Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Are We There Yet?” – A Story of One Journey

Are we there yet?  At some point in our lives, every one of us has either posed the question to someone else, or had this question posed to us.  So how did we typically answer the question if one of our children asked us?  Well, we might have said, “We’re almost there” (hoping to buy time), or “If you ask me that again, …” (not certain what we hope to achieve with that one), or my personal favorite from a co-worker of mine.  When his child asked if they were almost to Grandma’s house, his response was, “Yes, we are, but Grandma has a really long driveway.”

Since we have been writing about the ramifications of House Bill 5, it’s fair to ask, “are we there yet?”  In some cases, trustees tell us that they are pleased with the progress being made; others are uncertain about where “there” even is.  It’s been our hope, therefore, that posting this blog helps define “there”.  As trustees, most of us have now had the opportunity to discuss, debate and perhaps even curse the requirements imposed by HB 5 relating to Curriculum and Community and Student Engagement.

But I’d like to share with you the journey of how one district achieved far more than what they thought they would be able to do.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with the superintendent of a 2-A district in Central Texas.  When I first spoke with him three months ago, my intent was to gain insights into how a district of his size would address the Curriculum mandates relating to offering endorsements to students in his district.  Candidly, he had doubts during our initial discussion about whether they would be able to offer any endorsement other than the state-mandated Multidisciplinary endorsement.  Oh, how times have changed!

In my recent conversation with him, I could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in his voice as he told me that, as a result of "collaborative partnerships" (his words) with businesses and neighboring districts, it now looked like his district would be able to offer all five of the endorsements defined under HB 5.  And what is even more impressive is the manner in how the district approached the reporting of metrics and criteria.  In fact, while HB 5 defined the eight areas to be evaluated, his district felt it important to add a ninth, Safety and Security.  Talk about understanding and responding to the needs of students and community members in his district!

He explained to me how the district was going to be able to move from the originally anticipated single endorsement to likely being able to offer all five.  Quite simply, it was through establishing relationships with neighboring districts that were willing to share programs and resources so that his students could find content relevant to their specific interests.  Working with his board, he also spent time benchmarking against other districts in the county, not to evaluate his district’s performance against theirs, but to draw on the “best of the best”, again to the benefit of his students.

So, if this 2-A district can do it, why can’t we all?  HB 5 contained little in the way of implementation details and requirements, other than the requirement to report campus level ratings by August 8.  Rather than wait for TEA to tell them what to do and how to derive these ratings, this district took it upon themselves to think first about their students and how to make their high school curriculum more relevant.  Not satisfied with the minimum graduation program requirements defined under HB 5, they adopted a local standard requiring 24 credits for graduation.

I am certain that the journey undertaken by districts across the state has resulted in similar success stories, and my hat is off to those who have viewed HB 5 as the opportunity that it is.  And while we may not yet be to Grandma’s house, this story is about our journey, not the destination.  We are certainly a long way up the driveway!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

House Bill 5, Toyota, and the Mayor of Dallas

So what do the three of these have in common?  Community engagement lies at the core of this trifecta, some positive, some not so much.  Most are aware that the Mayor of Dallas has proposed that Dallas ISD become a home rule district, an action that would remove the board of trustees and change the manner in which DISD is governed.  Thankfully, this has met with strong opposition from a wide array of groups but that is not the premise of this blog.

Unfortunately, the Mayor has continued his public criticism of DISD by suggesting that part of Toyota’s decision to relocate their US headquarters from Torrance, CA to Plano, TX was based on concerns about the quality of education provided by DISD.  Toyota certainly weighed a number of factors when making a decision to relocate their headquarters and to bring 4000 jobs to the Metroplex; quality of education no doubt was one of them.  But for the Mayor to single out DISD is patently unfair to the staff and students of DISD.  Like any district, DISD has issues but it is unfair to blame Toyota’s decision on DISD.  Perhaps the Mayor would be better served by engaging the district in discussions about how to address what he perceives to be weaknesses in DISD.

And that’s where the reference to HB 5 comes in.  Under the Community and Student Engagement part of HB 5, communities and districts are required to work closely with each other to set metrics for performance in a number of areas, and to then define corrective action plans where those metrics are not being attained.  To suggest that “fostering economic development” is one of those attributes is not within the scope of HB 5.  However, as a whole, focusing on the eight attributes defined in HB 5 will help tell the story of performance in a district and how it is working to improve, putting all parties in a better position to leverage those successes to the benefit of the entire community.  Dallas ISD is no different than the rest of our districts in that regard and, given cooperation between public officials and the district, stands a far better chance of addressing shortcomings than continually being subjected to criticism by the Mayor.

This, to me, seems to be a golden opportunity for the City administration and the District administration to sit down and discuss their respective needs.  To succeed, the district needs the support of the Mayor and the citizens of Dallas in defining not just what the State requires relative to public education, but what the Mayor and City want to see from the District.  There are no winners when it comes to the Mayor’s continued criticism of DISD; it’s time for all parties to embrace the spirit of House Bill 5 and to come together to address the challenges and opportunities in educating DISD students.  These students deserve the opportunity to succeed; a more cooperative effort will help them do so.