Who Do We Learn From?

Who Do We Learn From?

This is a question we educators need to ask and re-ask. Do we learn from teachers? Do we learn from peers? Do we learn from our parents? Our coaches? Our elders? Television? Computer? Experience? The list goes on. As humans, we have realized that we are learning all the time and thus we have named ourselves life-long learners. Over time, we tend to learn that we have learned things that before we had not realized we learned. Our new selves learn about our past learning and learn from our past learning as new selves.

On this day, August 31st, I am reflecting on what I have learned from my father. He was born on this last day of August some 82 years ago. He has been gone from the physical earth for 31 years about the same amount of time I have been married and about the same amount of time I have worked as an educator in public schools in California. I am some 5 years older than he was when he passed now and still he is still 82 years old for me. I am fortunate enough to continue to interact with colleagues and mentors from my father’s era and in one case with someone that shares a very similar life path and origin as my father.

In working with Rio’s children in grades Kinder to 8th grade I wonder whether they are cognizant of what their fathers are teaching them or what they are learning from them. I’m not sure I was at their ages. Still I think it has some utility to reflect on what one son has learned from their father or perhaps many sons from many fathers. Of course the same is equally true for mothers as sources of learning, teachers, grandparents, etc.. My father teaches me now when I think of him. He reminds me of what great coaches do and how teaching is like coaching in some ways. My father was a coach. He knew how to develop and lead teams and how to develop and guide individuals. He knew how to blend the human aspects of performance and observation with the numbers of statistics.

My father taught me the importance of relationships and family and at the same time taught me how alone we all are in the human condition. Many of these lessons were not conveyed through discussion, this rarely occurred. For the most part, he taught by example. An example that took me years to understand in some cases. My father taught me to be calm in emergencies and to help people when they need it most.

There are many lessons I have learned from my father in which I seek to do better in areas that were not his strengths. Areas I often struggled against him in my youth. Later, I see the seeds of these things in myself and how I must consciously seek to develop and improve and learn to be a new self.

My father taught me many things, but perhaps, the deepest lesson was his love for and great appreciation for family and children. He was orphaned by the loss of his mother and father in his first year of life and was raised by a caring extended family of first generation American immigrants. Even as he was unable to keep his family together later in life, family was the deepest root in his life.

Getting autobiographical is not my first direction or preference when pondering writing about learning. Today, however, on this 31st day of August in the year 2017, it is meaningful to consider what our children in our classes are learning from their fathers, their mothers, their teachers and what they will learn later from them when they re-think their learning as older selves. It is also meaningful to appreciate and further develop how Rio’s classrooms and teachers are becoming more and more open to bringing the wealth of learning and resources into school learning that come from our students’ lives and families. This ethnographic and student centered approach is alive and developing. It is as natural as learning itself and helps to transform our learning environments from the factory models that have long alienated young, immigrant, and often low-income children and families such as my father was in 1940 when he first entered school.

I am excited to be part of a process some 31 years later that is learning to incorporate the “lessons of our fathers” as it might be called into the learnings of school. For me, they are a life long resource that seem to unpack themselves more and more as I am fortunate enough to spend more time in this wondrous world.

Who are Classified Employees?

Who are Classified Employees?

Classified employees in the Rio School District are represented by the California School Employees Association (CSEA). Along with confidential employees, they perform a wide range of essential work, including: security, food services, office and clerical work, school maintenance and operations, transportation, academic assistance and paraeducator services, library and media assistance, computer services.

Rio’s classified employees are our support staff, they help us run a more than $50 million annually budgeted government agency serving children and families on their journeys to become productive and thriving adult members of the community. Our support staff carry out a wide variety of tasks and take on a wide variety of responsibilities. Many are on the frontline of community interactions such as the folks who help make our offices and departments run smoothly, while others work more behind the scenes to ensure that we provide safe learning environments that are conducive to the 5Cs of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring.

As with all our employees, we ask classified employees to engage in the 5Cs as role models of 21st century learning and living. Classified employees embrace this challenge and know that in many cases our community’s children are as connected to them as they are their teachers. Our classified staff know the deep meaning of collaboration and working together. This is where they shine in the sense that they are really the connectors that bring buildings and services together to care for and educate our community’s youth.

