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Stakeholder Accountability
Front cover of the December 2017 AASA School Administrator magazine.In education, the word “stakeholder” often refers to students, their families and those who work in or are served by the school or school district. Occasionally, taxpayers are thrown into that mix as well.
The Dysart Unified School District operates under a policy governance model and uses a much broader and inclusive definition. We use the term “owners,” which includes stakeholders, constituencies, customers, clients and users of Dysart Unified School District services. This terminology helps shape the focus of our public education system.
As we work to redefine, redesign and re-imagine our education system, we clearly must include all owners in this quest. For example, if we want to redefine a graduate, we must tap into the experience and expertise of our business leaders to better understand what skills students need to be successful in this new era job market.
If we want to redesign our teaching and learning environments to ensure relevance, we need partners who offer real-life experiences, including internships, access to mentors, and community resources to arrange authentic learning projects.
If we want to re-imagine our systems, we need our government leaders and policy makers to understand changes necessary for the redesigned system to become a reality. So, when I think about holding owners accountable, I think of it from the perspective of ensuring community members understand and accept responsibility for contributing to the success of each and every student in our school systems.
We should hold our business community accountable for partnering with schools to ensure programs and standards adopted in our K-12 systems align with the knowledge and skills our students will need to succeed in the workforce.
We should hold our community members accountable for partnering with school staff to provide relevant learning experiences by sharing expertise and by providing learning opportunities outside the school building and beyond the school day.
Our government leaders should be held accountable for passing or amending laws and creating policies that support innovation and provide the flexibility and financial support our public schools require to meet the needs of a career-ready graduate.
Of course, we also must hold accountable those owners who identify with the school community because they have special interests and connections to the education system. Those are the students, parents and staff we often refer to as stakeholders.

We need to involve all owners in the development of that redefined profile of a college- and career-ready graduate and hold students, parents and staff accountable for supporting student growth in every measure included in the profile. Our hope is that the days of one or two standardized tests defining a student and his or her success for life are gone.
However, to meet that new definition, the school system must redesign the learning environment to ensure students gain the knowledge, skills and dispositions identified in the profile of a future-ready graduate. Once again, students, parents and staff must be held accountable not only for the outcomes, but also for engaging in the processes to redesign the learning environment. Continual iteration of the system is necessary to transform the system.
All owners must advocate for the changes and support required to transform to a re-imagined educational system. Just as we need to redefine how we describe stakeholders, we need to redesign how we hold those partners accountable and re-imagine the possibilities for engaging all members of our school communities in supporting the needs and successes of our students.
Posted : 11/30 | Direct Link
How to Define Space
Cover of the October edition of the AASA School AdministratorWhen we talk about space in education, we often consider that area inside the four walls of the classroom or the spaces that form what we call a school campus, However, as Dysart Unified School District began redefining, redesigning, and reimagining the teaching and learning environment to meet the needs of the 21st-century learner, we had to rethink our definition of space.

The Oxford Dictionary website offers several definitions of space, but the one that really resonates with me is "a continuous area or expanse that is free, available or unoccupied."  This broader definition better applies to the changes we are making in Dysart to meet the needs of our students and personalize their learning experiences.

To drive the changes to support student success and to accomplish our strategic goals, we know we must create the space to innovate.  Too often in schools, we think only about physical space, but tweaking physical space is not enough as we redefine, redesign, and reimagine the educational system of the 21st Century.  As we work to personalize education, we need to think beyond the organization of the classroom or the tools we use in that space.

Technology, maker spaces, digital content, and other learning resources are tools, but will not necessarily change the teaching and learning environment.  Meaningful change requires philosophical and conceptual change.  In Dysart's classrooms, we are dedicated to personalizing learning an define if by reflecting on the concepts ot time, place, and space.  For us, personalized learning is about students owning their learning and about schools providing the spaces that allow students to connect interests with opportunity.

So how do we redefine, redesign, and reimagine our systems to meet the needs of tomorrow's workforce and leaders?  We create the space for innovation.  To make space to innovate, we have to "exnovate."  What does that mean?  

To innovate is to make substantial changes that improve on previous approaches.  To exnovate is to stop engaging in practices that no longer meet or support current needs or desired outcomes.  To do that in Dysart, we cleared the space and made room for creative solutions and new approaches.

The work to redefine, redesign, and reimagine education requires us to think about how we support innovation to create systemic changes in processes and resource, and how we support and inspire individuals within the system to innovate.  Than may require reducing the level of anxiety associated with change and creating risk-free space for innovation.

But it doesn't end there; we also must create the space to spotlight successes when we innovate and use those successes to support continued growth and creative change.  

