions of what I want them to learn,” said English teacher Jenny Wellington.

But they know that their work isn’t done. They’re committed to sustainability, and their mission drives every aspect of their school. The community is dedicated to moving forward, long after the teachers and administrators that lead the changes leave and improvement grants are gone:

“Probably the most important piece to sustaining the work has been to keep the vision and the mission fresh and at the forefront of everything we do,” says District Administrator Tobi Chassie.

Watch the full video to hear about the transformation from students, teachers, and community members: