Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Views from the Outside : SCCSBA

This article was authored by Michael Gipe, President of the Santa Clara County School Board Association (SCCSBA). It appeared in the April 2013 SCCBA newsletter.


“The Los Altos School District will be a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students.” 

 That’s a fairly radical vision statement for a school district. Fomenting revolution? And it’s not just a catchphrase to post on their website. They really mean it, and have put their money where their vision statement is. For at least four years, Los Altos has been using non-traditional teaching strategies in many of their classrooms. Los Altos was the first public school district to partner with Khan Academy in a pilot program for junior high mathematics. With this experiment, they learned a lot about what works and what does not.

 Since then, they have enthusiastically incorporated technology and novel strategies into a blended instructional model for many classes. This focus on improving teaching and learning has solid support from the superintendent and board. They built a dedicated facility, called the iLearn Center, staffed with three full-time experienced teachers, which is used to pilot new methods and train teachers in their application in the regular classroom.

Public schools tend to be pretty conservative places. Today’s classrooms don’t look a lot different from those of a hundred years ago, even though dry erase marker odors have replaced chalk dust as the main environmental hazard. After all, why replace something that works, albeit imperfectly, with something new, unknown, and untried, especially when the consequences of a major failure will affect students for their entire lives.

However, the traditional model doesn't work well for all students, especially those who are more than one sigma away from average: special needs, gifted and talented, ethnic or racial minorities, disadvantaged by home or economic challenges.

 Los Altos is trying to improve on that picture even though they realize that not every idea they try will be successful. However, by rapidly cycling through the continuous improvement model -- Plan, Try, Assess, Revise, Redo – they've found that they can make real advancements.

 It seems to me that the Los Altos School District has 20/20 vision.

 ~Michael Gipe