Creating change is not an easy thing for educators – particularly the kind that can last (and not just another trend that leaves as quickly as it came in). What does successful change look like? Each year, Education Week profiles the most innovative district leaders in the country, who are moving schools forward. Many are inspirational trailblazers able to find new ideas to tackle the oldest problems in the education system today – navigating rigid regulations, leveraging technology to enrich (and not disrupt) learning, and overcoming racial achievement gaps in the classroom. In today’s post, take a look at a few of Education Week’s 2017 Leaders to Learn From program and the creative ways they’re transforming teaching and learning.
Give Parents a Voice in Schools
Federal Way Public Schools (WA) is the model for parent engagement. They serve a rapidly diversifying district of more than 23,000 students, and Trise Moore was responsible for establishing a better way to reach out to parents from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In her role as director of equity and family engagement, her work has been widely known outside of Washington. She carved out a bold initiative to engage communities and families in the education process – one of six U.S. school models featured as a promising practice by the Harvard Family Research Project – because ultimately, enabling them to fully advocate for their students and participate in shaping district policies would help prevent any from falling through the cracks.
Improve the Relationship between Teaching and Technology
The Perris Union High School District (CA) is already known nationally for turning underutilized classrooms into “maker spaces” for hands-on student projects that could emphasize creativity and teamwork building. Their Scholar+ Program is one example of integrating technology into the curriculum, which put Chromebooks in the hands of every single student to improve learning access for their large low-income and minority communities. What stands out the most is the district’s executive director of technology, Joseph Williams, who sought to closely align IT and teaching functions to simplify the process of implementing new tech initiatives. From his perspective, it’s crucial to lead from the classroom to make the impossible more possible. Williams brought over several innovative practices and digital tools more commonly found in tech startups, and emphasized the value of technical training and support for teachers and staff.
Use the Power of Data to Champion Equity and Access
In Jefferson County (KY), they face the same challenge of serving a diversity of students, up to 101,000 in their district. John D. Marshall, who is among the very few district chief equity officers in the nation, felt it was his role to advocate for students of color, those who are homeless, and other disadvantaged groups. His advice to other education leaders: Tell the truth, even when it’s controversial or people don’t want to hear it. When it came to leaning into the tough conversations about diversity and equity, their district leaders relied heavily on the numbers. In 2013, he helped create an annual equity scorecard for the district, which put a spotlight on equity issues when it came to discipline, college and career readiness, school climate and culture, and literacy.
Start Early in Putting Students on the Path to Higher Ed
Even inside their pre-kindergarten classrooms, IDEA Public Schools (TX) starts early to build a college-going culture. Like many large charter school networks, they serve a large population of minority students, many from poverty-stricken neighborhoods. As the chief program officer, Dolores Gonzalez prioritized early-childhood education as the best time to intervene with at-risk students as well as offer better tools to help students reach their highest potential. From IDEA’s pre-K program to its Advanced Placement courses, they sought many ways to put low-income and first-generation students on the path to college. The six-year graduation rate for IDEA alumni, for instance, 35 percent – more than three times the national average for low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college (according to the Pell Institute).