Category Archives: school governance

Act 49 of 2017

Here is a quick presentation I put together for a regional governance conversation in southern Vermont on June 28, 2017. It contains information about “side by side” mergers and how Act 49 modified the side by side provisions of Act 156.

Some of the information in the presentation is specific to districts in the BRSU and BVSU, but other aspects are more general and describe to how Act 49 tweaked Act 46. Comments/suggestions are appreciated as always.

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Report of the Superintendent of Schools, 2012

The 2011-2012 school year started with Hurricane Irene. The Hurricane did not damage any of our schools, but many of our families were deeply affected. I want to thank our emergency responders and community volunteers for their work during this emergency. Their assistance enabled our students and families to return to normalcy as soon as possible. Their dedication and support was greatly appreciated, and continues to remind me of why I enjoy living and working in Vermont.

The BRSU Board continued its work in exploring governance change. The Board voted in support of adding the Mountain Towns Regional Education District and the Winhall School District to the BRSU effective July 1, 2013. The Vermont State Board of Education subsequently approved these changes. The BRSU Board hired Dr. Raymond Proulx to perform a Phase I Governance Study of the current BRSU districts to identify options for future governance change. The results of this study will be published in early 2013. The BRSU Board met with the governance consultants assigned to examine the future of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union in Arlington. The results of that work will be made available in June 2013.

Nancy Mark, a former Vermont Elementary Principal of the Year and the long-serving principal of the Mettawee Community School, retired in June 2012. Her contributions to her school, the communities of Pawlet and Rupert, and to the BRSU leadership team were significant. Brooke DeBonis was hired as the next Mettawee principal to replace Mrs. Mark. Ms. DeBonis was an exceptional Mettawee teacher who is well qualified to continue the Mettawee tradition of academic excellence for all students.

After several years of work, a common instructional vision for BRSU schools is emerging. That vision is based on personalized learning and designing instructional systems to better support the aspirations of students. A focus of this work is pointing accountability towards our local school boards, parents, and students, and away from federal systems such as those prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act. We intend to still use external accountability systems to ensure our students are being educated to the highest standards, but our new accountability systems will allow us to make “just-in-time” adjustments based on student progress, a feature not provided by the current NECAP system. Toward that end, we piloted the Northwest Evaluation Association’s MAP testing in the Spring of 2012. MAP testing will provide normative comparisons of student progress based on large, national samples, while at the same time providing real-time data on how students are progressing using an individual student growth model. BRSU schools fully implemented MAP testing in the Fall of 2012.

The efficiency of MAP testing will allow us to pursue significant changes in our instructional systems in the coming months. A central focus of this work will be the implementation of Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) for students. PLPs will be formulated with student, parent, and teacher input, and will serve to guide the development of curriculum. PLPs will also serve to structure student e-portfolios. E-portfolio templates will be designed by BRSU staff during the 2012-2013 school year. To support the implementation of personalized learning, PLPs and e-portfolios, the BRSU contracted with Dr. David Silvernail of the University of Southern Maine to develop an evaluation system to assist our schools in leveraging all of our organizational systems to implement these significant changes. Dr. Silvernail was the lead investigator for several studies on Maine’s 1:1 computing initiative, and is a very experienced educational researcher and program evaluator.

BRSU’s work in personalizing learning was recognized at the national level when our district was selected as one of twenty districts to participate in a national school reform initiative, “Teaming for Transformation,” sponsored by the US Department of Education, the Consortium for School Networking and North Carolina State University. Much of this work is fairly innovative and based on the fundamental concept that continuous school improvement happens more quickly and more effectively when schools work together. BRSU schools are committed to working together to support our continuous improvement, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to partner with other like-minded districts in Vermont, in other states, and around the world.

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Some Thoughts on Disciplining Educational Innovation

In education, our research and development (“R&D”) systems are curriculum development and professional development.  These are the primary systems we utilize to improve instruction, and these systems are traditionally hierarchical and organized around school or district boundaries.  We rely on top down policies and approaches such as standards and state-level assessments to influence the improvement of these systems even though there is significant lag time, often several years, between the development of standards and the implementation of their related assessments.  There is also the case of fidelity to a curriculum – even when a formal curriculum is adopted, districts struggle with ensuring it is actually being implemented in a coordinated manner.

In Working Laterally, David Hargreaves describes an alternative approach called “lateral networks” where networks are leveraged to connect educators beyond traditional organizational boundaries to greatly improve these R&D processes.  This approach requires educators to build curricula from the ground up by utilizing the collective wisdom of their peers.  Curriculum development and professional development are “open sourced” with best practices being identified, implemented, and evaluated much more quickly across a group of schools since teachers are no longer working in isolation within their own schools or districts.  Standards remain an essential component to ensure quality, but standards become a tagging scheme for educators to organize instructional activities as opposed to a top down framework that narrows the curriculum.

