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!

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