Another example of redefining space in this new 3R environment involves strategic planning and establishing a clear mission and vision.  In Dysart, our revised strategic plan and our profile of a graduate help us redefine future-ready graduates and provide direction for redesigning the teaching and learning environment to support our goals.  As a result, we articulate the purpose of that space and what it will look like for our students.

Of course, space also can be define as the physical space in our schools.  Dysart teachers are creating more flexible learning spaces, changing physical space, while experimenting with individual student pace through self-directed scheduling.  This has had immediate impact for students.  Visit our district's video library here to see how changes to physical space impact student learning.

How do we define space in Dysart?  As we innovate, space will be filled with redefined, redesigned, and reimagined concepts for teaching and learning.

Posted : 10/16 | Direct Link
The 21st Century Brain
Front cover of the September 2017 Edition of School Administrator Magazine.Our world is changing rapidly, and the one thing we can count on is that, as they have done for centuries, human beings will change and adapt to their environment.  The human brain is a perfect example of how true that is.  One thing we know from the study of the brain is that over time, our brains have grown in size and complexity.  The other thing we know is that just as bodies differ from person to person, no two human brains are identical.

In the past, it was believed a person’s intellectual ability was basically set at birth and changed little throughout life; however, research into cognitive development has led to new findings that indicate our brain actually changes physically when we are engaged in learning activities and that learning becomes easier as practice continues and our brain develops new connections.

Another critical finding related to the brain is that good nutrition and adequate sleep positively affect the brain and thus affect learning.  Did you know the brain consumes approximately 20 percent of a person’s energy?  So, the adage that we are what we eat applies to the brain as well.  And we all are familiar, I’m sure, with the research showing the negative impact of sleep deprivation on our ability to concentrate.

Think about how these research findings influence how we approach teaching and student learning.  Our classrooms must deliver instruction that supports the whole child, yet we know academic learning is influenced by so many variables that are outside the school, including social-emotional factors, the physical needs of the student, and the environment in which that child is being raised.

Many of us who have been in the field of education for some time know that to teach and reach a child, you must address all those things that touch his or her life.  New discoveries in brain research, neuroscience and academic research are giving educators the proof that we were right about that all along.
 As educators, we recognize our educational systems must be evolving and iterating just as the human brain evolves.  We must use these new brain discoveries to understand how students learn, focusing on the commonalities and differences of all students so we can address the uniqueness of each child.  The more we learn through brain research, the more we will need to learn about adaptation and evolution in our classrooms.

It is exciting to live in a time when we can literally peer into the human brain, but with that power comes responsibility.  Because we have this information, we as educators must use it to benefit each and every student in our classrooms.  We need to personalize our teaching and learning environment and move away from the one-size-fits all approach that obviously does not fit with what we now know about the brain.

Add to that what we are learning about growth mindset, social-emotional learning, the impact of stress, and how technology can impact the brain and we have a treasure trove of information that can guide our efforts to redefine, redesign and re-imagine our teaching and learning practices to better serve students.
Posted : 9/15 | Direct Link
Skills to Prepare for Tomorrow and Enhance Safety Today
Front cover of the August Edition of School Administrator Magazine.When my husband was a young boy, he worked as a pinsetter for the local bowling alley.  The job was pretty straight forward, as were the skills required. When the pins were knocked down, he placed them back in the correct order. The job required a certain level of dexterity and the ability to duplicate an exact pattern with the pins.  

The world no longer needs pinsetters, switchboard operators, or gas station attendants to pump gas, thanks to ever-evolving technologies that enable humans to be replaced by automation. In fact, few jobs exist today that require only the most basic skill sets.  

However, as we move from the information age to the innovation age, new jobs are being created at a rapid pace. For example, one job that did not exist a decade ago is customer connection technician. Companies rely on this person to use social media tools effectively to interact with customers. Growing up, I would have assumed a webmaster was in charge of cleaning up spider webs, but that is another common position in organizations today.

It would be great if educators had a crystal ball to tell us all the challenges, changes and opportunities our graduates will face in the future.   That is, however, one technology that does not exist—yet.  

So how do we support our students and ensure they have what they need to be productive today and when they leave our schools?  We must redefine the competencies that prepare students for a new era of work and life.    The focus on social-emotional learning we are seeing in education speaks to a skill set that is better aligned to living in an information and innovation age.   Empowering students to own their learning and demonstrate competencies such as self-efficacy, grit and social awareness helps prepare them to adapt, adjust and create their own opportunities. Those competencies also help us create healthier and safer school environments for our students.

Public school districts across the nation are embracing the challenge to redefine, redesign and re-imagine schools, changing what we expect in a profile of a graduate.   The Virginia Beach City Public Schools built a graduate profile that identifies competencies such as being personally and socially responsible, being problem solvers and value creators.  

In my own district, the Dysart Profile speaks to graduates being effective communicators, being innovative and having initiative. Dysart is partnering with other districts across the country to develop ways to help students and educators measure growth in these skills.  

