Educators at Guy-Perkins School are making headway in the transition to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and even leading others on the path.

The school’s principal, Brian Cossey, counselor Lanny McConnell, and teachers Amber Kopp and Jess Knapp were selected to lead sessions earlier this month at an educator’s conference held at Memphis.

The focus of the conference, according to host JBHM Education Group’s Dr. Evelyn Webb, was transitioning from state accountability systems to national Common Core State Standards.

Webb, vice president for special projects and strategic programs at JBHM, said the annual conference allows schools to demonstrate how they’ve successfully implemented new and timely educational practices, and most recently, as they pertain to the Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that defines what skills students should have mastered within their education careers.

All but five states have at least transitioned to the initiative in lower level grades.

Guy-Perkins implemented the Common Core in grades K-2 last year, and will transition grades up to eight in the 2012-13 school year. All grades will be in line with the standards the following school year.

Cossey and McConnell led a session on "leading change in today’s high schools" at the July 9 conference.

"There is change needed in teaching. We talked about some of the strategies and methods that should be incorporated for the benefit of today’s students. That includes technology," Cossey said. "And it also includes having shifts in lessons, bringing closure at the end of a lesson and using more of a variety of teaching methods."

Cossey said his school has implemented three successful, notable strategies that Guy-Perkins was able to share with 750 other educators in attendance from the United States.

"All teachers hold an introductory type of activity. Second, there should be bell-to-bell instruction. Lastly, there should be shifts in the instruction. For example, a whole period should not be filled with a lecture," he said.

Goal-setting between instructors and students with measurable data and "project-based learning" are also key, he said.

"We’re going to get more into project-based learning, where kids can show their mastery of a certain skill or bit of information by producing a project instead of writing a report or giving a speech," Cossey said.

Kopp, secondary literacy teacher at Guy-Perkins School, said the English department has made some notable adjustments to traditional teaching methods.

"We’ve emphasized collaboration. It has brought about a need for teachers to work together. We were able to talk at the conference about what our campus has been doing," said Kopp.

To provide insight into what the school has been up to, Kopp and Knapp, academic coach and literacy teacher, hosted a simulation that required conference attendees to become typical Guy-Perkins students. The two acted as teachers of a literacy class in which the novel "No Country for Old Men" was discussed.

"We had them break into groups so that we could read the text aloud. We then prompted them with questions and were able to show how we really encourage student led discussion and interaction," said Kopp. "We tied it up with building positive relationships with the students and making them feel invested in their own education."

According to Kopp, the school is already using strategies in line with what the Common Core requires in grades that have yet to be transitioned.

"We’re not required yet to teach Common Core, but we’re trying to use Arkansas frameworks with Common Core frameworks to make the transition easy on ourselves and the students," she said.

JBHM, a consulting firm that offers guidance to schools seeking to boost student achievement, was hired last year by the district.

Cossey said that though test scores were "getting pretty high," improvement was stymied.

"Once you get up to 80 percent proficient, it is hard to push farther. This firm was to help us with that. We elected this program to help us with struggling learners," he said.

According to Cossey, the district has seen students increase individual achievement since some strategies have been implemented.

"We’re doing the right things," he said.

A highlight for Cossey during the conference was a speech by Bronc Barton, an outspoken senior at Guy-Perkins who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s.

"Bronc and his family have been very open about his diagnosis and have met it head on. He was asked to speak, and he gave a wonderful speech that was interrupted several times by ovations," said Cossey.

Cossey said Barton was approached after his speech by a teacher who claimed that his words provided renewal and refreshment.

"The teacher said, ‘I have been teaching for 26 years and I was burned out. His speech gave me the motivation to keep teaching,’" Cossey relayed. "(Barton) told the crowd about how it was to grow up with Autism; how rough it was to be different, but not letting it hold him back. He was thankful for his teachers that were patient with his quirkiness."

Cossey said the student will most likely graduate with honors and plans to attend college.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at