Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making a difference in the lives of students each day

It’s Sunday morning and I’m spending some time looking at the week ahead, as well as reflecting on the past week. Like many businesses and families, we are facing some challenging times and tough decisions as we plan for our future. Some of that work is not a lot of fun or real energizing. So, what is it that really gets me jazzed to get up in the morning and head to school? It is the realization that our work makes a difference in the lives of our students today and for their future.

Each day as I talk with people and walk throughout the district I get to see evidence of our staff making a difference for our kids. I get to see excellence and innovation. I see a world-class learning community of the twenty-first century. I want to share a few examples of how we are moving towards being a world-class learning community this morning.

In 2010 emerging technologies are influencing the daily lives of our students more than ever. We’re discovering ways each day to meaningfully utilize these technologies to engage students, personalize their learning, and connect them with the world. A number of our middle school teachers plan to implement the use of handheld technologies in their classrooms yet this spring. This wouldn’t be possible without the support of our community as they are purchasing these technologies through the support of a Panther Foundation grant.

The expanded use of technologies goes beyond this one example at the middle school. Jerelyne Nemanich, coordinator of assessment and instructional technology, is working with teachers throughout the district to implement twenty-first century skills and a wide variety of web 2.0 technologies to personalize learning and engage students. In fact, Spring Lake Park is one of only five districts in the entire state to be part of the Powerful Learning Practices cohort, a national initiative to immerse teachers in learning and implementing the technologies of the twenty-first century in their classroom (learn more here - http://plpnetwork.com//). It is exciting to see teachers continuously identifying innovative ways to engage students in their learning and bring the world into the classroom.

When visiting with some high school staff one of the counselors shared with me that over 80% of our seniors have completed an application for college. 80%!! That is a significant increase over what we’ve seen in the past, and progress towards a vision of all students being college and career ready upon graduation. That wouldn’t be happening without the efforts of staff in our counseling office, and of teachers and staff throughout our high school, who are continuously talking with students about their future.

The Learning Alternatives Community School staff invited Denise Waalen, director of educational services, and I to visit with them last Thursday. They wanted to share some planning they had done over the course of the year around how they see their future – their new vision. It was amazing! The enthusiasm from each and every staff member in the room was contagious. Their vision is not just words on paper, it is something they are truly committed to making a reality - they are planning project-based learning, online learning, opening “Café LA” to provide kids with real-life work experiences... I could go on and on with what they are planning. What was most impressive though was their commitment to kids. It will be exciting to see their vision become a reality.

We also had a chance to visit with the Woodcrest Elementary School staff. At one point in our meeting we asked them to share some of their successes. They excitedly shared numerous accomplishments. Is that unique? Not necessarily. What was unique was that every one of their successes was about students and progress made towards our vision. Woodcrest is an example of how our vision isn’t a pipe dream, and can become a reality. Last spring they did not have one, not one, first grader who was identified as an at-risk reader at the end of first grade. That is an outstanding accomplishment! Across our elementary schools we have seen a decrease by more than 50% of students who are at-risk from just two years ago!

Another exciting initiative in our district is the implementation this year of our Spanish Immersion Program for kindergarten students. Next year the program will expand through first grade. We are excited about the prospects of this program and its future. Video: Spanish Immersion in Spring Lake Park Schools

I’ve gone on much longer than I’d planned this morning, but there are a lot of things happening, exciting prospects emerging, and a bright future for our students that are fun to share. These things are happening because we have a staff that strives to be the world-class learning community of choice for our families.

Yet, as I started out with in this blog entry, there are numerous challenge we are facing now and in the future. We can’t ignore these. As we address these challenges we must identify creative, innovative means to effectively and efficiently align our resources around improving student learning. Yes, that's our challenge as a learning community - staff, parents, and community – to truly align our efforts around collectively personalizing and improving the learning of each of our students.

As I shared above, there are so many examples of how our teachers and staff do this on a daily basis. It is exciting to have the opportunity to be a part of this, and look forward to sharing progress with you in the future. By the way, there is no way to share all the good news in one blog entry, so please visit the home page of our website and check out “Latest District News” to learn more.

One last thing - I'm always curious about what people think about the work of our district, how we might improve the work within our district, and how I/we can get smarter about our work. Please contact me - I'd love to hear from you.

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