With the theme of this issue of School Administrator in mind, I suggest that incorporating skills into the graduate profile that address social responsibility and effective communication proactively support a safe learning environment by creating a positive atmosphere.  Helping students become problem solvers, develop grit and be personally responsible contributes to the positive mental health of students.  

Embracing social-emotional learning and new-era life skills and dispositions can benefit our schools in both the short term and the long term. Short term, a positive learning environment is created that enhances safety and student social and emotional health, and in the long term can better prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will face after graduation. These skills and competencies are sometimes referred to as soft skills; however, research indicates these are critical life skills that contribute to improved futures for students.

Our world continues to evolve, and so our educational system must continue to change to meet the new expectations and required outcomes. Not only must we redefine the profile of a college and career-ready graduate, we must redesign our teaching and learning environments to meet the needs of the whole child and re-imagine our educational systems to support the change that must happen.

By embracing these skills, our schools will prepare students for their tomorrow, while tending to safe, supportive learning environments today.
Posted : 7/31 | Direct Link
Powering Future Ready Innovative Strategies
September 7, 2016

The Dysart Unified School District is committed to creating a teaching and learning environment powered by innovative learning strategies.  If we are to prepare students for the world of work and life they will step into after graduating, the learning environment must support the development of relevant work, life skills, and dispositions embedded in a strong foundation of core instruction.  Dysart is building a 21st Century learning environment that includes innovative approaches.  This work includes the use of technology to transform teaching and learning towards personalized education that uses competency measures to demonstrate student success and mastery.

In this competency based environment, students apply lessons and skills by engaging in real-world, authentic problems and learning strategies to become independent and innovative thinkers. These strategies are the keys in an ever-changing world focused not only on a strong knowledge base, but also on the ability to work creatively to find solutions in the workplace and in society.

Our students are using technology to transform the learning environment beyond the walls of a typical classroom and beyond a traditionally defined school day schedule. The use of blended learning, online options, and innovative classroom instruction support student learning. Additionally, we incorporate the skills of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking into the curriculum to ensure our students are future ready.

What we have heard from employers is that they are looking for students who know how to use these skills to meet the demands of today and tomorrow.  They are looking for marketable skills including leadership, team building, goal setting, planning, decision making, ethical judgment, and higher-order thinking through critical thinking and problem-solving.  Relevant hands on strategies enhance the utilization of the skills through authentic learning experiences including the use of makerspaces and project based learning enhance our student’s opportunities in addition to our expanded pathways, signature programs, and academies.

In 2016, we launched another option for students who are looking for a technology rich personalized learning pathway. The Dysart Innovation Academy provides a personalized learning environment for students in grades 6-8. Utilizing digital learning tools and relevant, project based Instructional approaches, this academy personalizes education for students by addressing the distinct learning needs, interests, and aspirations of individual students. Personalized learning allows instruction to be paced to student needs, modified to address learning preferences, and tailored to the interests of each learner. Student voice is an important component with children engaged in decisions about the what, when and how of learning.

Teachers facilitate and mentor students who are engaged in integrated, real life learning experiences while technology allows students the opportunity to take ownership for their learning. Providing students with the necessary support and the freedom to make choices regarding the place, pace, path, and time of their learning meets the needs of every learner. Because this environment provides for individualized educational plans, the Innovation Academy is able to meet the needs of special education students, students identified as gifted learners, and every child who chooses to enroll in this transformative educational environment. This incubator of innovation will help identify additional strategies for personalizing learning throughout the Dysart Unified School District.
Posted : 9/7/2016 | Direct Link
Preparing students for their future
Technology has changed the world we live and work in and how we learn.  If you want to check a fact - just Google it. If you need to verify information-ask Siri.  If you want to check if you did a math problem correctly-use the PhotoMath app.  Of course, we still need to have a strong knowledge base across all core curriculum areas, but we also need to develop the skills and dispositions that will ensure we can take on the challenges and opportunities in this ever changing world we live in.

The students entering our kindergarten classrooms will graduate into a world that will have technology tools that we can only imagine.  These students will enter jobs that do not even exist today and they will face problems that are not even on our radar.  Our schools must empower students to take ownership of their learning. Being a life- long learner is no longer an option, it is a necessity.  The learning environment in our schools must not only help students be critical thinkers, but critical challengers.  As Google Chief Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap, put it, we shouldn’t ask students what they want to be when they grow up but rather what problems they want to solve.

To prepare students for their future, the stakeholders in the Dysart Unified School District will need to join together to redefine, redesign and re-imagine education.  That will happen this year as part of our Strategic Plan revision process.  More information on this important process will be coming soon.
Posted : 8/4/2016 | Direct Link
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