Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jefferson County Prospects

My remarks to the Louisville Forum included the historic data I blogged yesterday, followed by some thinking about recent developments and future prospects.   Because Dewey Hensley had already described some of the district's strategies, I shortened and changed some of what I had planned to say, but the substance was the same as this prepared version:

Watching from a distance, I see multiple signs that you are on a stronger track: 
1. Your school board and your superintendent are now setting numerical goals for specific years.  If they follow through with annual reporting, celebrating goals met and confronting goals missed, you’ll be developing a culture that expects improvement year over year. 
2. Dr. Hargens has reorganized your district administration and used the savings to fund assistant principals.  That’s an impressive focus on making resources follow priorities. 
3.  Dr. Hargens has also brought a major shakeup to the Gheens Academy, designed to ensure more responsive professional development and support for your teachers. 
4.  Dewey Hensley, the man without excuses who turned around Atkinson Elementary and provided KDE leadership for your recent high school turnaround, is now your in-district chief academic officer.  
Now, let me add a "theory of action" on what will matter most in the next several years.  I’m sold on the research saying that the approach that raises scores and closes gaps involves a particular kind of learning culture.  It’s one where educators work together regularly, looking at student work to understand what the learners need next, designing changes, and coming back together to see what worked and decide what to improve next.  That approach travels under multiple names: 
·      It’s called "formative assessment "by those emphasize how teachers use the evidence. 
·      It’s called "professional learning communities" by those who emphasize the shared way the evidence gets considered. 
·      It’s called "job-embedded professional development" by those who emphasize the cycle of learning. 
·      And it’s called “instructional leadership” by those who emphasize the roles of principals in building and sustaining that focused work. 
When you read any of the accounts of what’s been changing in your historically troubled high schools, you hear versions of that teachers gathering that evidence, sharing the exploration, and staying in the cycle of identifying needed changes together.  You also hear principals focusing on helping that happen—and that’s where adding those assistant principals can be an excellent first step. 
In the coming year or two, the central issue will be making or solidifying that change in school after school. That’s a tough kind of priority because no school board can do it by policy and no superintendent can do it by memorandum.  It takes lasting engagement, with the central leadership making sure it’s a priority for school leadership, fending off distractions and sending in resources—and dedicated people in each building doing the most important work for themselves. 
So, the way to find out what’s happening, without waiting for the state scores, will be to ask teachers and principals what’s happening. Listen for reports of teams working together to examine work and plan instruction. Listen for reports of having time for that because other requirements have been pushed aside.  Listen for principals spending more time in classrooms.  Especially, listen for examples of students making breakthroughs their teachers hadn’t previously thought were in reach—because when teachers find the ways to do that, they’re excited and they’re exciting. 
It can be done.  Your children need for it to be done, and to be frank, the rest of Kentucky needs Jefferson County back in a leadership role. You’re the leading engine of our statewide economy, and in an information age, we need you as the leading engine of our learning economy as well.

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