Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Coming Soon: Extended Day Kindergarten

Last night the Trustees approved an expansion of our kindergarten program to include an extended day option.  This capped weeks of meetings, discussions, and countless emails & community communications.  We're very excited about the changes.

The final form of the program will continue to evolve over the next several months.  Asst. Supt. Of Curriculum and Instruction Nancy Davis will be leading the team to finalize how it all works.  There a few key points, though, based on the many discussions we've had so far:
  • Go Deep.  The program will focus on allowing kids to explore, to go deeper into content.  This is specifically not an attempt to "cram more into the day". 
  • Half Day Option   There will be an option for parents who want to have their child attend half-day kinder also.  We heard from quite a few parents who didn't want a full day program, and we are intent on meeting those needs also.
  • Help those who need it.  One thing we have seen with the pilot we've been running at Gardner is that English language learners see a benefit from this program through about third grade.  It's not a permanent advantage, but it does seem to help, so they will benefit from it.
  • Challenge those who can.  At the other end of the scale, we have a number of exceptionally bright children who arrive ready to learn, and ready to challenge themselves.  We are excited to work with those kids to help them get their education off to a fantastic start by allowing them to explore their interests and capitalize on their natural curiosity.
We will continue to discuss this program over coming board meetings.  One area of interest for me is to see how we define our measurable outcomes.  The benefits of EDK are expected to be as much social/ emotional as educational.  Mrs. Davis and her team will be considering how they plan to measure those outcomes to ensure we are gaining the best value for the money being spent.

I'm excited about this program, because it represents a modest change but one that the community clearly supports.  My communications were running about 20:1 in favor of EDK.  I will look forward to hearing from those parents about the experience as their children move through our first EDK program.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New School Year, Same Old PR Stunts

Once again, BCS has proven they are willing to use children to create PR stunts.

In the summer of 2012, BCS refused to answer questions about student furniture.  As a result, LASD was forced to make decisions about where to put furniture for the BCS students.  Shortly after school started, BCS then hired expensive luxury coaches to take students over to the Blach campus for a photo op.  They snapped pictures of kids on the floor, and then ran to court, asking the judge to condemn LASD for failing to provide adequate equipment for BCS.  Fortunately, LASD had a full record of the discussions, including email history showing that BCS had intentionally stalled.  The courts saw through the charade and threw the complaint out.

Fast forward to this year. 

The facilities offer for 2013-14 is specifically crafted to provide complete facilities for BCS K-5 students at the Egan campus, and complete facilities for BCS 6-8 students at Blach.  There are enough classrooms, flex space, library space, offices, and yes, playground space and asphalt play space for all BCS K-5 students at the Egan facility, and similarly we've made appropriate arrangements to share space for BCS middle school students at Blach.  The Final Offer spells all of this out.  BCS agreed to this condition when they signed the Facilities Use Agreement for the school year.  Knowing all of this, and fully aware that they've legally agreed NOT to take K-3 students to Blach, BCS chose to do it anyway.  So what happened?

BCS took photos of children playing where they aren't supposed to be playing, and then blames LASD for the situation.  They've run another full page ad in the Town Crier, complaining that LASD hasn't properly shared facilities.  Of course they fail to mention that those exact same kids have an empty playground just a few miles away.

At some level, I'm amazed that parents tolerate this.  I have school-aged kids of my own.  I would be furious if the school to which I'd entrusted them took my children to a facility that is not properly prepared for them.  I'd be even more outraged if I realized that my child was being used by a highly paid PR firm as nothing more than an extra in a photo shoot designed to mislead the public in my own community.

This trick was a bad idea last time, and the courts saw right through it.  Does the BCS PR team really think so little of our community that you'd try the same trick all over again?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Differentiated Instruction - For Real!

Even as a Trustee, I've been wondering how "differentiated" we can really get in a classroom.  it's one thing if you're working with a student 1:1, but what do you really do in a classroom full of kids?  Fortunately, I had a chance to answer this question this week- I was invited to come observe Christina Shilling's 5th grade math class over at Springer.  Poor Ms. Shilling didn't get much warning, since Principal Spenader invited me over the weekend, and I showed up first thing Monday morning, but she was glad to have me, and I really enjoyed the time.

So, what does it mean when we talk about differentiated instruction?  Really, what we're trying to do is customize the learning to the needs of each child.  Some examples:

During "warm-ups", each child was asked to do 5 problems that Ms. Shilling had written on the board.  Some kids pulled out a notebook with paper.  Others worked on small whiteboards on their desks.  Others stood and worked at whiteboards on the walls around the room.  Little things like this let the child be most comfortable and still focus on the work.

