School Views: Asking the right questions to align our education priorities (column)
At the request of teachers, principals, and district leaders, a survey was created to determine what educational concepts we value. Over the last 15 years, the school district has implemented many: pay for performance, dual language, co-teaching, project-based learning, standards-based grading, positive behavior interventions and supports, and formative assessments. The list goes on and on.
Staff needed an opportunity to reflect on all of these concepts to determine what works and what needs to go. We have never asked that question during my time with Eagle County Schools.
Over 450 professionals responded to the survey, and the results are in.
Three major themes emerged: focus and vision, empower educators and teach all to high standards. Our vision remains to produce graduates prepared for the global workforce. Empowering educators and teaching all to high standards have been in our strategy for years, but deficiencies around focus have meant much of our work lacked alignment.
Senior district leadership and the Board of Education now have an opportunity to take inventory of the district’s vision and align efforts to better empower educators and ensure that every student is taught to high standards.
The district operates from a comprehensive and thoughtful strategic plan. Operational elements of that plan function well. Our new buildings are beautiful, our technology infrastructure is modernized, and our nutritional offerings are healthy and delicious. Let’s allow these professionals to continue their great work and focus our attention on the parts of the plan that require alignment. With a strategic plan that contains 43 tactics, the organization could benefit from identifying and focusing on the high leverage tactics that matter most to student achievement. As the old saying goes, “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”
Each year every school completes an extensive process of self-reflection and improvement planning. Every school then develops its own School-Based Strategic Plan outlining priorities to improve student achievement. No two plans look the same and they shouldn’t. Schools customize their plans to fit the individual needs of their students. It follows that district support shouldn’t look the same for every school.
The challenge to district leadership is to recognize the power of school-based strategic plans and align district resources, curriculum, programs and supports to maximize those plans. When district initiatives do not align with school needs, the system bogs down in noise and distractions. If we learned anything from the recent survey, it is that teachers feel a huge need to reduce noise and distractions.
Every member of the district leadership team is evaluating the survey data and reporting on how it will inform their work. Most are encouraged by what they see, but some are facing challenges in figuring out how their work fits into the master plan. These are the right problems to have as we face new leadership in a superintendent search. Self-reflection will result in better alignment, better collaboration, and a more effective system for our students.
Philip Qualman is the interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.