When it comes to education, there is no one right solution. Districts across this country vary in size, demographics, and priorities. Education leaders need solutions that make sense for their students in their context.
Every year, The School Superintendents’ Association (AASA) awards the title “Superintendent of the Year” to exceptional leaders who work to identify and implement these solutions so students can succeed through leadership for learning, communication, professionalism, and community involvement. League of Innovative Schools superintendents were awarded state superintendent of the year designations in California, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, and two League superintendents are finalists for the national award.
Here are a few key takeaways from the work taking place in each of these leaders’ districts that empowers student success.
1. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime.
In Pat Deklotz’s district in Wales, Wisconsin, students can help design their own learning; they can enroll in one of the district’s four dynamic and innovative charter schools, for example, or engage in curriculum that delivers instruction differently or closes skills gaps. In Kettle Moraine School District, all students have the opportunity to find the route that helps them learn best. This student-created video, which won the League Film Festival, highlights why personalized and connected learning makes more sense in today’s global economy.
Personalized learning is not just for students at Kettle Moraine. Deklotz says, “We have an ever growing number of teachers engaging in micro-credentials, personalizing their own learning to enhance their ability to provide these learning opportunities for their students. They are building individual and collective knowledge and skills of how to expand our implementation of personalized learning throughout the district. This work brings us closer and closer to recognizing student achievement through demonstrated competencies rather than more traditional methods of assessment.” The district has been piloting micro-credentials since 2014, and is a key thought partner of Digital Promise’s Educator Micro-credential initiative.
2. Students benefit long-term from real-world learning experiences.
Pam Moran of Albemarle Public Schools in Charlottesvile, Va., is one of the nation’s leading advocates for real-world-relevant maker learning opportunities for students. Moran said she is most proud of the work Albemarle has done “to create seven pathways to learning that open doors of opportunity for every child.” These pathways include ways for students to design their own learning, connect with real-world experts, react to real-world problems, learn in flexible and adaptable learning spaces, and benefit from a priority on project-based learning and maker-infused curriculum.
Moran said, “It is through our pathways that we are transforming learning so that our young people graduate with lifelong learning competencies essential to thriving in life — homes, communities, and at work.” These competencies include, but are not limited to, collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and global communications. For Albemarle students, the future really is what they make of it.
3. Fostering and leveraging partnerships can help drive student achievement.
Devin Vodicka of Vista Unified School District recognizes the value of connecting cross-disciplinary stakeholders to achieve student success. Across the San Diego region, Vista has forged partnerships with companies like Qualcomm and institutions like the University of San Diego to create the next generation of future-ready students.
Devin is an inclusive leader. He’s known to tweet both in Spanish and English, so more members of the community can stay updated on the district’s work. A committed leader in closing the digital learning gap, Devin and his team actively develop innovative ways to provide 24/7 connectivity to students, including hosting conversations with housing developers to advocate for equipping new units with broadband. Vista Unified is also part of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, powered by Digital Promise.
Vodicka said, “I am very proud of our entire community for our collective progress as we seek to achieve our vision to be the model of educational excellence and innovation. With that said, I am most proud of our students who consistently demonstrate that they can rise to any challenge that we present when it is coupled with high levels of support.”
4. Storytelling — around success and failure — is essential.
When it comes to education, Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb notes, “There is no magic formula. There is no silver bullet. Just a lot of heavy lifting by our students, staff, and community who are committed to our strategic vision.”
This commitment to a strategic vision has yielded meaningful results: Vancouver has seen their on-time graduation rate improved from 64 percent to over 80 percent since 2010, with the largest gains being made by Hispanic and black students. Webb said, “I am proud of our ‘whole system’s approach to accelerating student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and getting more students across the finish line prepared for college and careers.”
Webb and his team do not keep these lessons to themselves, however. The resources and time Vancouver has dedicated to communications and storytelling enable them to stand out. The talent in the Communications department, including an Emmy award-winning web producer, is indicative of Vancouver’s deep commitment to connecting with the community outside of the school’s walls, both locally and nationally.
Steve Webb realizes the power of his platform, both as a school leader and public figure. “On the Job with Steve” is a series produced by the district in which he takes on a new job in the district for a day, ranging from teacher to janitor to basketball coach. His regular blog posts and podcasts provide insight for community members into the district’s vision and accomplishments. His Twitter presence, which includes #VPSSuccess updates, ensures news about the district is not limited to internal memos.
AASA will announce the Superintendent of the Year in February 2016. League members Pam Moran and Steve Webb are two of the four finalists. For more information on the superintendent finalists, visit AASA’s web page.