Archive for the ‘Vision 2015’ Category

Delaware Lost a Great Man

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John%20Taylor%20small%20picDelaware lost a great man on Saturday.

Many fond words and remembrances will accompany the next few days. A prolific writer like John Taylor wouldn’t have it any other way.

John was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Delaware 11 years ago to head up the Rodel Foundation. His bushy eyebrows and his raspy directness intimidated me at first, but before long, John was making me laugh.

He was a fierce proponent of improving education and fairness for children throughout Delaware, and became a founding member of the Vision Coalition—then called Vision 2015. He was with many other Delaware education leaders at the table in 2004 when the group first began putting thoughts and ideas toward Vision 2015, which would go on to become one of the most impactful and enduring public-private partnerships in the country.

Thanks to people like John, more Delaware children are getting strong early childhood educations, and more are getting into college than ever before. U.S. Senator Tom Carper on Sunday night pointed to Delaware having the third-fastest student achievement growth nationally based on NAEP scores over the last 20 years. Said Carper: “That achievement doesn’t belong to any one person or group of people, but John Taylor really helped us move the needle in Delaware, and for that this and future generations of parents and children should be grateful.”

John knew firsthand what it meant to live the unique life of an educator, and his gifted knack for sharing information and connections impacted our work tremendously. He began his career as a teacher, and also served as superintendent for Wilmington’s Board of Education.

Over the years, I grew to know John as not only a dear friend, but my go-to guy on all things Delaware. He knew everyone and everything. And he was trusted by everyone because he spoke the truth, even when the truth was painful to hear.

He was a lion of a man; he feared no one. At the same time, he was incredibly humble and funny.

The work to improve educational inequity has always been challenging, but John was always clear-headed, direct, and courageous. His moral compass on complex issues was unfailing, and his willingness to speak truth to power came naturally. I can’t count the number of times John raised his hand to have a hard conversation to a legislator, or even a governor. And whenever, in his gravelly voice, John said, “I’ll take care of it,” we all knew it would get done the right way.

Through his work at The News Journal and the Delaware Public Policy Institute, he pushed important issues to the forefront, everything from education and the environment, to nonprofit governance, to the arts.

Generations of readers recognized his editorials because he told it like it was. For those who grew up watching him in WHYY, he was Delaware’s Walter Cronkite.

To put it simply, John Taylor was a Delaware treasure. I don’t know a Delawarean who has given more back to this community.

Many hope to live a good life, others hope to live a meaningful one. John was one of the few who succeeded in both. He will be sorely missed and my love and prayers go out to his family and many, many, friends.

We love you John.

To honor of all of John’s work toward improving the quality of education for Delaware students, we hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible contribution to The Taylor Family Fund Builder (TA1419), an endowment fund that John and his wife Maria established at the Delaware Community Foundation to make Delaware a better place for all.

Checks should be written to The Delaware Community Foundation, noting Taylor Family Fund in the memo line, and sent to:

P.O. Box 1636
Wilmington, DE 19899

Cultivating Innovation at the District Level

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7.CultivatingInnovation[Click the above image to view it larger]

“How is innovation impacting our students and schools?” was a question at the heart of the “Cultivating Innovation at the District Level” breakout session at last week’s Vision 2015 conference on Delaware public education.  Attendees had an opportunity to hear how innovation is changing how and where our students are learning in Delaware and beyond. The panelists were Jill Hobson, the Director of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools, located about 40 miles from Atlanta, Dr. Shawn Joseph, Superintendent of Seaford School District, and Sandy Smith, Director of Assessment and Accountability for the Indian River School District.

Panelists discussed topics such as the benefits of breaking away from the traditional delivery model of “one size fits all” for students, strategic professional development for educators, and how collective problem-solving and collaborative critical thinking are improving schools and the quality of education being delivered.

Forsyth County Schools – A National Model of Innovation

Jill Hobson provided the group with an overview of how Forsyth County Schools has become a leader in innovation. With 42,000 students, Forsyth County Schools is one of the fastest growing school districts in the country, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. Following the mantra that “one size does not fit all,” the district is maximizing the personalized learning experience so that students begin to take ownership of their learning and are working to their abilities and truly able to “show what you know.”

One example of how the district is innovating the learning experience is by moving away from purchasing expensive text books year after year.  By investing in digital resources that students can utilize through “BYOT” – Bring Your Own Technology and encouraging teachers to create their own digital content in a district-wide “Learning Object Repository,” students are provided with relevant and tailored learning opportunities that meet their needs.

Indian River School District – Cultivating Innovation throughout the District

Here in Delaware, the Indian River School District (IRSD) has been at the forefront of innovative practices to support students, teachers, and administrators. Sandy Smith shared with the group how IRSD is working with a large low-income population to be innovative in their efforts to help students and teachers achieve the “4 Cs”: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Being innovative doesn’t mean you have the latest and greatest technology, in fact much of what IRSD is focused on has no technology component. For teachers, professional learning communities (PLCs) are a part of the district fabric and, as a member of the Vision Network of Delaware, collaborating with schools in other districts to problem solve and instill best practices. For students, setting the bar high and raising expectations through implementation of the Common Core State Standards and developing personalized learning plans for both of the district’s high schools will help students take ownership of their high school academic career.

