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District : Vail Unified School District

State : Arizona

Level : P-12

District Enrollment : 10,001-40,000 students

Community Type : Suburban

Related Tags : Openly Licensed Educational Resources, strategic planning

Beyond Textbooks

The Vail Unified School District is a K-12 district that encompasses a large geographic area to the southeast of Tucson, Arizona serving over 12,000 students attending 18 schools.

The Challenge

In the early 2000’s Vail improved in the state standings academically and leaders began to reflect on the guiding principles that facilitated that. As a district they are never satisfied with the status quo. For several years they excelled but knew they could do better. Beyond Textbooks (BT) grew with that principle in mind. The great minds of their district collaborated on how they could improve.
Forefront on their minds was the responsibility to the community. That community is not just parents and residents, but is also the teacher community. They wanted to find a way to make things better for teachers, and knew that collaboration was a key to instructional success. BT provided that opportunity far more than its founders could have ever imagined.
But, that responsibility is to a broader educational community as well. 12,000 teachers across Arizona, California, Idaho, and Wyoming who serve over 140,000 students now share the 36,000 teacher uploaded resources.

The Solution

From its inception in 2008, Vail’s goal has been to help improve education and to share “success secrets” with other school districts from across the State. The primary delivery mechanism for this goal is Beyond Textbooks (BT), Vail’s instructional playbook being used by over 100 school districts and charters across Arizona, California, Idaho and Wyoming. The program gives participating districts and charters access to Vail’s curriculum digitally, as well as a means for teachers to share their best lesson plans, resources, and ideas. This approach started with the idea of letting the state standards drive teaching and learning as opposed to teaching materials serving as the main driver. Under this model, the instructional process is viewed as a four-sided pyramid: curriculum, instruction, assessment, and intervention, all resting on a foundation of culture. BT starts with the essential standards: what students must learn. Next, a team of teachers and administrators “unwraps” documents to define what “good enough” looks like when students need to demonstrate understanding of any particular state standard. From there, the team develops curriculum calendars for when the different standards will be taught and for how long. Then teachers are given liberty to determine what specific materials and resources are needed to teach. A website serves as a digital version of the curriculum as it is developed by instructors and content specialists.

Other key elements from BT include common formative assessments to check students’ mastery of the standards and an opportunity to reteach or enrich as part of daily interventions based on data collected from formative and quarterly benchmark assessments. Further, the district has built infrastructure around a model where core standards already drive the development and delivery of content. Vail has implemented the Common Core standards through the already well-established channels of collaboration.

The beauty of BT is that the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ are prescribed by teams of teachers and administrators, but the ‘how’ is left to teacher imagination and creativity. However, all materials that are uploaded are vetted by the Beyond Textbooks team who evaluate each lesson or resource for congruency to the objective, correct level of rigor, formatting, and copyright issues.

BT now enjoys over 100 partners across AZ, CA, ID and WY. Three of the top five ranked school districts in Arizona are BT partners. Test scores and rankings, however, only share a piece of the story.

“Since using Beyond Textbooks, our school has moved from a “C” letter grade from ADE to an “A”! We owe so much of that to you.” – Meg Robertson, 2nd grade teacher, St. John’s USD.

“Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate BT and how it has helped our district. Our district now has an “A” rating from the state. We had been in district improvement for several years, and have a poverty rate of 67%. BT was responsible for a high percentage of our success. BT is especially helpful to small districts that do not have the funds or man power to accomplish the things that BT provides.” – Seth Staples, Superintendent, Ash Fork USD.

Additional Resources

From Vail Unified School District:

From the U.S. Department of Education:

Point of Contact

Find staff members under the Contact Us Link