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We Love Teachers
Photo of students holding a "We Are Dysart" sign on a heart.We love our teachers!  May 6 to 12, 2018, is Teacher Appreciation Week, but we should be showing our appreciation and support for our teachers everyday not just once a year.  Our dedicated teachers work hard everyday to give students a strong academic foundation, to support children’s social and emotional needs, and keep our students safe and healthy.

Teaching and education are vital pillars of the community and our teachers contribute to the health and vitality of our community in many ways. Our teachers make a difference inside and outside our schools and they deserve respect, they deserve to be treated as professionals, and they deserve fair compensation for the work they do.

I hope everyone in our school community will show appreciation and support for our teachers everyday! We need to ensure these hard working individuals can afford to continue to work in our schools and use their talents and expertise as educators to prepare our students for their future.  Future ready graduates, mean a well prepared workforce and thus productive communities and a strong country. Support our future by supporting teachers today and everyday.
Posted : 4/11 | Direct Link
Evacuations and Safety Update
Dysart+SAFE logoSafety is a priority at all of our Dysart Unified School District schools.  This week, unfortunately, some of our schools had prank bomb threats that resulted in evacuations at two of our campuses.  These threats are not jokes and our district takes any claim or threat of violence against our children, our schools, and our community seriously.

If anyone makes a threatening statement or false report related to safety on our campuses, we will pursue every district and legal option to deal with any offense that disrupts our educational institution.  Every time a school must respond to a false threat, there are possible safety concerns that must be addressed, a loss of instructional time and related financial costs.  The district will pursue all available legal channels for the disruption of an educational institution and seek financial restitution from the offender for the costs associated with the disruption.

Parents and guardians, we need your help. We ask that you speak with your child about sharing information with school administration, or their teachers, that can prevent serious events on our campuses.  Additionally, please talk with your child about the ramifications of making any type of threat and that there are no such things as jokes when talking about threatening or harming others.

Thank you for your partnership in ensuring we have safe schools.
Posted : 4/11 | Direct Link
Bright Light of Civility
Cover of the April 2018 Edition of School Administrator MagazineIn her article “Civility 101: Who’s Teaching the Class?” psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell defines civility as a behavior that “recognizes the humanity of others” and puts the interests of the common good above those of self.  She adds that civility requires us to treat others with decency regardless of our differences.

We recognize the importance of teaching respect, understanding and tolerance, and do so through character education programs in our schools.  Many schools also have service programs through which children learn about giving to others, supporting the good of the whole or making a positive difference in the community.  

These programs address behaviors associated with civility and are important to our mission of preparing students to be successful, contributing members of their local, national and international communities — but are these programs enough?

All of us, including our children, are bombarded every day by words and images that expose a lack of civility in our country and throughout the world.  Digital and print media are saturated with reports of hate-related violence, mass shootings in public places, and harassment and bullying.  There is a seemingly never-ending list of famous people who make the headlines for behaving in anything but a civil manner.  

We cannot ignore this lack of civility in our world, nor can we raise our children in a bubble in an attempt to shield them from this negativity.  What we can do is highlight the positive things happening in our schools, the backyard examples of civility that our own students and staff model every day.  

Our schools and communities have long celebrated athletic victories and academic accomplishments — let’s put the same amount of energy and attention into recognizing those who lead with compassion and concern for others.  Let’s celebrate the student leaders, district employees, parents and volunteers who act with kindness, show respect for diversity and put others before themselves.  

AASA, as an organization, modeled compassion and caring for the public school communities in Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico affected by the devastating hurricanes this past fall.  Under the direction of Executive Director Dan Domenech, AASA staff quickly reached out to state and local education leaders to offer assistance and help organize support.

The relief initiative allowed superintendents to provide direct support to children and families who suffered significant hardships after the hurricanes and connected school districts that had much-needed materials and products to those districts that needed them.

School communities across the nation carried out similar efforts focused on supporting the good of the whole, but these kinds of crises are not the only opportunities we have in our school communities to showcase the models of civility that are evident in our public schools.  

Each month in my own district, Dysart Unified in Arizona, the governing board recognizes and celebrates students, staff, volunteers and community members — anyone from our district who has shown compassion, caring and concern for others.  

We call these individuals our Dysart Heartbeats because on a daily basis, in sometimes very small but very meaningful ways, they model caring and giving from their hearts.  Their everyday examples make our schools and district environments more civil and start a “chain reaction of civility” in the community and beyond.

Let’s showcase the civility we witness in our school communities every day.  Use #WeLovePublicSchools to share the good news and let our nation and countries around the world know that the bright light of civility shines in our public schools.

(This article originally appeared in the April 2018 edition of School Administrator Magazine)

Posted : 4/9 | Direct Link
Wanted: Super Men and Women
Cover of the March 2018 School Administrator magazineI would like to start this column with an employment advertisement.

