Category Archives: Educational Leadership Presentation, October 8, 2016

I look forward to presenting at conferences with open source themes. My experience with Linux and open source software has greatly influenced my thinking as an educational leader. In education, “Open” refers to the larger historical narrative pertaining to enabling all people to become educated as a human right. This narrative begins with the idea of schooling. Public schooling was an important innovation in schooling, and now technology is letting us re-design the structure of schooling once again on behalf of opening or expanding educational opportunity. It is an exciting time to be a student of educational leadership!

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Designing An Open Education System, May 9, 2016

Here is a presentation I recently made to the Chittenden South Supervisory Union leadership team, a group of very talented educational leaders.  The presentation gave me the opportunity to think more deeply about incorporating Open Education as a design element for systems change in school districts.

One of the participants asked if Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER) are a “what” or a “how”.  Great question.  I think the answer is both.  I know my experience with Open Source software has had a significant impact on my thinking about the “how” of organizational leadership and organizational systems design.  I think if school districts embrace OER, it will change how they work in terms of curriculum and professional development.  These development processes will become more organic to the school system, and districts will be better able to close the gap between design and implementation while at the same time offering a more expansive curriculum to students.

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Research Paper on Ethics, Educational Leadership and Policy Governance

Here is a research paper I am presenting this spring at the annual conference of the Eastern Educational Research Association in Sarasota, FL and the New England Educational Research Organization in Portsmouth, NH.  I was pleased this paper was selected for presentation at both conferences by peer-review.

The topic comes from a part of my dissertation research that explored the experience of four Vermont superintendents using Policy Governance.  This paper focuses on a series of ethical dilemmas that surfaced as part of this research.


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Report of the Superintendent of Schools, 2014

We fully implemented our model to personalize student learning in the 2013-2014 school year. This model includes Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) for students, NWEA MAP testing, and school board monitoring reports. Student PLPs were implemented as part of student-led parent conferences. NWEA MAP testing was administered three times during the year. This test is a computer-based test that measures student abilities in reading and math. Three school board monitoring reports were published based on NWEA MAP test results. An additional monitoring report was completed to give the boards an indication of student learning in the policy areas of Dispositions Towards Learning and Civic Ethics. This monitoring report was done in a single presentation and included examples from all of our schools. This presentation can be viewed online at

We implemented a new system to improve the transparency and efficiency of our school board governance processes. This system can be found online at This system gives community members the ability to search school board meeting agendas and minutes. Community members can also register on the website and subscribe to any board or committee in order to be notified when new meetings are posted or to receive meeting agendas through email.

The BRSU Board continued its work on achieving the mandatory centralization aspects of the Act 153 and Act 156. The Board concluded it was not more cost effective to centralization student bus transportation so it requested a waiver from the Agency of Education. The Agency awarded the BRSU a waiver from this requirement for one year. The Board intends to pursue another waiver this year since the underlying conditions that justified the initial waiver still exist. Basically, BRSU districts do not have intersecting bus routes which feed into a common middle school or high school so some of the conditions that make the centralization of student transportation work from an effectiveness standpoint in other districts do not exist in the BRSU.

The BRSU Board designed a task force process to examine how best to centralize special education services. Unlike transportation services, Vermont law explicitly requires this centralization to occur by making all special educators supervisory union employees. The BRSU Board approved a FY2016 budget which includes centralized special education costs. This new budget structure has significantly changed the portrayal of special education costs in local budgets with most of these costs now being organized into a series of local assessments paid to the BRSU. The actual implementation of centralized special education services is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 1, 2015, but this is contingent on employment concerns being resolved through the collective bargaining process.

A common theme to the BRSU approach to centralization of educational services has been logical thinking: where it has made sense to centralize we have done so aggressively. At the same time, we have not centralized services when centralization was determined to be more expensive or perceived to be less effective. We were challenged to maintain a disposition towards logical analysis when H.883 was passed by the Vermont House last year. Although this legislation did not become law and was a fairly legitimate response to the larger demographic, efficiency and equity challenges across Vermont’s system of public education, I feel it is important for our system to do its own due diligence on these issues in order to position our organization to be successful based on our specific local and regional circumstances. For example, in spite of the general decline in the number of pupils state wide, four of our six schools have had significant increases in enrollments over the last two years.

Thank you for your continued support of our schools. I continued to be heartened by the willingness of so many in our communities to support the future success of our children by investing in the high quality educational programs of our schools.

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Personalized Learning: A Design Principle of Vermont Education

Here is my keynote presentation for Castleton State College’s Personalizing Learning Institute on July 8, 2013.

Here is the outline for my Cloud-Based Tools session, and here is the outline for my Disciplining Educational Innovation presentation with Jackie Wilson.

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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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Engaging the Community In Creating A Vision for 21st Century Learning

This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent VSBA/VSA Fall conference in October 2012.  I was honored to have David Warlick, the conference keynote presenter, in the audience.  He wrote up some notes from my presentation and had some nice things to say about it on his blog.  His comments underscored for me how unique Vermont is in many ways.  I am very proud to be a Vermont educational leader.

As way of further explanation, I thought I would highlight some of the ideas behind my presentation and provide some of the materials I referenced in digital format.  The process of engaging communities to develop a future orientation and to express that orientation as Ends policies is based on Policy Governance, a model of governance developed by John Carver.  To get a sense of the process I created, check out the following documents developed for the Dorset School District:

  • a script for a public engagement event;
  • flyer developed by the Chair of the Dorset School Board advertising the process;
  • a handout given to the participants; and
  • a blog developed by the Board members to organize the videos and the process.  Scroll down to the first blog posts to get a sense of the event in chronological order.

During the process we discussed education not schooling.  This is an important distinction because I find focusing on education opens up the conversation to future possibilities, whereas focusing on schooling brings people back to their own experiences and limits the basis for a common dialogue.  This distinction between education vs. schooling conforms to the Policy Governance concept of Ends vs. Means with schooling being the primary Means by which a community’s educational Ends are obtained.  The primary purpose of this process was to get clear on the desired Ends since so many of our available Means (e.g. technology, the Internet, networks, etc.) are changing rapidly and are fundamentally different than the educational means available to previous generations.

The process was designed to connect Boards (and their communities) to the work we are doing in our schools around personalizing learning.  This work is fairly innovative, and like most innovations requires discipline.  I believe public accountability is a vital component of disciplining educational innovation, and I believe this accountability should be pointed back to local communities, taxpayers, and parents, not to the federal government.  Here is a draft Ends policy produced by our administrative team as an example.

The data gathered from the Dorset process was very similar to the data gathered from the processes in our other communities.  Interestingly,  no parent or participant from any of the community engagement processes expressed an interest in improving test scores on standardized tests as a desired End for a student’s education.

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Getting Things Done (GTD) with Toodledo

Here is an outline of a presentation I do with leaders on how to setup a GTD system using Toodledo.


The GTD System

  • Collect everything you need to do into a single task list
  • Process tasks by priority
    • Next Action
    • Action
    • Projects
    • Waiting On
    • Some Day
    • Calls
  • Review task list on a weekly basis (schedule a specific time and day)
    • Collect everything into list
    • Review prioritization and make adjustments



  • Sign up for a free account at
  • Create “Folders” using the GTD priorities listed above
  • Create “Context” tags to organize your work (e.g. staff issues, teacher eval, Dan, etc.)
  • Add tasks
    • Do not add due dates
    • Do not use separate prioritization of tasks – use the folders for setting priorities
  • Configure third party apps to sync with your online account
  • Options for integration with Google Apps
    • Gmail Gadget
    • Google Calendar Sidebar Gadget
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