Superintendent Larry W. Davis

 

 
 Superintendent Davis

For All the Kids Out There...

By Superintendent Larry W. Davis

A Reason for Hope

One of my favorite Tim Burton movies is Beetlejuice. It is packed with a lot of memorable one-liners that I still reference today with my own family, even after nearly 30 years have gone by since it was released by Warner Brothers in 1988. Michael Keaton plays a dead guy named Beetlejuice, and he wreaks havoc throughout the movie with just about everyone. He’s a lot like Jed Jensen here in the district office. However, Beetlejuice takes his lumps as well, and after being out of commission for 600 years, he rises from the debris, dusts himself off, stretches his arms wide and says, "I’m feeling a little, ooh, anxious if you know what I mean."

Even after 40 years in education, that’s the feeling I get at the start of a new school year, anxiety, and for me, that’s a good thing, at least in manageable amounts. It helps us to keep our edge. Once we become complacent, we risk providing less than the best education for our children. In that sense, anxiety is simply being passionate about doing the best we can with the resources available for the good of our students. At the end of each school year, some educators secure their domains, clear their heads and enter summer vacation. The best educators, however, take time to reflect, plan, and adjust, like Beetlejuice dusting himself off, as they begin the process of making themselves better at what they do. After all, our school district is only as good as each of us who comprise the whole.

Entering the new school year, not only is there the usual amount of anxiety associated with "back to school," there is heightened anxiety as a result of dramatic changes in our local education system: elimination of sixth grade from elementary schools… creation of 6-8 middle schools… and the addition of ninth grade at Emery High School. These dynamic changes constitute some of our district’s greatest challenges in recent history. In addition, our district is establishing itself as a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with Collaborative Educational Teams in each school. That too has resulted in cause for concern for many.

Psychologists often refer to this mental discomfort as "cognitive dissonance" which is experienced by those who simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of this discomfort is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal belief systems. It also occurs when a person is confronted with new information that contradicts those beliefs. Major changes in one’s life or in one’s "way of doing things" often lead to cognitive dissonance, or as one poet describes it, "rumpled peace."

These changes and expectations going into the new school year have led to varying degrees of dissonance, everything from mild stress to intense resistance. Some of the concern

has been directed at the most important consideration: Is this in the best interest of our students? While other concern has been more of a personal nature: Is this in my best interest? Either is valid, and each is being taken seriously by district officials.

With respect to the transition of sixth graders to middle school and ninth graders to the high school, the challenge has not been the transitions themselves. Stakeholders have overwhelmingly supported these changes. However, the nuances of the transitions have resulted in the real anxiety- staff movement, infrastructure, scheduling, transportation, and general restructuring. Regarding the establishment of the district PLC program and philosophy, the fear and perhaps objection is that we’re adding more responsibility without compensation and the necessary time to make it work.

There is hope, however, and it lies in the overwhelming, although not necessarily unanimous, support of our teachers and administrators despite any anxiety or cognitive dissidence. School personnel and district officials have been working together for two years to make the transition as seamless as possible. Principals and counselors have established schedules for their students in secondary schools that not only meet state course requirements but which also expand schedule offerings as much as possible. Several teachers have accepted new teaching assignments in different schools and have done so knowing they will have to add endorsements and licensing. The district has provided the resources that schools need to adjust to new configurations, and the school board has supported and monitored these changes since approving them nearly two years ago.

While there will be bumps in the road as the transition unfolds, none will be impassable. We enter the school year with confidence that the needs of our students will be met, that we will have qualified instructors in place, and that the transitions will result in greater opportunities for kids.

There is hope as well that PLCs will lead to greater use of student data, teamwork in disaggregating data, collaboration in creating common assessments, and a cooperative spirit in establishing individualized education plans for every student. All of this will result in higher test scores, and more importantly, greater student academic and social success.

To reiterate the point, I believe that anxiety is beneficial, but only when it leads to improvement and problem-solving. None of the changes in our district is designed to make people uncomfortable for the sake of creating pain. However, each is designed to heighten concern that we are charged with the education of our greatest resource- the children of Emery County. Change is a necessary part of that challenge. As Beetlejuice tells us, after Lydia magically says his name three times to activate his shenanigans, "It’s showtime!" May we all have a wonderful school year- one that will reap the benefits of change.

Share comments with the superintendent at: larryd@emeryschools.org

 

“Blended Learning” is another piece of the education puzzle

On Sept. 25, 2017, Emery District principals and supervisors began training in what has come to be known as Blended Learning, a bringing together of effective traditional instructional practice with today’s cutting-edge technology. Just so there is no misunderstanding of this training, know this:

  • There is no charge to the district or our schools for this training. The Southeast Education Service Center and UETN are sponsoring the training.