Who are classified employees? They are the glue that holds our organization together. They are the long term and short term employees who care to get the details right. They are the people you can depend on daily to do their work tirelessly and humbly. Their work is often not the glamour work. Their work is often the things that need to get done.

This week, Classified Employees Week, we celebrate the many special people who serve children and the organization as classified and confidential employees and we thank them for all they do.

Thank you for your work and for who you are.

John Puglisi, Ph.D.
Superintendent

Just 18 days left

Just 18 days left

There are just eighteen days remaining of the Rio School District 2016-17 school year. The more than 5000 students who attend our eight schools are surely thinking about the year’s closure. They are surely thinking about their classroom cultures coming to an end. They are surely thinking about their relationships with their teachers and classmates. They are surely thinking about who they are, what they have done, and what they have experienced this year. Some are thinking about grades and test scores, others about summer while 5th graders and 8th graders are contemplating changing schools in the coming year. Our children are surely filled with thoughts about the past, present, and future.

Together, we aim to keep the learning processes going through each of the last few days. We aim to make special end of year events and celebrations authentic and sincere. We aim to finish strong and connect the school year to the summer and what will follow.

For me, this is the 31st school year I will have seen through as a public school educator. Each one has been an adventure and a great learning experience. My very first classroom of 4th graders at 93rd street school in south central Los Angeles would be in their 40s now. Many, perhaps, with 4th graders or older of their own. Some few have stayed connected through writing or other means over the years and social media has created a flourishing growth in this area. Still, each year, each classroom culture has its own unique beginning, middle and end. As is the case, every small “c” culture is a group of people coming together over time for a purpose. They develop a language and rules of what to do and what not to do. These small “c” cultures have a life of their own. Some that yield great nostalgia, others great sorrow, and most are rich with memorable stories, characters, and plot lines.

In my work as superintendent I take the time to engage with classes and students at multiple schools. Teaching with some regularity, still not quite the full development of a class culture that connects students to teacher and students to students in ways unlike other cultures. In our public schools, we take all comers. The classes are composed of whoever enrolls. Often times, the neighborhood kids or kids who have chosen a special type of open school. These classroom cultures are our chosen model for helping to develop and guide the next generation of American adults. They are deeply important cultures that help shape and form what types of people that our students will become. All this said, our aim is to complete this year and every year in a way that leave each child with fond memories of their school year and with hopeful anticipation for the school year to come.

A great appreciation is offered to every teacher and every staff member, every volunteer and parent that contributed to making positive and learning filled school year for the children of the Rio School District. We look forward to finishing strong and getting ready for summer programs and the 2017-18 school year to come.

College. Go For it! Complete it! Enjoy it!

College

Go for it!

Complete it!

Enjoy it!

 

This month’s Ventura County gathering of school superintendent’s was noteworthy. We were fortunate to be visited by three educational leaders in our community. The president’s and chancellor of California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI), California Lutheran University (CLU), and Ventura County Community Colleges came to talk with our K-12 District leaders about the state of education in Ventura County as well as considering and discussing efforts to improve outcomes.

 

The discussion was robust and interesting and highlighted the great potential of our community to collaborate to improve and develop the opportunities for our community’s youth. The discussion led me to further reflection that is the source of this blog post. I thought it might be fruitful to hear one supt’s thoughts on the topic of college; who goes, who completes, and who benefits from our collaborative educational efforts.

 

I write this blog for everyone involved; students, families, teachers, and especially leaders of educational and community institutions of every size and level. Some basic premises undergird this blog post. They include the following beliefs;

 

  • Going to college and completing college is of great benefit to the majority of young people.
  • Given the right circumstances, the majority of students can attend and complete college.
  • Going to college and completing college can offer the student two great opportunities to learn about the two most essential subjects; self and the world.
  • Students going to college and completing college provides a great benefit to community and family.

 

They also include the following beliefs;

 

  • Many students do not go to college due to lack of communication.
  • Many students do not go to college due to misinformation.
  • Many students do not go to college due to under-developed math skills, knowledge and standardized testing abilities.
  • Many students do not go to college due to under-developed English literacy skills.
  • Many students do not go to college due to a lack of belief and expectations among the adults in their lives and community.
  • Many students do not go to college because they believe they can not afford it.
  • It is possible to double the numbers and percentage of students in our community who go to and complete college.
  • It is important and doable to develop many, many more college graduates than we currently do.