  • An individual who is an expert in transportation, food services, business services, academic services, human resources, technology, public relations, advocacy and other duties as assigned.
  • Someone able to build strong relationships with stakeholders in the organization ranging in number from hundreds to hundreds of thousands and in age from 3 to 100 plus.
  • A person who understands and can support the needs of individuals who are physically, emotionally or socially disabled; English language learners; gifted; economically disadvantaged; homeless; or any type of challenge that prevents access to learning.
  • A man or women who truly cares about the future of his or her community, state and country and takes action to make a difference.
  • A person who puts others first, especially children, often sacrificing his or her personal needs.
  • Someone able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (preferred but not required).

Superintendents from across our nation will take a look at this want ad and know I am “partially” describing the job of a public school superintendent.  

When you reflect on the job responsibilities and expectations for a person in that role, it is plain to see superintendents must be talented, dedicated individuals whose qualities and qualifications would benefit businesses and industries across the country and around the world.  Often these highly skilled individuals are paid much less than other professions even though the responsibility and the requirements of the job seem to be ever growing.

So why do individuals choose to accept a superintendency? Rather than speak for my colleagues, I chose to ask them and share some of the responses I received.  

Tom Turrell, superintendent in Byers, Colo., stated: “I have enjoyed the role of the superintendent because in a small district I can wear many hats. One day I might be talking with representatives at the state capitol and the next scooping snow off the sidewalks. Every job allows me to directly connect with students and help meet their educational needs.”

Kristi Sandvik, superintendent of Buckeye Elementary School District in Arizona, shared: “I love that as superintendent I get to be involved in almost every aspect of the district, and at the same time the one who is charged with leading the district with the sole purpose of keeping our focus on big-picture goals. Building schools and seeing students progress pre-K-12 is a rewarding process, and I love that I get to map out the trajectory of the district and look ahead to tomorrow's successes.”

The superintendent of West Valley School District in Washington, Mike Brophy, offered the following: “Ever since I was a young, 23-year-old head high school football coach, I relished the challenge of building trust, forging a team, and focusing relentlessly on a shared vision for success. The challenges of building and leading a district team toward a shared vision for the success of our students is as rewarding as I can imagine. Rolling up our sleeves, working as a team at meeting challenges through initiatives that will assist our students, is the most rewarding part of the job.”

It is clear when talking with those serving in the role of superintendent that taking this position is not about professional advancement, but rather about responding to a passion to serve and to lead, and about making a difference in the lives of others and in the community where they work.

I am told there is life after the superintendency and I am sure there is; but I also know the experiences a person has when serving in this role are priceless and forever define that individual.  
(This article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of School Administrator Magazine)
Posted : 3/12 | Direct Link
Student Choice, Not School Choice
January 2018 cover of School Administrator MagazineI love public education because it provides every child access to an education that prepares him or her to be a contributing member of our communities, our country and the world.

Public schools are the backbone of our democracy. They don’t choose their students, as may be the case with some private and charter schools; rather, public schools provide an opportunity for every student to choose public education.  

If our discussions about innovation and quality education center on school choice, we are missing the mark completely.  Those discussions focus on the school and what the school offers all students.  To advance a quality education, we must focus on personalized learning, which is student-centered, not school-centered.
Student Choice

The Dysart Unified School District is designed to meet students’ educational needs.  The elementary schools in the district not only offer comprehensive programs, but also include some unique areas of concentration, such as international studies, coding immersion, performing arts, STEM, academic acceleration and innovation.  

Dysart’s comprehensive high schools house signature programs that expand learning pathways, such as engineering, architecture, cyber security, culinary arts, International Baccalaureate and a variety of other options.  Dysart also has an online school and an alternative program.  

Students can take advantage of all these choices in one public school district, where staff members personalize education for all students by engaging them in their learning and helping them tap into their interests to enhance that learning. Educators throughout the district are providing flexibility and support around pace, place, passion and space.

Dysart is not alone in this innovation. Two members of AASA’s Personalized Learning Cohort, Karen Gaborik, superintendent of Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Alaska, and Jeff Dillon, superintendent of the Wilder School District in Idaho, are examples of visionary leaders who are driving the changes needed in their school communities to personalize education. They are part of a public school movement across this country dedicated to transforming education.

If we want the focus to be on choice and innovation, we must stop pretending that the category of school — public, charter and private — determines which is the better option.  The choice of school is not the key to a quality education. Rather, we must personalize education for each child; that is how we truly provide choice and drive innovation.  

The work we must do to redefine a college- and career-ready graduate and redesign the students’ learning environment leads us to the path of personalizing education to support student success.  As we continue to re-imagine education to meet the needs of the 21st Century learner, we have to move from school choice, an institution-centered approach, to personalization, a student-centered approach to education.  

The only real discussion we should have about school choice is how to meet the needs of each and every learner and how to ensure that our educational systems are preparing our students for their future.  Investing in our public schools and supporting the 3R work ensures every student in our nation will have the choice to choose a quality public education.

Posted : 1/10 | Direct Link
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 : 11/30/2017 | 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 : 10/16/2017 | 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 : 9/15/2017 | 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 : 7/31/2017 | Direct Link
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