Toward the end of 2011, I was given an opportunity to become a part of a collaborative Superintendents' group, hosted by our local education service center. The group, which communicated regularly, was billed as an opportunity for school leaders to work together to explore how education needs to change to meet students’ needs in the 21st century. Opting to join this collaborative exchange was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.
The sessions I attended were excellent, primarily because I spent time talking with other school district leaders about the challenges education faces in our changing world. Our group's focus continued to refine as we each re-examined the vision for our respective districts. The scope and purpose of our group became more and more clear as each superintendent participated in a number of activities on their campuses. During the spring semester, I was able to spend valuable time with our students on the Sunnyvale campuses and learned from our students and faculty.
A Freshman Once Again
In March, I became a student for the day. I opted to be a freshman, having our high school counselor Kandy Reynolds put together my schedule. The day began with me riding to school with my daughter, Olivia, who at the time was a junior. Joining our freshmen provided great insight for me in a number of areas. I was reminded that choir is a challenging task for someone with little musical ability, Biology tests are much more difficult than when I was in school, and Olivia’s lunch account was overdrawn.
Another activity was to spend time talking with student panels to get their perspectives about what 21st century skills they will need in order to be successful in the future. I met with student groups from all three campuses and the recurring themes I heard were: 1) "Make sure what we are learning is relevant," 2) "We want more real-world experience," and 3) "We want more hands-on activities." The students also shared with me that they believe that Sunnyvale ISD is doing a good job preparing them, but also felt that increasing instruction in those areas would only add to their educational experience.
Toward the end of the semester, my focus began to become clearer about the questions that needed to be addressed to further prepare our students. One question was, “How do we create a culture of challenge in all classrooms?” I worked with four other area superintendents to analyze this important question. To aide in this analysis, we visited each other’s districts to meet with principals and teachers, and visited classrooms of teachers who provide challenge to all students. These visits provided insight into how challenge can be continually be implemented and can proliferate in our districts. With our visits, we gained a valuable network to share ideas to improve student performance.
In June, our Board of Trustees and administrative team worked together during a board workshop on SISD’s response to the current high-stakes evaluation testing system in Texas. As a group, we adopted a resolution to advocate change. One of the ways we’re doing that in SISD is by evaluating our teachers using a new, innovative appraisal tool called iGrow 12.0. Using standards that speak to SISD’s vision and mission statement, iGrow 12.0 will guide our teachers to reach new heights in their classrooms this year.
I also met with an excited group of teachers in July and sought their input on how to begin integrating a strong culture of challenge and relevance into daily life at SISD. The day was a thought-provoking, stimulating discussion on how to make our students’ education as meaningful as possible. Our goal is to not only provide challenge for our students, but to make them future-ready – that is, truly ready for life after walking across the stage at graduation.
How Can Parents Be Involved?
Our board workshop also included a great discussion about parent involvement. We’ll be incorporating three action teams as related to SISD’s involvement with the transformation movement. I hope you’ll join us at the Community Summits and find your place on one of them and sign up.