 

Ok, now that the basic bullet points have been listed, I offer some anecdotal and hopefully inspirational words on next steps for Ventura County. Getting back to the meeting attended, my reflections led me to consider what dedicated, articulate, and optimistic leaders we are fortunate to have leading our local institutions of higher education. Although the meeting time was short, they had the opportunity to describe a plethora of programs and initiatives that exist that are working to improve the numbers of students who go to and complete college. They also expressed an ongoing interest in further discussion and work to improve our community’s results along these lines. It was also mentioned that our Ventura County community offered geographical and organizational opportunities to collaborate that are rare in the state of California. I look forward to contributing to these aims and processes and learning more about the outstanding work being done across all these organizations.

 

Still, following the meeting and upon later reflection I couldn’t help but think about two things I care deeply about and think often about; young students and statistics. For more than thirty years, my wife Sarah and I have been working as educators in the state of California. We have been part of the learning process for thousands of students over the years. Some have stayed connected in one way or the other and are now grown with adult lives and children of their own. To my mind, the vast majority of these students, most from what demographics call lower-income homes, would and could go to and complete college. I say this from direct experience as someone who has attended multiple colleges and completed multiple degrees from B.F.A. to Ph.D.. I also say this from direct experience teaching as adjunct professor in local Universities for more than a decade, and perhaps more importantly, I say this as someone who has remained deeply rooted to K-12 classrooms and the lives and learning that children do in them from preschool through senior year of high school. I also say this as a father of three children and community member.

 

So why all the stating of the obvious, well, I think we can do much, much better in the number and percentage of young people who go to and complete college. My experience tells me that statistics do not match the potential. My experience tells me that we can do much, much better. This blog post is little more than encouragement for the types of collaboration and collective problem solving that many are already engaging. That said, I do suggest, as I did in the meeting, that the community and our educational institutions need a methodology to solve this problem. We need to identify the low numbers of students going to and completing college as a problem, deeply work to understand the problem, and then work wisely to develop change ideas, test the change ideas, develop those that work,  abandon those that don’t and make sure that the problem solving is informed always by three levels of knowledge; the stakeholders on the ground floor (teachers), successful organizational practitioners, and research. This description of methodology is a basic attempt to describe Improvement Science, a developing tool in educational improvement efforts that has experienced dynamic results in many health care contexts.

 

Regardless of the chosen methodology, it is clear to me after all of these years working at every level of the educational process, that we can and should do much better at sending more young people to and completing college. We can do it, we should do it, we need it, and they would enjoy it. Ironically, little has changed over the last thirty years in the aims and curricular structure of K-12 education. The curriculum, or running course, is aimed at a specific finish line; A-G approved classes so that children can achieve entry criteria to the pinnacle of California public educational opportunities, UC schools. This is the structural aim of all our K-12 work. This is what all the lessons, units, tests, grades, etc… are aimed at. This is what we aim for, for all our own children. This is the new 21st century bar, leaving the 20th century bar of high school graduation far behind.

 

This blog post, in no way suggests that other paths to success in life are less valued or valuable. It is simply a matter of a structural and stated equation. Together, as a community of adults over generations, we have aligned our stated school aims and processes to the stated result of the blog post; going to and completing college. Therefore, in pursuit of improved community for all involved, I call all our students and families to believe in our students as I do. I know that most and many more students can and should go to and complete college. Do it. You will enjoy it. I also know that the many well intended, college educated, teachers and leaders in Ventura County are capable of helping many, many more students go to and complete college. Let’s do it. We will enjoy it even as we struggle to innovate and do new things, some that fail, while others succeed.

 

Before publishing this post, I thought I would send it to a fellow collaborator and 1st generation college goer; Dr. Victor Rios. Dr. Rios thought the post was very relevant to his work as an educational researcher and posed the following set of questions;

 

What are the practical strategies used by successful educators like yourself to get these kids to college?

What is stopping the system from being able to send more of these kids to college?

How about school culture and climate?