  • Minimal time outside of their school or district responsibilities will be spent by those involved. There will be five 4-hour sessions held once per month September through February (There is no training in December).

  • The professional development will take place in our school district, and real people will come to the Emery District to provide the training. Also, a few administrators from Carbon County will travel to the training in Emery County. Typically, we travel to Carbon for such activities.

     

    Why is Blended Learning important to our school district and to our stakeholders, especially our students? The Emery District is on the cusp of breaking the glass ceiling on technology, and we need to be prepared with school-level plans on how we are going to integrate the past and the present with the future. The Blended Learning training is specific to that point and will provide leadership opportunities for the design and implementation of individual school plans.

    The potential of Blended Learning is enormous, and it is a natural fit with the district Professional Learning Community and School Collaborative Team philosophies. More than anything else the two lend themselves to individual student academic growth. Good teaching has always taken place in American schools to varying degrees. However, with the rapid advancement of technology in today’s educational setting, combining good teaching practice with the cyber world has left many wondering how to bring it all together in systematic ways that lead to student success.

    The five Blended Learning sessions include the following topics:

     

  • Session 1- Defining Blended and Digital Learning with an overview to Blended Learning and the role of the school principal in leading the transition to Blended Learning.

  • Session 2- Creating a Culture for Blended & Digital Learning with a focus on the important cultural shifts for all stakeholders involved in a Blended Learning transition.

  • Session 3- Shifting Teaching and Learning with a focus on the key changes in curriculum and instruction in a Blended Learning environment.

  • Session 4- Supporting Teachers Through Professional Learning with a focus on the competencies of a Blended Learning educator and professional learning models.

  • Session 5- Implementing and Sustaining Blended and Digital Learning with a focus on the nuts and bolts of shifting to a Blended Learning model and implementation strategies.

By the end of the program, school administrators and district office supervisors will know and be able to:

  • Understand and differentiate between various models of Blended Learning

  • Create clear goals for Blended Learning in their school and within the district

  • Establish a culture in their school community that supports Blended Learning

  • Engage stakeholder support for Blended Learning

  • Identify digital tools and curriculum that support Blended Learning in their schools

  • Develop systems that support the transition to Blended Learning

  • Use digital tools and social media for their own professional practice and lifelong learning

  • Support teachers’ transition to Blended Learning with ongoing professional development

  • Understand the infrastructure needs Blended Learning programs require

  • Develop and implement a Blended Learning Planning Road Map for their schools.

       The adoption of the Blended Learning professional development model stems from work done by the Emery School District Technology Committee and its Professional Development Subcommittee. The Technology Committee was organized in July 2016 and tasked with establishing long-term technology plans for every school and for the Emery District. Part of that planning included conducting an inventory of school and district technology infrastructure, capacity, and programs. From that survey the committee determined that there existed a wide variety of preferred programs from school to school and that there also existed a number of programs that were purchased but not in use. Also, other than the Student Information System (SIS), there was no district-wide data platform for teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to use in crafting educational plans for each student.

Over the last year, the Technology Committee has been engaged in a process of addition and subtraction that has resulted in the elimination of duplicate and marginally used programs while adding a district data platform, SchoolCity, which will be used by teachers to track student progress, create common assessments, and develop individual learning plans. Such plans will be based on student progress toward meeting core standards. For those who have mastered a standard, there will be “extended learning” opportunities, and for those who have not mastered the standard, there will be re-teaching and expanded ways of showing mastery.

Teachers and administrators who were in the Emery District back when Ernie Weeks was the superintendent, the last 80’s and early 90’s, will recall the district’s efforts in bringing Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Learning into common use. Dr. Hunter even spent time in our district training teachers and visiting classrooms. In my view, the only difference between Mastery Learning and Blended Learning is the integration of technology. The same is true for Professional Learning Communities and Collaborative Teams. Consider this definition of Blended Learning offered by Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation: “A formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home (such as school). The modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”

It was obvious from Dr. Hunter’s research, as well as research by those who have crafted the Blended Learning approach, that all children have the capacity to learn, but each learns at a different rate and through different means. As educators, we cannot set teaching on cruise control and expect every child to keep up. Nor can we expect those who reach mastery to stop learning while waiting for others to reach the finish line. Rather, we must adapt to the needs of our students, not the other way around. Like PLCs and Collaborative Teams, Blended Learning is a tool… a piece of the educational puzzle. When applied in earnest and with fidelity, amazing things can happen in the life of a child.

Questions or comments about this article should be directed to: larryd@emeryschools.org.