Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Colorado Association of School Boards

December 4, 2007

I am energized by what’s possible for our children. Our children can look forward to wonderfully exciting, stimulating and challenging educational experiences. But, we’ve got to change – more than we have already. We can build on the lessons of the past and present that we’re learning in St. Vrain and from others. We can build on the dedication and passion of our families, educators and community. But small steps are not sufficient. If we are going to deliver on the promise that awaits our children we must be willing to innovate. With innovation comes risk. That’s uncomfortable but that’s what we must be willing to do. At the CASB (Colorado Association of School Boards) Convention in Colorado Springs, we heard about innovations, possibilities and hard, emotional work.

Six St. Vrain school board members were able to attend the convention along with a few administrators and a fantastic group of St. Vrain students who should make our communities proud. The conference ran from Thursday through Sunday. I was able to attend on Friday and Saturday. If you interested, here is the conference agenda. I attended the following general sessions:

Teaching and Leading the Millennials: A New Education Story – David Warlick, owner, The Landmark Project (thought provoking)

Equipping Students with 21st Century Skills – Kenneth Kay, president, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (some overlap from previous day)

And, I attended the following breakout sessions:

A 21st Century Curriculum for all Students – Mike Miles, superintendent, Harrison #2 (useful)

Closing Schools to Open Opportunities – Englewood Schools (useful)

Student Based Budget – Poudre (Fort Collins and surrounding communities) School District (useful)

Supporting Your Decision-Making with Good Data – Glenn McClain, superintendent, Platte Valley Schools & Jan Rose Petro, Colorado Department of Education (did not meet my needs)

I returned home Saturday night and I did not attend sessions on Sunday.

In addition to formal sessions we had the opportunity to meet with a great group of St. Vrain students. St. Vrain board members also attended receptions/dinner sponsored by: Bernard, Lyons, Gaddis & Kahn (this law firm represents the school district, the reception honored Dan Bernard); George K. Baum & Co., Adolfson & Peterson Construction, H&L Architecture, RLH Engineering, Inc., Strategies Resources West, Inc.; and George K. Baum & Co. (this was a dinner).

I have written several posts based on my experiences at and reflections on the CASB convention. I cranked these out pretty fast so I apologize in advance for typos, etc. It doesn’t appear that the formatting turned out quite like I’d hoped on a few posts. There is more for me to learn. Here’s what you’ll find.

David Warlick Keynote

“CSAPs aren’t meaningful to students”

Closing Schools to Open Opportunities

21st Century Skills

We Must Innovate

Student Based Budgeting

Student Centric Education

New Geography

Building Community


David Warlick Keynote

December 4, 2007

This is the first of many posts from the CASB (Colorado Association of School Boards) convention.

This is the second time I have heard David Warlick speak in the last month. I heard him first deliver the keynote speech for the 2006 K-12 Online Conference (yes, 2006 is accurate. I watched an online video cast with a group of St. Vrain teachers). Today, Mr. Warlick spoke to the CASB conference. He emphasized:

We learn by sharing. Here is a link to Mr. Warlick’s handouts. David also asked us to include the words redefine, literacy and Warlick in our blog post so that it would be linked to the larger conversation (I’m still learning what that means. Here is a link to Mr. Warlick’s business website.

The old system prepared students to work in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks under close supervision. To what extent is our current system the same?

For the first time in history we must prepare our children for a future we can’t clearly describe. The best thing we can do is teach our children how to be literate. But the old three Rs are no longer sufficient. We need a new, robust definition of literacy.

We must expand reading to exposing truth. Students must learn to ask questions, how to investigate (find, decode, evaluate information, judge what’s credible), and organize information into personal libraries in a digital environment. Students who are digitally literate will be suspicious of paper based materials.

We must expand arithmetic to employing information. Digital numbers are exponentially larger than text based numbers. Students must learn how to process and manage large sets of data.

We must expand writing to expressing ideas in a compelling way. Students must learn to communicate with images and sounds, not just words. Any school district that thinks it’s possible to prepare students for the future without music and art are shortchanging children.

We must explicitly include ethics as part of literacy. David defines literacy ethics as seek and express the truth, do no harm, be accountable, and respect and protect the information and its infrastructure.

Bottom line: we must stop integrating technology and, instead, redefine literacy. With a more robust definition of literacy technology will take care of itself.


“CSAPs aren’t meaningful to students”

December 4, 2007

Dwight Jones, Colorado Commissioner of Education, shared an anecdote at the CASB conference.

A tenth grade student told the commissioner that he and his classmates don’t consider the CSAP tests relevant. (I hear that from parents of high school students and principals, too.) The student explained to the commissioner that CSAP scores were low, in part, because no one took the tests seriously. Commissioner Jones quoted the student as saying, “When we take the ACT tests you can bet we’ll be engaged,” because the ACTs affect where students go to college.

There’s the rub. The standardized tests required by the state of Colorado are not a tool for learning. Nor are they a gateway to anything in students’ future. Our CSAP tests are primarily an assessment of buildings. They provide principals and teachers with some useful data to guide instruction (especially in the early grades). But, they are or no value to parents and students as a learning tool. They can’t be. All we receive are aggregate scores six months after the fact.