How can we effectively train more educators to push more kids to college?

What might an invisible hand look like?”

 

In terms of what we are doing in the Rio School District to get students to go to college, well there are numerous efforts that are worth mentioning. First and foremost we are working hard so students develop their 5Cs 21st century practices; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring while also developing their basic literacy skills in reading, writing, math, and technology. While we only have our students through the eighth grade we still have a long way to go to make sure they all go to ninth grade with literacy skills that are up to the grade level expectations required. Ironically, most Rio students are advancing well and demonstrating their 5Cs on a regular basis. These practices are what students need to succeed in college along with their basic literacies but few colleges measure these skills or allow them to play a role in their entrance criteria. Thus it really comes down to reading, writing, and mathematics. These are the skills measured in most high school classes and most college entrance exams along with heavy doses of logic.

 

We also work to provide Rio students college going experiences including programs like AVID and a variety of field trips. We link with Universities to bring a variety of projects and curriculum such as coding projects that engage university researchers with Rio students. In this way Rio students normalize interactions with people attending and teaching at colleges and universities. I suppose I could add a great variety of other endeavors to this list of responses to Dr. Rios’ question about what we are doing to help encourage and prepare students for college, but rather I think I will highlight the fact that each University and college leader present at the aforementioned superintendent’s meeting described a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at increasing the numbers of students going to and completing college. Several mentioned “promise” programs which described programs where students in middle school and high school were guaranteed entrance into college if they met certain criteria over the years.  

 

Dr. Rios also asked. What is stopping the system from being able to send more of these kids to college?

 

Unfortunately, this question elicits a laundry list of things that come easily to mind. So here is a short quick list;

 

  • Failure to develop students reading, writing, and math skills to required levels.
  • Failure to communicate a belief that the adults in schools see the students as worthy of college going.
  • Failure to communicate the logistics involved in applying and paying for college.
  • Failure to communicate the long term economic benefits of college graduation.

 

In a sense, this short list fails to directly respond to Dr. Rios’ question in the sense that to my mind, nothing is “stopping” the systems, rather we are just failing to achieve these aims for significant numbers of students.

 

Dr. Rios also asked; How about school culture and climate? How can we effectively train more educators to push more kids to college?

 

I suppose as many have said, in real estate it’s all about location, location, location and in education or schools it’s all about culture, culture, culture. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and staff in all roles construct school cultures as they interact with their students. Perhaps a simplification, but the pygmalion effect of low expectations or not believing students are college material is likely one of the strongest contributing variable to our current outcomes. In K-8 school Districts I would suggest that school cultures need to connect their students’ literacy and 5C development directly to the college going experience as early as possible.

 

Two of my own personal experiences linked to my mother seem very relevant to this discussion. My mom, Joan Durante, grew up in Newark, New Jersey in the projects . She was an outstanding student and in those days (the 50’s) when you excelled in schools they often advanced you a grade level. My mom was moved up twice and graduated early. She had all the A’s but in her place and time women were not encouraged to go to college. She went to New York to be a dancer and actress instead and soon after got married and had children but that said, she represented the best academics her school had to offer but apparently packaged in the wrong gender. My mother later worked at and attended a community college and was one of the most educated persons I have known, due to her voracious appetite for reading and learning. Clearly, school culture and home culture intervened. Girls like Joan in her city and her family didn’t go to college. A few years later after she and her husband Vern, returned from Europe and their brief stint as an army family, they began a process of working and buying homes every six years in successively higher socioeconomic neighborhoods. In essence, moving us children from lower class, middle class, to upper middle class schools. By the time we hit high school we attended high schools in which the vast majority of families took it for granted that their children would go to college after high school and each of Joan and Vern’s children did just that. Culture matters, schools matter, and expectations matter in this process of sending more kids to attend and complete college.

 

The last question Dr. Rios posed required me to ask for clarification which he dutifully provided, What might an invisible hand look like?”