To network educators in this manner and to build curricula from the ground up requires organizational discipline.  Just like in open source software development, certain protocols and systems must be enforced to focus the collective work of the community.   Disciplining educational R&D systems means providing both internal and external assurance that these systems are going to achieve the desired ends for students.  Internal assurance can be understood as responsibility – as educators we must be professionally responsible to each other for the quality of instruction provided across our entire system, not just in our individual classrooms, since it is this broader experience which ultimately affects student learning.  External assurance is commonly expressed as accountability.  We must be able to demonstrate to students, parents and community members that our educational programs are of high quality.

As districts implement lateral networks to support educational innovation, they need to be able to articulate a system of organizational discipline and publish it to both internal and external stakeholders.  In our district we have developed the following list of activities as a plan to discipline our innovation:

  • School board Ends and monitoring policies (see this blog post);
  • System benchmarks (formative and summative) based on a logic model to ensure the personalization of student learning.  This system is being developed in consultation with Dr. David Silvernail from the University of Southern Maine;
  • The rapid development, implementation and evaluation of best practices through lateral networking using a common instructional management system (Haiku);
  • NWEA MAPS just-in-time assessments used three times a year used in formative data teams by teachers and externally by parents, administration and school board members for program monitoring;
  • A standards-based curriculum; and
  • Documenting student learning through eportfolios.

I think a balanced portfolio of disciplining approaches is necessary to guide innovation in a common direction.  Ideally, some disciplining approaches are able to satisfy both internal and external requirements.  I also believe it is essential that governance be addressed so the necessary policy alignment for innovation can be secured.

Considerable attention is being paid to how technology might affect student learning.  More attention needs to be paid to how technology might improve our instructional R&D systems.  I believe the current federal and state education policies which are focused on relatively inefficient and ineffective top down approaches need to shift towards supporting the development of disciplined systems of innovation which are scalable across a large group of schools irrespective of district, state, or national boundaries.  Such an approach is likely to be more effective, less costly, and better able to ensure a high level of quality.

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Tech Thoughts for the 10/14/10 New Superintendents Meeting

Here are some of my thoughts on technology and organizational change as it pertains to Vermont school districts.

Personalization of Instruction – the objective is to leverage new technology to achieve our progressive ideals; all learning is social, and we can now customize learning experiences at the individual level while at the same expanding learning opportunities for all students. See the National Tech Plan for a big picture perspective. My work in this area at BRSU has been at several levels, attended to at the same time:

  • Educate district leaders about the potential for new technologies to transform the structure of education. A great way to do this is to attend the BLC conference in Boston with a team. See my Disrupting Class blog activity as an example.
  • Technology Integration – equip classrooms and teachers with instructional technology and move organizational processes to cloud-based applications (e.g. professional development and teacher re-licensing with MyLearningPlan).
  • Put technology in the hands of students – 1:1 initiatives
  • Deploy teaching and learning online through cloud-based content management systems (CMS – we use SchoolFusion) and learning management systems (LMS – we use Brainhoney). See more information below under Areas of Focus.

Opening Up Education – move from a Corporate IT Infrastructure to an Educational IT Infrastructure

  • Remove directory services, mail and file servers and go to a cloud-based collaboration platform (we use Google Apps) and network attached storage devices (NASs – we use Buffalo) and/or cloud-based storage.
  • Remove filtering appliances or filtering services at the firewall in favor of simpler approaches such as OpenDNS and teacher-based filtering.
  • Deploy managed wireless access throughout all buildings
  • Abandon commercial and proprietary software in favor of open source software – OpenOffice or LibreOffice as a replacement for MS Office, Linux as a replacement for Windows or Mac.
  • Through social media applications such as blogs, feeds (Google Reader), social bookmarking (Delicious), Twitter, Facebook, and the VSA ning, develop a reflexive disposition towards sharing and creating information. Create content under a Creative Commons license.
  • Secure the necessary bandwidth to support the needs of your districts.

Areas of Focus for “Virtual Merger” Provisions of Act 153

  • Collaboration Platform – implement a cloud-based, organization-wide, collaboration platform (such as Google Apps) that includes students.
  • LMS/SIS – the LMS and student information system (SIS) market is changing rapidly and is being disrupted by cloud-based applications. LMSs are becoming more SIS-like, and SISs are adding LMS functionality. New LMSs are cloud-based and relatively affordable. Most SISs are primarily used to print report cards – do we need this functionality as we move to web-based platforms where students and parents can monitor learning progress in real time? We will need some basic “compliance” functionality (eg attendance, demographics, etc.) from a SIS but most SISs are not well-suited for supporting the personalization of instruction and have a high total cost of ownership. Examples of new LMS/SISs: Spiral Universe, Schoology.
  • Accounting-HR System – integrate accounting-HR in a single platform and provide web-based self service to employees and real time dashboard indicators of organizational status to decision makers. Two leading vendors in Vermont are Unifund and Tyler.
  • Instructional Management Systems – manage professional development, teacher evaluation, curriculum, special education, etc. Examples include MyLearningPlanCurrikiiObservationMcRELGoalView.
  • Transportation – systems such as Transfinder allow districts to better manage the location of bus stops and routes, and the maintenance of equipment.
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