After Visiting Silicon Valley, I Know This: D.C. Everest Can Run with the Best of Them
From October 6 – 8, I had the privilege of collaborating with some of the nation’s most respected superintendents to discuss the challenges and opportunities of utilizing digital tools and content to improve professional development for teachers while improving personalized learning for students. Let me be clear — I was afforded this honor because of the exceptional efforts of D.C. Everest staff, teachers, administration, students, families and the community.
During the last two years, all of us have made a concerted effort to launch and establish our One-to-One Initiative to provide both teachers and students with more choice and voice. Students now have 24/7/365 access to educational tools and resources that allow them to explore their individual interests (choice), learn in a manner best-suited to them (choice) and share what they’ve learned in a format they’re most comfortable with (voice). The same applies to our teachers: thanks to our incentivized individual professional development model, teachers are compensated for pursuing individually-chosen opportunities that improve their teaching and learning strategies and are empowered to use those strategies within their classrooms in creative new ways. What we’ve accomplished during the past two years has not gone unnoticed. Rather, our District has become a “gold standard” by which others measure their progress and success.
And thus, in early October, I found myself at the AASA Digital Consortium in the heart of Silicon Valley touring one of the nation’s most highly recognized school districts — Napa Valley Unified — in the company of the nation’s leading educational innovators. Napa Valley Unified School District is home to New Tech High — the school which served as the inspiration for San Diego County’s High Tech High (which was featured in the award-winning film Most Likely to Succeed). New Tech High is a leader in educational reform and today more than 80 schools are based on this model of student-centered project-based learning that integrates technology, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and interdisciplinary study.
It was exciting to tour the schools, speak with the students about their projects and share ideas with superintendents and business leaders such as Google's Tom Sayer and Kelly Young of Education Reimagined. I’ve returned home with countless new opportunities for our teachers and students — from a soon-to-be-released coding application that helps students act as true developers, mapping out and framing games; to a bilingual app that can help Hmong and Hispanic families in our District read to their preschoolers.
But the biggest takeaway for me was this: our schools not only measured up to the schools I visited in Silicon Valley, in some instances — we are performing better. This is not to take away from the accomplishments of Napa Valley Unified. Instead, it is to make this point: the manner in which we have integrated One-to-One to suit the needs of our students, community, families and teachers has afforded us the same opportunities as other highly lauded districts. This initiative is providing equity for our children and providing them with countless opportunities for the future. As I stood in the midst of Silicon Valley I thought of northcentral Wisconsin and realized that through our efforts, it no longer matters where a student lives — he or she is now afforded the same opportunities for growth and learning as someone living in New York City, Chicago or San Francisco.
At our recent Digital Leader Showcase, members of the community were awestruck by our students’ accomplishments and confidence — student use of green screens to create presentations, digital books or plays and student-created podcasts that tracked the progress of the Iditarod race. These showcased projects were as impressive as those I saw in Napa. As Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce CEO Dave Eckmann noted, “Our community needs to leverage the talents of our students. Their ability to adapt technology to their needs, to present information in an engaging manner, to share their knowledge — it’s an untapped resource for our business community. These students may be young, but they have a level of expertise that can serve our business community. They can teach our business leaders how to harness technology in a way we haven’t thought of before.”
I am grateful to everyone in our District and our community who have worked with us to build this new path to the future. Together, we are removing boundaries that limit our students’ potential and providing them with a path to the 21st century.
(Photos courtesy of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.)