 

I had to ask him if he was connecting to Adam Smith’s invisible hand of free market capitalism, but rather he was asking what invisible things in school cultures and teachers’ approaches can support college going and completing pathways. His own amazing story and pathway connects to one teacher in particular that helped him believe in himself long enough to grind through many challenges and to multiple degrees. For me the confluence of these two ideas is something very interesting; invisible hand of cutthroat supply and demand capitalism and the invisible human support of adults and children collectively believing and supporting each other to achieve the goals the adults have already achieved by virtue of them being there in the educational profession. Teaching other people’s children as they were your own children, yes of course regardless of race, gender, family income etc… but even moreso regardless of their expressed ability to read and do math on standardized tests scores. I am an advocate of open university. Come one, come all.. No prerequisites.. Just show up and try and either meet the standard for completion or not. This is what we basically have in grades K-12. Come one, come all. Kids have thirteen years to get where they are going. That should be to college and to completion of college. Many, many kids do not accomplish this basic goal that could. To me, this is a stone cold fact. Stone cold like the invisible hand of Adam Smith’s economic competition in the so called “free market.” Ironically, the correlate of poverty and college graduation has long been deeply tied. More money more college grads, less money less college grads and there is the whole crazy matter of the actual costs and loans of college. One job I have always considered as a leader of organizations and public service is to work towards higher and higher levels of transparency and accuracy and away from hypocrisy. Away from speaking out of both ends of our collective mouths; curriculum aimed at every child going to college and circumstances and structures aimed at a very different result. It is true that over the years I have come to learn to find balances in idealism and pragmatism but I know a big hairy problem when I see one and to my mind the numbers of kids going to and completing college is a problem that is doable in terms of making major strides towards collective improvement. I would suggest that the invisible hand of “good will ”  that Dr. Rios is perhaps asking about exists in great abundance. Most teachers and teacher leaders believe in kids and their potentials. Most know what it would take for an individual child to find the pathway to the pomp and circumstances parade. But most are also siloed in classes, departments , schools, Districts, organizations, institutions and this problem needs to be solved at scale in an interconnected and collaborative community way. Ventura County is ripe for such an effort. I look forward to contributing my small part.    

 

21st Century Skills? Practices? Stuff?

As we enter into the year 2017, there is quite a buzz afoot in education circles about 21st century skills. As an educator for the last 31 years it’s refreshing and a bit exciting to see the recent reform 21st century learning movement. The origins, as have been described to me as well as emerging from basic research forays, is the idea that American businesses and corporations were dissatisfied by the quality of worker coming to them post-schooling. It would seem, they had been educated for a factory that no longer exists in significant numbers. With one peek under the hood of our schools, folks suggested that the way we arrange our schools and learning experiences were less relevant and non-parallel to the work experience the young “educated” would encounter in 21st century contexts. In addition, much has been made about the rate of change (technologically driven) that our 21st century inhabitants experience and the incongruent experience that our schools were providing in that they seemed to be frozen in an inert time warp somewhere between 19th century British classrooms and the American 1950’s.  

 

One way or the other, these notions and other currents in the educational stream, have given way to the 4 Cs and a whole lot more Cs that have followed. A new set of foci have emerged and I think they are great on their own; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The Rio School District has added the 5th C, Caring which is another great thing in my opinion. Reaching back to the purported origins, the world of business has suggested that students who can communicate, collaborate, critically think, and be creative are just what they need in their 21st  century enterprises and I would suggest that they have it right. What’s exciting to me beyond the generalized pragmatism of these business driven aims for education, is the idea that these 4 Cs and the many other C s that educators can imagine and design lessons for are really great focal points for the construction of curriculum, units, lessons, schools, Districts, partnerships that have the potential to guide young learners and educators into developing full human beings that can live and thrive in the 21st or any century.

 

