Thursday’s board retreat was at the request of Julie Williams, who wanted to talk about innovation in education before deciding what kind of new buildings to build (should they ever agree to fund new facilities for the new housing developments in the west Lakewood and northwest Arvada areas). The first part of the meeting was about innovations in Jeffco, and the second part was devoted to outside experts.
The school presentations were fairly interesting. Lumberg Elementary talked about innovating with technology, looking mostly at their 1:1 iPad initiative. Pennington Elementary talked about their extended time initiative and how it has allowed them to provide a lot of opportunities that their students might not otherwise receive, such as instrumental music for every fifth and sixth grader, and access to wraparound services, and the opportunity to participate in sports and similar activities.
Then they switched gears to talk about innovation in middle schools. Falcon Bluffs Middle School explained its Sparks PE program, in which students participate in 20 minutes of high-impact activity to improve focus and concentration on crucial subjects. Bell and Deer Creek Middle Schools talked about their STEM programs and the benefits it has had for students at both schools.
All of the presentations were quite interesting, and we encourage you to take the time to look at what’s going on in Jeffco.
Next up were guests panelists, including:
Tony Lewis, executive director, Donnell-Kay Foundation
Scott Fast, parent, Columbine High School, retired executive director, Accenture Foundation
Michael Cushman, senior fellow, DaVinci Institute
John Evans, Ph.D., J.D., executive director, School Leaders for Colorado
Tammy Thorn, master teacher, School Leaders for Colorado
This was an interesting mix of presentations. Cushman, who represented the futurist think tank the DaVinci Institute didn’t have much to say about new school facilities other than he thought spaces should be movable and that there should be lots of 3D printers so students could create stuff and just throw it away if it doesn’t work. The accompanying presentation also included predictions, some of which were more far-fetched than others (like the idea that the average person would live in a printed house by 2030). He offered few concrete solutions, however.
Scott Fast focused on career readiness and the importance of using a more accurate career-readiness measurement, like ACT WorkKeys, to measure outcomes for students who will seek employment immediately after high school. His ideas included creating career pathways for those students to seek certification and focusing on essential sills like collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, professionalism and self-direction.
The third presentation was by the School Leaders for Colorado group. It was confusing, at best. They talked at length about alternative licensure and career pathways for those in the military seeking to become teachers—all of which makes since until one remembers that they started talking about providing alternative paths to principal licensure and subsequent careers.
There were a few hints about the kinds of training that would prepare a principal (like shadowing another principal) but the lion’s share of the presentation was spent talking about Troops to Teachers (a Department of Defense program) or waxing eloquent about how some of these veterans have two masters degrees and are experts in their field who work with sophisticated technology, so they should be teachers now because more teachers should be content experts. Perhaps no one told them that WNW do not want to pay for one master’s degree, much less two?
Of note: School Leaders for Colorado had absolutely no data to show the impact of their former military principals on student achievement. Why do we mention this? Because Ken Witt loves to ask district presenters why there isn’t a slide linking [presentation topic] to student achievement. Did Witt ask this group to show that student achievement had improved by virtue of teachers and soon-to-be-principals going through this program? Nope. (But he did ask Lumberg, despite the fact that they had multiple slides showing the effect the iPad initiative had had on student achievement.)
Last was Tony Lewis’ presentation from the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a school reform organization. Lewis is also a charter school representative. He didn’t bother with PowerPoint, but said schools need to teach both “resume virtues and eulogy virtues” (see David Brooks’ “Moral Bucket List” column in the New York Times about both kinds of virtues), suggested the board consider course choice (i.e., a student could take courses at other schools. For example, if no AP course was offered at the student’s school, they could take the AP course at a school that did offer it).
Lewis pointed the board to several concrete examples to consider for buildings, including the e3 Civic High School in San Diego, an online high school offered through the Los Angeles Library, and Architects of Achievement. He also suggested that the board consider putting out an RFP for new school models, that they engaged with students who have dropped or opted out to see what models would make sense for them, and create a faculty space that could incubate new schools, regardless of the type of school.
He also cautioned, however, that some standards need to be met to successfully innovate. For example:
- People need to know they can fail; innovation won’t happen if people might be subject to repercussions
- Problems need to be identified and defined before you can solve it. Too often, people jump to a solution but have never defined the problem.
- There needs to be fidelity to the model in any innovation
- Implementation trumps concept
When Williams asked about putting out an RFP for school models, Lewis told her that first they need to talk to the community — specifically small subsets and neighborhoods. Only after finding out the interests and needs of that community should an RFP be issued. For example, if it became clear an area was interested in a Montessori school, the board might consider issuing an RFP for Montessori schools.
It’s unclear where WNW intend to go from here. Williams inquired about printing a new school building with a 3D printer. Cushman said not many places were doing it now, but he expected the process to be cheaper and yet still durable when it becomes widespread.
And in case you missed it: Friday was the national Day of Silence, a protest that aims to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Board member Julie Williams, however, posted a link on her Facebook page to a LBGT hate group that encouraged parents to keep their students home. She has since apologized, claiming that she didn’t read the post. Chalkbeat was first on the scene with this article, and 9 News was one of many other organizations that have reported on the story since.
Feeling as disturbed as we are? Take action: write the board, write letters to the editor, and speak up at public comment. Have other ideas? We’d love to hear them.
Whatever you do, keep fighting, JeffCo!