Garden City HS, Florence Wilson receive honors from Kansas State Board of Education

When he became Principal at Garden City High School at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Steve Nordby established some immediate goals and objectives for the students at GCHS.

First, he wanted to push the upgrade of the academics for the students at the large Class 6A school. He also sought to find innovative practices in which the students could participate, and he wanted to expand services provided by the students to extend into the community and perhaps beyond.

A year later, in 2016, the Kansas State Board of Education approved the creation of the Civic Advocacy Network award, and seemingly the objectives of that award and what Nordby hoped to accomplish at GCHS, were heading down the same path.

“I wanted us to be more than part of a big building on campus,” said Nordby, who was celebrating the news that GCHS was one of eight recipients of the inaugural Civic Advocacy Network award by the Kansas State BOE. “I think we can all be proud of the School of Excellence that we will be designated for the next three years. We’re really happy with that.”

The purpose of the CAN is to recognize schools that actively involve students in civic engagement opportunities and to collect exemplary practices to share with schools across Kansas. The ultimate goal is to promote civic engagement as part of all preK-12 student experiences.

Nordby said that there were six categories created, called the Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning, that were created to formulate the evaluation process for schools who applied for the award consideration.

That list includes: 1. Instruction in government, history, law and democracy; 2. Incorporating of discussion of current local, national and international issues and events in the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives; 3. Design and implement programs that provide students with opportunities to apply what they learn through performing community service that is linked to the formal curriculum and classroom instruction; 4.  Other extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for young people to get involved in their schools or communities; 5. Encourage student participation in school governance, such as Student Council or Student Advisory Groups; 6. Encourage student participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures.

“We had to provide evidence of each of the six proven practices,” Nordby said. “So everything from what we do in the classroom to what we do out in the community. It became a state board of education outcome to evaluate the information that applicants submitted.”

The process was extensive and time-consuming, beginning with the fall of 2017 when schools could become familiar with award evidence and scoring rubrics, begin collecting evidence each of the six practices, and could attend a regional Civic Advocacy Network orientation and information meeting.

“I believe once we knew more about the process, it gave us the opportunity to better identify what we had been doing and what we wanted to do to meet the criteria,” Nordby said.

In the spring of this year, schools could send representatives to an annual civic engagement conference in Topeka, begin the application submission process, and start the application submission process while also undergoing proven practices evaluation team training. Once the school year ended in May, in the summer months, there was a June 1 application deadline for all materials of evidence. The committee formed by the State Board of Education then began evaluating schools’ complete work, with scores combined and compiled. The winners and promising practices were also identified. As part of the process, the higher the percentage of students engaged the more points the school scored on the rubric. Each practice was scored and those scores combined and the winners were selected.

“Each of the six practices had different levels of evidence that we had to collect,” Nordby said. “From student council to the advisory boards and then how we were doing class instruction, everything was evaluated equally in the six categories.”

Nordby said he was particularly proud of the extensive programs implemented at GCHS as he firmly believed every student of the current 2,052 population has been involved in some way.

“I think we hit all the kids with involvement – from ROTC, to how government and democracy work,” Nordby said. “We have received a lot of help from local (government) officials, citing Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, state senator John Doll and government officials at the state and federal level who have all come to the school to give presentations to the students. It’s provided us an avenue of discussion of important issues.”

To make the final list of eight schools, a winner had to be exemplary in all six categories, Nordby said.

“It was easier to write the narrative in the services area because that is one of the strongest areas we have,” Nordby said. “Our students donate time, resources and money to the community. At the same time, we can improve having more kids involved in the school governance process.”

The recognition will be for a period of three years, so the school won’t re-apply until the 2020-21 school year, Nordby said. In the meantime, GCHS will serve as a mentor to other western Kansas schools that have an interest in pursuing the award.

“We have the opportunity to be a model for what other schools can be doing to get our students more involved in how our democracy works at all levels,” Nordby said. “It is something in which we deeply believe is important to be responsible citizens.”

In addition to the GCHS award, Florence Wilson Elementary was named one of four schools to receive a “Promising Practices” award. Their primary practice recognition came in the Practice 2 category.

“With their location close to us, we have a lot of activity where our students are going to Florence Wilson to help with their students, and also their students come to a lot of our events,” Nordby said the elementary school’s designation. “There’s a lot of community service tied to their curriculum, and they had to be exemplary in at least one of the six proven practices categories.”

For Nordby, the award is a way to let the students know that what they are doing is deemed important by others outside of the school administration.

“I think anytime you get recognition for the positive things you’re doing, the students become more involved and they see what they are doing as important,” Nordby said. “We have a lot of outstanding students and this is recognition for what they are doing. We can do more, but we’re certainly doing a lot to make our students better citizens.”

Winners were notified in the first month of the fall 2018 semester with a Sept. 17 awards ceremony observed in Topeka.

The remaining seven CAN winners include Complete High School of USD266 Maize; Derby Hills Elementary USD260 of Derby; Enders Community Service Magnet, USD 259 Wichita; McPherson Middle School, USD418; Park Hill Elementary, USD260 Derby; Starside Elementary, USD 232 De Soto and Susan B. Anthony Middle School, USD383 Manhattan.

The other three Promising Practices winners were Valley Heights High School, USD498, Blue Rapids, Practices 1-2; Merriam Park Elementary, USD512, Shawnee Mission, Practice 3; and Topeka Seaman High School, USD345, Topeka, Practice 1.

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