To some degree this 21st century reform movement seems linked to the enlightenment of centuries past. For me this focus on the 4 Cs and the other Cs that help to fully humanize our schooling efforts are both a return to progressive thought and a reaching towards the future in which we ask basic questions about freedom and the purposes of education and schooling in general. Allowing all students to talk and discover language as a means for intellectual development is a good start and a departure from the sit there, shut up, and do your workbook mindset. Thus we have communication at its essence. Collaboration, that we allow children to learn from the feedback loop-rich context of cooperative learning and group work is a nod to the years of positively leaning research on the effects and constructs of of socially constructed learning. Critical thinking emerges as schools come to understand that the world of work and the world of life in any century is filled with complexity and uncertainty. Thus, in order to problem solve and navigate complexity, we need to be experienced in working through problems that are such that they do not lend themselves to simple uni-algorithm solutions. This suggests the idea that there is rarely the one right answer and that learning is not best done for all by setting up a race to see who gets the right answer first and more often. Finally, there is creativity, which emerges in the corporate sense from divergent or innovative thinking and design. That is, coming up with unique or divergent solutions to problems in order to think about the problems in new ways and perhaps create pathways for solutions that have previously been non-existent. While this form of creativity is certainly the engine of the day in terms of economies and business, it is also at the root of the basic survival techniques of doing a lot with a little. This tradition of creative survival has been a root of human development in every century. All this said, the idea that having the last 4 C for creativity promoted and permitted is giving way to the return of many school activities that we all know and have always known that all children and humans in general deserve and need. That is, the arts and making, and playing, and expressing and while I am not sure we can teach that per se, we can certainly create the conditions that foster it for all learners and educators.

 

There are Skills and there are Skills. The traditional skills were conceived as the three Rs. Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  Taken together they can conjure the aims of the basic work of the 19th and 20th century school to produce basic literacy for workers and citizenry. As we think about the new 21st century skills, are we juxtaposing this same mindset on a much more complex and dynamically changing factory or should we consider the differences between skills and say practices. Even this idea of practices which lends itself to a more professional frame and is a major component of this age’s New Math and New Science has a very pragmatic orientation. That is, it suggests that same parallel in education between what learners do in classes and what say doctors or lawyers do in their “practices.” These professions never get all the answers right, they work on it and practice. They learn from their experience and study. These practices also suggest to the learner that the entire process of life is a verb not a noun. It is a learning process. Finally, I would say that at this point I prefer to just call it all stuff. The stuff we ask kids to do during what we call school and later define as education.
Whether it is the 4 Cs the 5 Cs or the 22 Cs, I am heartened by the world of professional educators’ leaning towards “stuff” for children that are more fully human and that lead to freedom, choice and simultaneously guiding learners to know themselves, and the world, while learning to live and learn with others. I am also heartened by this leaning to actively pursue these opportunities for all children. While it may take years or never happen that we create scoring systems a la grades, tests, credentials that don’t benefit some children to the detriment of others, we can at minimum, provide rich 21st century 4 C infused opportunities for every child in every school. In this sense, it’s a great time to be an educator in the 21st century. We shall see if it can sustain itself. The sustaining of these efforts which seem to resonate with students and families from every walk of life must also come from the students and families themselves. They must advocate for 21st century learning contexts and support professional educators that help to design and develop them. Ultimately, the 21st century school can be a fusion among professional educators, learners, families, and communities that render developing and redeveloping learning processes that can guide and prepare students for the 21st or any century. For if we don’t educate in 21st century ways, it is laughable, as we are now sixteen years into the century.

I have pasted below some amazing examples of Districts visualizing this work; its great to see the spirit and innovation developing in the American public school system.

21st-cent-3 21st-cent-4 21st-cent-5 21st-cent-6 21st-cent-pic-2

What’s up in 2017 ?

What’s up in 2017?

These days of Fall to Winter are filled with expectations of vacation days, holidays, and time away from school. They are also filled for many educators with plans and ideas for the new year. As 2017 is upon us, Rio staff are engaged in a variety of activities that will prepare the school year through its second and third trimesters.

As such one might ask, What’s up in 2017?, What’s new?, What will we be doing? What will be our focus?

Here are a few ideas or themes to begin to respond to those questions;

