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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A New Superintendent: Ideas for the Future

The school system where I work is hiring a new superintendent. The current superintendent is retiring. As I think about this change, I am thinking about the potential betterment this new superintendent will bring.

Over my thirty years teaching in the system, I have observed each new superintendent bring new ideas and values to our system. Change, in the best of circumstances, signals positive opportunity for elevation and growth. As I think of the school system where I teach and the opportunity for this positive change, I am mindful of the following areas that I hope we'll continue to develop and elevate.

High Needs Students
I hope that we'll reach in and dig deep to improve our strategic response to these students. Currently there are countless efforts in place to reach and teach these students, and I think that better synthesizing those efforts with a strategic plan will improve our efforts with these students even more. It's essential that educators are part of this conversation. Too often educators are left out of important discussions regarding student services and this is an area I believe we can improve by applying greater inclusive and strategic process with regard to our efforts to uplift service to students. It could be that a greater use of the hybrid teacher leader role where teachers who work with students also make/lead decisions related to those students could support good effort in this area. I find that when decision makers are distanced from the daily teaching/learning efforts, the decisions, at times, are not as strong, successful or targeted.

In the past many years, our school system's budgeting process and efforts have improved substantially. I hope we'll continue to see improvement in this area so that the budget is easy to read and represents the story of what our school system values and hopes to achieve.

Strategic Plan
I'd like to see our school system embrace the latest research and information with respect to creating an inclusive strategic plan that includes the voices of all stakeholders in thoughtful, accessible ways. I think that greater effort and a more modern, inclusive process will create results that hold terrific potential for our school system's continued growth and betterment. Again, I hope that educators' voices and experience will be well represented in this effort.

Distributive Leadership
I'd like to see the school system move towards more authentic models of distributive leadership so that all stakeholders have valuable voice and choice within the system. When distributive leadership is fully embedded, there's a greater sense of team in a system rather than a sense that there are some who lead and some that don't.

Culturally Proficient Teaching and Learning
I'd like the system to audit its courses and curriculum to make sure that our efforts are developing bright, thoughtful future-ready students who possess the skills and knowledge needed to navigate their future with confidence, grace, and success. At the elementary level, we have to be mindful of the skill/knowledge balance so that we ensure that students are learning the rich information and skills necessary to be inspired, well-informed, and able leaders in the future.

Growth and Empowerment
I'd like to see the programs for educators, staff, and students aim to support and develop all. I'd like to see the educator evaluation system support optimal growth in order to uplift and engage the staff and students' wonderful talents, experiences, and ideas with differentiated, meaningful, and responsive professional development inspiration and programming. When educators are well served, they in turn are able to well serve their students. As I've noted many times I am a fan of the servant leadership model of management.

Modern Learning Facilities
Our high school is a state-of-the-art facility that promotes modern teaching and learning. The other buildings in the system are getting old and tired. I think there need to be attention to this as we think of the future and the kind of education possible for all students and community members.

Currently the system's desire to be safe, in my opinion, is limiting progress in this area. For example, SCRATCH, a highly regarded and worthy MIT-born international coding language for students was recently barred with the exception of the tutorial site. This is a worrisome turn in the road. In general, we have shied away from technology integration that is constructivist in favor of technology that is more similar to "workbook-on-a-page" technology. This is particularly true at the elementary level. I worry about this as I believe it may hold our students back from what is possible. I also worry because students whose families are privileged generally supply constructivist tech use at home, but students from less privilege often don't have access to these kinds of engaging, creative technologies. I hope we will re-look at how we use technology at the elementary level as I've noticed we've actually taken a few steps backwards rather than forward in this regard.

A talented administrative assistant started a terrific communication vehicle for the town as displayed to the right. This works well with regard to informing citizens about worthy, upcoming events and opportunities. Similarly educators and schools keep websites up to date and send out regular newsletters to stakeholders. I'd like to see more regular communication from the superintendent and administrators as one way to encourage, inspire, and maximize the energy, talent, and knowledge of all stakeholders. I believe the more that people know about what happened, what's happening, and what will happen, the better work we can all do together for the students we serve. When future events and ideas are well communicated, it gives stakeholders time to question, ponder, and improve those ideas. This often helps ideas to get a rich and grounded start. I believe that the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education models this kind of consistent, regular communication well with his weekly memo.

Leadership Skills
I hope that we will focus our efforts on honing the leadership skills and abilities of all stakeholders with current research.

Social Emotional Learning (Emotional Intelligence)/Cognition
I hope that we will continue to learn about and embed teaching related to social emotional learning (SEL) and cognitive science into our teaching/learning environments. In many ways, this will foster changes in schedules as well as curriculum programs since, in some ways, our schedules and programs mirror outdated strategies rather than strategies based on new research, tools, and study. This will require lots of thoughtful effort and collaboration.

I remain a fan of our shared planning periods, shared teaching model, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and RTI (Response to Intervention) efforts. I believe that we can elevate these efforts by consulting the latest research and working together to continue to review and refine these efforts for optimal result.

Student-Centered Efforts/Service Learning
I believe that our efforts to be student-centered including our focus on service learning has been awesome, and I hope that we'll continue to develop these efforts.

Lead Time
I hope that we'll look at our routines and update them so that we utilize greater lead time with regard to all efforts. At times the lack of lead time leads to a lack of inclusion and time for good collaboration and strategic effort. Better lead time, inclusion, and forethought will improve the work we do together.

I will return to these notes in the days to come to refine and think more about them. But for starters, these are areas where I'd like to see our school system continue to grow and develop.