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The Warwick Valley Central School District North Star

Warwick Valley Central School District is close enough to the greatest city in the world for parents to connect to busy urban work lives, and far enough into the winding roads and rolling hills of rural America for families to find refuge and calmness in our quiet sense of community. In this unique setting, our schools must find a balance for our students, ensuring that they acquire both the academic knowledge and the life skills they will need to excel in their education, work, and personal lives after they leave high school. We recognize that national and state standards of teaching and learning play a valuable role in ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education. But for our schools, standards must be a set of bars over which we expect to vault, not a target at which we aim. 

We value the diversity of the people who have chosen to live and work in our community: their ideas, viewpoints, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. By collecting the thoughts, insights, and dreams of thousands of our teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders, we found three areas of broad consensus. Taken together, these constitute an aiming point, a “North Star” towards which our district, our schools, our teachers, our students, and our entire community can create a long-term trajectory. 

First, we understand that great learning is much more than the ability of teachers to deliver information and the ability of students to regurgitate that information on an exam. Great learning that prepares each student to succeed in their future allows students to experience learning, and curiously engage with their minds and hands. It connects what students learn in the classroom to the relevancy of the world beyond school in ways that build deep connections between the students and the world they inhabit. Great learning builds bridges across the boundaries of an academic subject because the world is not parsed into neat silos of math, science, language, history, and art. 

Therefore, Warwick Valley Schools will increasingly emphasize direct, hands-on, experiential learning that has proven to engage students in ways that improve both the acquisition and retention of critical knowledge. Students and teachers will co-develop project-based work that revolves around big themes that are relevant to the students and the world around them, and that provide increased opportunities for student choice and group collaboration. With a focus on teaching and learning rather than testing, we will create lessons and classes that increasingly simulate conditions in the world beyond our school campuses, and take advantage of learning that can only occur when our students and teachers learn in, and with, the vibrant community that lies just beyond the school walls. 

Second, we believe that to meet the needs of each student, particularly in a world that is changing rapidly, we need to shift from being a system focused primarily on teaching to one focused sharply on learning. All of us—students, teachers, administrators, and parents—realize that learning does not stop at the end of the school day or when we graduate high school or college; it is a lifetime opportunity to grow as an individual and a member of our society. This focus on learning requires that we demand more from our schools than the production of increasingly good average scores on traditional standardized exams. It demands that all of us embrace a mindset of growth and curiosity. 

We will build and nurture a district-wide culture defined by learning, growth, and enjoyment. In this commitment, each of us has a critical role. Most importantly, we demand of ourselves as a community that schools will strive to be engaging, enjoyable, and exciting for both students and their teachers. As much as possible, the experience of learning at school should be fun for both students and educators. 

Third, education prepares our students for “life beyond.” If we are to succeed in our ultimate goal of preparing students to be happy and successful after they graduate from our schools, then we have to widen our focus on what combination of knowledge and experiences will best accomplish that goal. As a community, we believe that while the government mandates certain academic standards, these standards should be a starting point rather than an end goal for student learning. 

Warwick Valley has a tradition of strong academic achievement, which will only be amplified as we include a broader understanding of what it means to be educated and prepared for life beyond high school in the 21st century. Students must be more engaged as the owners of their learning. We will increase both the range of courses of study and also the degree of choices that students may pursue within existing subject areas. Five areas of focus that we know are relevant to lifelong success and happiness will be increasingly woven into the program across all grade levels: 

  • Interpersonal skills: how to lead, work, and communicate well with others in diverse settings and challenges. 
  • Intrinsic skills: how to find and pursue those individual interests and passions that lead each of us towards fulfillment. 
  • Life skills: how to safely and more efficiently navigate an increasingly complex world both while growing up and once we leave our families. 
  • Critical thinking and problem solving: how to manage nearly universal access to knowledge, to take advantage of opportunities, and to overcome obstacles with a combination of academic, social, and emotional skills. 
  • Safety and wellness: how to seek out and find physical, mental, and emotional health and balance. 

These goals are lofty, and attaining them requires a combination of resources and sustained commitment on behalf of teachers, students, parents, and community leaders. We accept these challenges because they represent what is best for our children. By aligning the work and focus of educators, students, and parents each day to this North Star, Warwick Valley schools will not just be good, or even great. 

Warwick’s focus on this North Star will be our guide so that we ensure that our students successfully reach a destination where their Warwick education has prepared them to excel in their future education, work, and personal lives.