Standardized tests that fail to serve any meaningful purpose for students and families are flawed. We are investing significant time, money, energy and emotions in the CSAPs. Yet, the tests fail the most basic test of usefulness. I’m in favor of assessments. But, we need assessments that matter to our students (and their families) not to legislators in Denver and Washington, DC. After all, accountability begins with relevance.


Closing Schools to Open Opportunities

December 4, 2007

I chose to attend a session called Closing Schools to Open Opportunities – a presentation made by folks from the Englewood school system. One might ask why, given that St. Vrain is growing and that we are building and opening new schools.

I believe we need to create space for new types of schools in our districts. Currently, St. Vrain schools are intended to be essentially the same. Neighborhoods distinguish schools. That’s an outdated model. People value living close to their children’s school. But, people also value specific types of curriculums and philosophies – sometimes more than location. As I have noted on my blog several times, some families want dual-immersion language schools. Others seek the Montessori approach. Still others prefer science & technology or fine arts focus schools. Some families prefer traditional public schools.

We need to create these types of options so that St. Vrain families can find a home in St. Vrain schools. Everything I’m learning suggests it is far easier to start a new school with a new program than it is to transition an existing school into a focus school. Englewood acted on this insight.

Englewood closed two middle schools. Both schools were under capacity. Then, they reopened a “brand new” school in one of the existing buildings with a new name and a new focus to create new opportunities for their students – as well as save money.

The community and teachers played an active role in the process. Community members had several opportunities to comment on plans and suggest ideas for a focus. The teachers from the two schools closed that were closed made choices about what type of focus school they wanted to become. They chose to become an IB (International Baccalaureate) school.

The process was not without pain and emotion. Families, community members and teachers felt deep ties to the existing schools. Even though people knew it made sense to close a school, their hearts did not want to do it.

St. Vrain is in a similar position. We have schools that are under capacity. We recently opened a new middle school, will open two new elementary schools in 2008 and a new high school in 2009 to manage growth in the outer parts of our school district. This needed to be done. The short term implication is that we have excess capacity. And, we’re likely to have excess capacity for a while. For instance, we have 1300 empty middle school seats.

The excess capacity creates an opportunity. We could use the next couple of years as an opportunity to create a wider range of educational options for St. Vrain families. Pursuing an opportunity like this is not without risk. It opens the district up to emotional issues and is fraught with equity issues.

We can choose to avoid conflict and try nothing. Or, we can choose to do our best to work together to create options our community is yearning to have.

Englewood chose to work though the tough issues. They believe they’re in a better place.

21st Century Skills

December 4, 2007

Ken Kay’s keynote on 21st Century Skills overlapped with several sessions we attended at the CASB convention. The highlight was a panel discussion with high school students. They were outstanding.

I have included below content from some of Mr. Kay’s more interesting slides. You can explore more about his work on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills home page and the section of the website that details 21st Century Skills.

A few points he made I think are worth reinforcing. Mr. Kay said that to help shift education to include 21st Century Skills will require “massive investments” in professional development and assessments that account for more than a few core subjects. In a separate session, a superintendent who is piloting an innovative 21st Century Skills curriculum says that we need to rethink time and education. Preparing children with 21st century skills and core content knowledge takes more time.

These points resonate with things I’ve been learning. We need to innovate. We need to invest in professional development at a new scale. And, we need to rethink time – some students need much more.

From the slides:

What’s New about 21st Century Skills

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving for EVERYONE (not just a few)

Life & Career Skills for EVERYONE

Innovation and Creativity Skills (not emphasized in the past)

Information, Media and Technology Skills (less necessary in the past)


Based on a Partnership for 21st Century Skills, et. al. survey…

Skills Employers Consider Most Important for Job Success

Work Ethic                80%

Collaboration                75%

Good Communication            70%

Social Responsibility            63%

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving    58%

Of High School Students Recently Hired, What Were Their Deficiencies

Written Communication        81%

Leadership                73%

Work Ethic                70%

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving    70%

Self-Direction                58%

What Skills and Content Areas Will Grow in Importance in Next Five Years

Critical Thinking                78%

Information Technology        77%

Health & Wellness            76%

Collaboration                74%

Innovation                74%

Personal Financial Responsibility    72%


Every student in Colorado must be:

  • A critical thinker
  • A problem solver
  • An innovator
  • An effective communicator
  • An effective collaborator
  • A self-directed learner
  • Information and media literate
  • Globally aware
  • Civically engaged
  • Financially and economically literate

We Must Innovate

December 4, 2007

I sat down at a presentation by the superintendent of Harrison #2 school district (a district in the Colorado Springs area) and sitting next to me was an old family friend who is on the school board in eastern Colorado. My friend noted that few of us really know what education will look like 10 to 15 years from now. Consider this: Most of us had never used the internet 10 to 15 years ago.

David Warlick noted in his keynote that for the first time in history, we are educating our children for a future we can’t clearly describe. At the same time, we are asking public schools to do something never done before in history by any school system: To prepare EVERY student for schooling beyond high school.