After warm-ups, the kids dove into some problems.  Some children preferred to work mostly alone.  Others talked quietly with neighbors about how to do the problems.  Some dove into Khan Academy on ChromeBooks (Thanks, Google!)  Ms Shilling also worked with a small group in one corner.  I have to admit, I was surprised to see kids sitting on beanbag chairs and laying on carpet, but all across the room, they were engaged in the math. She even had a great poster up to remind kids of how to work together

"Differentiation" doesn't end at the physical, though.  It's actually much more relevant in the material itself.  To solve the problems, the class was encouraged to try 4 different ways to do long division.  Some kids like the classic form, and others opted for the alternate methods.  The kids used at least 2 techniques, and then cross-checked the answers.  Then, they wrote up a word problem to fit around the math they'd just done.  Finally, they wrote an explanation of the techniques they used, and why they liked it.

Throughout the hour I was there, I heard the quiet cheers of excitement "Yes!  I got it!", and "Thanks" to a teammate who helped out.  Kids who pushed through the original material were quickly challenged with newer, deeper material.  Kids who hadn't yet mastered the content had many "teachers" from whom they could draw help. What struck me was the way the kids all found different ways to interact with the material.  But at the end of the class, they'd all mastered some new skills in math.  That's what it's really all about.

Well done, Ms. Shilling!  And congrats to all of the LASD teachers who make sure to reach our kids, and push them to achieve their personal best.

Legislative Updates

A quick update on a couple of laws that crossed Jerry Brown's Desk recently.

AB484 was signed, which allows the State to suspend API (STAR Testing) for this year.  With the broader move to Common Core, using an outdated test didn't make much sense.  Indeed, LASD has already seen that our own teaching is more in line with the future (Common Core) and so the older assessments are not as relevant.

AB375 was vetoed, which is also a good thing.  This bill was touted as a reform to the teacher dismissal policy, but the final version really weakened the ability of school districts to address performance issues.  I'm pleased to say that our relationship with our staff has meant that this isn't typically an issue in our District, but it's good to see public education headed in the right direction overall.

Neither of these is earth-shaking, but they are relevant, and we do occasionally get asked about what's going on at the state level.  These are two bills we'd been tracking, so I thought I'd share with everyone.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome, education innovators!

The Poway School District is building a new PK-8 school known as the "Design 39 Campus".  The school itself is focused on revolutionizing learning, so we take it as a great compliment that the principal and staff are coming to LASD to talk with us about how we do staff development.  Staff from Milpitas are also planning to attend the meetings.

This isn't a "big" thing, but it's important for folks to understand that LASD is out there on the leading edge.  I've spoken previously about how other schools seek to learn more about our practices and roll them into their own programs.  That's part of what we do as a public entity- we share best practices.  Welcome, Poway, and Milpitas!  We hope to learn from you also, and to exchange exciting ideas.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

MacGyver vs. Bond (Thoughts from Blach)

One of the interesting things about being on the Board is that I get to see the weekly newsletters from all of our schools.  Sandra McGonagle over at Blach always has an inspring story to lead off her newsletter.  I've asked her permission and may occasionally share some of her thoughts, because she's really tuned in to what's going on in kids.  I loved this one because I think it speaks to the change in how we need to prepare our students for the real world..

Blach Banner News
Dear Blach Families,

Not sure if you know this, but I am a pop culture junkie. I love clever references and was recently thrilled to watch a TED talk about the problem solving skills our kids need today that had a great link to two of my favorite pop culture icons, 007 and MacGyver. Marc Chun, an Education Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, gave a convincing talk about the need for our kids to be able to transfer their learned skills and knowledge throughout life to solve problems.

When we look at the problem solving skills of James Bond, they are fairly predictable. At the beginning of each film, Q gives Bond a few nifty new tools. It might be an exploding pen, decoding device, or a tape recorder hidden in a camera. At some point throughout the movie, each of these tools is used just in the nick of time. From my experience, this is how much of the problem solving experience at school works. Students might be taught a new strategy or skill and then be given a problem to solve. It’s effective and necessary, but it’s not that exciting.

Cut to MacGyver now. Mac always had a Swiss Army knife and some basic supplies on him, but his genius was in the area of creative thinking. When a problem arose, he was quick on his feet to scan his surroundings and jerry rig some random supplies into something that saved the day. Our kids need to know how to solve problems in this way as well. They should have an entire tool kit of skills and knowledge to choose from and use what works best to solve the problem at hand. In my opinion, this is much more real world than the world of Bond.

Here’s to having both 007 and MacGyver skills!