Image: Peak Charter Academy. (Courtesy of Steve Pond)
In August 2017, Peak Charter Academy, a K–8 public charter school, opened its doors outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Located near the borders of Research Triangle Park (RTP)—a global business community of 300 different organizations, academic entities, and government agencies—Peak attracted families from 39 different countries speaking 25 different languages. That’s due in part to the global reach of RTP’s employers, who have enhanced the level of diversity in the surrounding community.
Peak’s opening as a new school revealed that its scholars previously attended over 40 different schools and that the types and quality of the learning experiences provided in those public, private, charter, and home schools varied greatly.
The Need for Differentiated Instruction
An unanticipated one-year delay due to construction and development issues allowed me to spend time engaging with stakeholders who shared their hopes and desires for the school. Feedback received from parents revealed the community’s fervent desire for Peak to provide its students with various levels of engagement and enrichment regardless of their disability or ability.
After our leadership team continuously heard from parents and guardians that they wanted their children’s learning to include more individualization, support, and rigor, we announced that differentiated instruction would now be a guiding focus at Peak. As preparations to open Peak continued, our leadership team developed or adapted a series of systems, frameworks, and instructional tools to help promote this initiative and prepare to embed the learning model and mindset of differentiation into all facets of the learning community upon its opening.
Our educators learned that the delivery of generic instructional lessons is likely to fail to meet students’ needs. We instead emphasized a learning model that has been shown to consistently enhance student learning. Our staff engaged in more than 40 hours of differentiation-focused professional development exploring topics ranging from pre-assessment to tiered planning and teaching to cross-content integration and workshop-based instruction across disciplines. We committed ourselves to student growth with the idea that this could occur exponentially, rather than simply working to reach minimum proficiency. This mindset was new to many of our students. In the past, simply passing the test had been the highest expectation set for many of them.
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