Making incremental tweaks to the system is not sufficient. We can’t wait for other people to figure things out for us. Too much time would be lost. It also doesn’t make sense to transform an entire system all at once. Anyone who says that they know the one way to improve education and public schools is fooling themselves. My friend is right. None of us really knows the one best thing to do.

In this environment we must create room for innovation. Harrison #2 is trying an innovative approach to help students develop 21st Century skills. Even if it doesn’t turn out as well as they might hope, they’re doing something. That’s what we all must strive to do. The original intent of charter schools was to create innovation labs. Most charter schools in our area don’t innovate. They simply try to improve on the traditional school model. I hope we can find some ways to promote innovation. Our students, schools and community will be better for the effort.

Student-Based Budgeting

December 4, 2007

It makes intuitive sense that student needs will drive a school’s needs. It makes further sense that budgeting should be based on need.

That’s not how school budgeting typically works. For the most part, budgeting is driven simply by head count. Schools are allocated FTE based on the head count. It’s a simplistic way to approximate fairness. But, simplistic fairness isn’t always the best way to maximize children’s educational experiences.

The Poudre School System (Fort Collins and surrounding communities) is shifting toward a different approach. They have developed a set of need based criteria to determine how to allocate instructional dollars to schools (see attached). Items such as transportation, facilities maintenance, and staff development are not included in this allocation.

Principals and teachers on school leadership teams direct how these dollars are used to meet the needs of their students. There aren’t rigid staffing formulas. If the student population’s needs and interests change from one year to the next. Principals and leadership teams have the discretion to direct their dollars as they see fit.

Poudre administrators say that another advantage of this approach is transparency. It’s far easier for the public to see where dollars are flowing and why.

The district can make adjustments to the funding formula to target dollars strategically. For instance, if boys fall behind girls and the district wants to close that gap, dollars can be allocated accordingly.

The only point of resistance came from principals who were particularly skilled at advocating for dollars under the old system.

Seattle, Houston and Edmonton, Canada use similar models. For those who are interested, William Ouchi details work in these cities in his book Making Schools Work.

My take away: Student-based budgeting is something worth considering as part of a systemic/policy effort to support differentiated learning. Also, giving principals and teachers the tools to make good decisions is far more valuable than threats and public ridicule.

Here is the link to Poudre’s funding formula.

Download poudre_funding.tif

Student Centric Education

December 4, 2007

Student centric is a phrase used by policy people to describe the perspective from which policies are set. Most school districts have an organization centric approach to their work. Policies are set to accomplish organization goals. Here’s an example of a difference: CSAPs are an organization centric assessment tool. They are designed to evaluate schools and to a lesser extent teachers. They are not really designed as a learning tool for students. A student centric assessment tool would provide rapid feedback to the learner so he or she could direct their own efforts to improve.

If we took a student centric approach to education policy, what would be different? How would we budget differently? How would we do assessments differently? How would this affect the vision and mission of school districts, including St. Vrain’s?

New Geography

December 4, 2007

As I sat in CASB sessions, I thought about an experience I had just a day earlier.

I met Bruce Theriault last week in Las Vegas. Bruce is the vice president of radio for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We both were attending workshop for The Harwood Institute/Corporation for Public Broadcasting Community Engagement Initiative.

Bruce was there to work with and support the participating public radio stations. I was there as a Harwood Institute coach. I am working closely with six public radio and television stations to help them develop community engagement strategies to improve the civic health of their communities and improve the local significance of their stations.

Bruce and I have something in common though neither of us knew it until we met in Las Vegas. We both live in Longmont. Bruce’s “office” is in Washington, DC. My work with CPB is with a team based in Bethesda, MD.

I tell this story to illustrate a point. More and more of us live in one location but work – often virtually – with people a continent or continents away. As more adults (especially parents) decouple geographic boundaries from their work experiences, they will (already are) develop new expectations for their children’s education. Parents are going to think about their children’s education more as an experience than a place. There will always be demand for physical schools so that children learn how to build relationships with peers. But, increasingly, parents will think of the physical school buildings as just one piece of a larger experience.

How should we, as a school district, prepare for a world of new geography?

Building Community

December 4, 2007

The thing that sets public schools apart from private schooling is the potential to bring together diverse groups of people, with a wide range of backgrounds and cultures to knit together community. Public and private schools are equally equipped to teach math and science. Both public and private schools can develop 21st Century Skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

We heard little if anything about public schools role to build community. The focus on 21st Century Skills makes sense but not at the exclusion of civil society. The trend line in our society is toward fragmentation. 21st Century tools – such as the internet – facilitate fragmentation. We have few institutions left in our society that span the boundaries of our society. Public schools can play this role.

Building community is on the top of no one’s priority list when it comes to education. In my experience, community is typical third, fourth or fifth on people’s priority list. Thus, it’s easy for developing civil community to slip through the cracks. But, it is essential that we don’t let this happen. All we need to do is look across history and the globe to see the fruits of fragmentation. It’s typically violence.

We must be mindful to keep civil community as an important priority for public schools. Public schools have been an essential piece of America’s fabric in part because of the role to build community.