Seaford School District – What Innovation Looks Like

Last, Dr. Joseph spoke about the importance of their singular belief system – that every student will be advantaged, because schools should be the game changers serving children and providing them with the tools they need to become advantaged, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

The newly renovated Seaford High School has taken into account innovation’s impact on the physical school space and the school learning environment to help students on their journey to being advantaged. Classroom environments that consist of tables and chairs on wheels encourage collaboration and easy movement.  Large “collabradors,” open meeting areas throughout the school, promote collective problem-solving and opportunities to work on assignments and projects in small groups.

The common theme presented by the panelists is that innovation continues to transform education and the learning environment for our children and teachers. The availability of technology and resources is changing the way our children learn, but innovation is also about helping children succeed to the best of their abilities and supporting teachers and giving them the tools they need to effectively educate every child that enters their classroom.

We’ve just begun to explore how innovation can enhance the learning experience and we’ll be hearing more in the months ahead from school districts such as Appoquinimink, who are implementing flipped classroom models and piloting the use of mobile applications on hand-held devices. You can also learn more about an exciting collaborative effort underway by four local school districts. The Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vocational Technical and Colonial school districts (BRINC) — have collaborated to secure a $600,000 innovation grant from the state Department of Education for a project called “Linking to the Future.”

Making the Common Core a Common Standard

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This op-ed was originally published in the “The News Journal” and was written by former Delaware Teachers of the Year Courtney Fox and Amber Augustus. Amber Augustus is a fifth-grade teacher in the Smyrna School District and was the 2012 Delaware State Teacher of the Year. Courtney Fox is a first-grade teacher in the Brandywine School District and was the 2008 Delaware State Teacher of the Year. It was published alongside an op-ed by Ernie Dianastasis, Chair of Vision 2015 and managing director of CAI.

Recently, there has been a movement to adopt a common set of standards that set higher expectations for student learning in schools throughout the United States. The Common Core State Standards are a clear set of student learning standards that require deeper critical thinking from our students and reflect the skills needed to be successful in a 21st century economy. Common Core defines goals and benchmarks and will support teachers with clear expectations for what students need to learn, ensure continuity in learning across grade levels and allow states to compare the progress of students.

There is strong classroom support for Common Core. Most of our state and district Teacher of the Year colleagues agree that these standards will increase student achievement. Furthermore, our school and district colleagues are excited about the possibility of working more closely with other states to improve student achievement. Not only do the new standards help us teach students to think critically, they are helping us rethink student learning, moving away from the memorization of facts and toward the development of skills required to deeply understand a problem.

When we think about how things have changed in our own classrooms, we see a greater emphasis on understanding and communication. We take deeper looks at texts and meaning, and we are not only teaching our students how to solve problems, we are encouraging our students to communicate the “why.”

The transition to Common Core is challenging for students and teachers. Many teachers we have talked to feel that we haven’t yet reached the full benefits of CCSS because implementation is hard. Just as students are finding themselves challenged by higher expectations, as teachers, we are being challenged to learn new teaching strategies and to prepare new resources for our students. These standards require that we teach to new depths of understanding. Furthermore, some of the learning expectations for each grade level have changed, which will require new content instruction and new lesson plans.
Teachers are meeting this challenge head on and working hard to make this transition successful. We are working together to better understand the new standards, we are using data to make educational decisions about how to grow student learning, we are sharing lessons and resources, and we are collaborating in new ways.

More work is needed to ensure the success of Common Core. As teachers, we still need exposure to examples of how to teach these new standards so that we can ensure that our students are learning the full depth of material. Our Teacher of the Year peers and colleagues have participated in professional development; however, most of us feel that greater support, materials and time to collaborate would be valuable. Teachers can’t do this alone.

If you’re a parent or community member, we encourage you to participate in Common Core information sessions and ask your local school or PTA what you can do. You can play an important role in reinforcing the skill and character development included in Common Core Standards at home and in the community. Common Core requires students to move beyond immediate gratification and focus on developing perseverance. The standards also emphasize developing real-world skills, so students should practice what they learn in their lives and in their communities.

If you’re a school or district leader, you can support us by providing time for teachers to collaborate, ensuring that the classroom resources needed to support Common Core are available and building a school-wide culture that focuses on successful implementation.

If you’re a policymaker, look for opportunities to align state supports, support the update and maintenance of information technology in schools and provide the resources for teacher coaching and learning opportunities.

To discuss the statewide implementation of Common Core and how you can support the effort, join us Wednesday at the Vision 2015 Conference.

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