August 18, 2014

New Lexington 1 school aims to be trailblazer

Deerfield Elementary’s Trailblazer mascot represents what’s ahead for the 450 students who started class Monday at the new school in Red Bank.

Deerfield Elementary’s Trailblazer mascot represents what’s ahead for the 450 students who started class Monday at the new school in Red Bank.

The Lexington 1 school will specialize in what principal Jan Malone calls revolutionary instruction in reading and writing.

Rather than being grouped by grade level in those two subjects, students will learn along with others of similar ability – regardless of their ages – in kindergarten through fifth grades.

Students will be guided by multiple teachers, school officials say.

It’s an approach that could be expanded beyond reading and writing in a few years, Malone said.

If the plan known as proficiency-based learning succeeds, “we will be transforming education in South Carolina,” she said.

Students will rely heavily on technology to learn.

Each student will use laptops and tablets for all subjects, with a focus on personalized material regularly updated by the 34 teachers for instruction in reading and writing.

Learning at Deerfield will be customized in other ways at the 133,000-square-foot school.

There is moveable furniture, designed to create flexible spaces so students can work at their own pace individually or in groups.

School officials can create video and audio lessons to further tailor instruction for individuals or groups, supplementing online lessons in the classroom.

The approach allows students to learn reading and writing in steps under the guidance of multiple teachers, school officials say.

Many – but not all – aspects of schoolwork will be paperless.

Despite the modern emphasis, some elements of the past remain at Deerfield.

The school library, officially known as the learning commons, contains plenty of books.

Reports cards will be largely traditional, but will include extra information on student achievement in reading and writing.

Beth Tester, a third-grade teacher, is eager to attain the collaboration that she feels will bring out the best in students and faculty.

“It’s all about learning and growing just as everyday life is changing,” she said.

Some parents likewise are intrigued.

“I’m excited by the prospect of this new learning style,” said Andy Newell, president of the school Parent-Teacher Organization. “It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.”

As in other Lexington 1 schools, kindergarten students will have the option of being taught partly in a foreign language. At Deerfield, it will be German.

The test of the approach at Deerfield is indefinite, with other Lexington 1 educators waiting to see whether it can adapted elsewhere.

Malone predicts the plan will be expanded into math once it is proven successful for reading and writing.

“If we can get children on pace with reading and writing, the other subjects will fall in line,” she said.

She is eager to focus on instruction after a year overseeing construction of the school and settling on its staff.

Deerfield, a $19.1 million facility, is the 17th elementary school in steadily growing Lexington 1. It is named for the animals that roam in nearby forests.

The school’s 37-acre campus is on Longs Pond Road a mile south of Interstate 20, an area where new neighborhoods are sprouting.


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