Reading: In 2017 we will continue our work to help every child become an interested and competent reader. Our reading dashboards will soon go out to children and families in grades 3-8 in order to stimulate discussion and collaboration between home and school on helping every child become a better and more interested reader. We will continue to focus on and improve our libraries, our everyday reading instruction, our use of technology in support of reading, and our special programs to help struggling or emergent readers.
The Arts and Sciences: We continue to develop our programs and classes in the arts and sciences in order to enrich and expand student learning and development. Music programs at the middle grades continue to develop and improve in quantity and quality. New efforts include providing more opportunities for music learning in the elementary grades. Strings and other things are coming to the elementary schools. Dance is also growing and spreading through our partnership with Hip Hop Mindset and theater and creative drama are just emerging. Middle graders are tackling our first major musical production. Students from across the District are working to put together our first traveling musical theater performance which will focus on the 5Cs; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and caring. The visual arts continue to develop as students are learning new techniques and using new media to create art as well getting ready for our second annual series of community art shows. In the sciences, there is an explosion of new learning that explore robotics, coding, drones, 3D printing, and project based learning.
Parent and Community Partnerships: In 2017 we aim to double our efforts to connect with parents and community partners in diverse ways. Conversation is important and plans are in place to make better and more frequent connections with parents and partners using technology. We are also working on deepening and expanding parent and partner direct engagement with learners and schools. There are many many examples of such partnerships in each of our eight public schools and we aim to celebrate them more and demonstrate that schools are a great place for both children and adults to learn. As we open the doors and learning pathways in schools to more experts and involved adults we provide more diverse experiences and potentials for students and teachers. By being mindful of how to expand this work in a safe and meaningful way, a powerful community force is developing in which we learn together by helping the children in our schools learn. Our new K-8 S.T.E.A.M. school is in development to open in the Fall of 2018 and will serve as a model and learning lab for community engagement and problem based inquiry learning.
New K-8 STEAM School: Several years ago the Rio School District began to develop a master plan for facilities. In recent years our enrollment has grown by approximately 100 students per year. Rather than adding more portable buildings to our  existing schools, we developed plans for a new school in the River Park area. The school will accommodate the growth we are experiencing in terms of the number of students and will also enhance and model the growth we are pursuing as a learning organization. We have embraced the idea of transforming all of our schools into 21st century learning environments that prepare children to thrive in the worlds of school, work, and life. The new STEAM school planning will pick up in development speed in 2017. The building plans have been approved by the California Department of Education (CDE) and are awaiting final approvals by the Division of State Architects (DSA) in the new year. We are aiming for construction to take about a year with an opening of the school in the Fall of 2018. People will be able to watch the construction process in action on our new STEAM school webpages. http://rioschools.org/riosteamacademy/ . This coming summer of 2017 we hope to have staff selected and beginning on the development of learnings and curriculum and instruction projects that will culminate in a fully project based, problem based, inquiry path of learning that focuses less on subject areas and more on transdisciplinary learning. The new school will be a model of where we want all our schools to go in terms of learning and teaching. In recent years our Summer Science Academy has been a model for STEAM learning for the teachers and students who choose to attend and work. This model will be more further developed in the new STEAM academy.
World Class Learning: In a true and tangible sense, Rio is striving to become world class in the way that we help children learn. A few years back that notion may have been difficult for some people to imagine at Rio. Still, these last few years have demonstrated the amazing collaborative and creative spirit and work ethic of our teachers, staff, students, partners, and community. We have begun to make a mark on the local, state, national, and world stage for some of the things we are striving to do and also some that we are accomplishing. This aim of becoming world class involves adults in learning many new skills and practices and adopting new mindsets about children and the learning process in general. We have been capacity building and innovating. We have been working together to understand and accomplish. This learning process does not come easy or quickly. It is a long and infinite race. In the year 2017 we aim to march and run towards world class work and achievement as thoughtfully and quickly as possible. The children of Rio, as all children, deserve the best learning environments we can create. They deserve to have teachers and staff that believe in them and help them develop both the basic literacies as well as the 21st century skills and practices they will need to to thrive in their world in the years that come. We look to 2017 as a year full of optimism for the potential of the future and with a sense of deep and important purpose. World class learning matters for child, family, state, country and world.

Reading, Reading, Reading…

This year the Rio School District, more than ever perhaps, is focused on guiding every child to become an interested and excellent reader. Interested readers choose to read as a discretionary activity as well as finding the interest in the reading they are assigned at school. Excellent meaning that they read at levels of fluency and comprehension equivalent to or exceeding the very rigorous demands of state standards. As you might say, this is not necessarily your grandpas’ childhood reading expectation that used the Dick and Jane Readers and went on to more difficult and meaningful texts in later grades. 21st century schools demand very complex and analytical reading from its students especially beginning in the 3rd grade when the state begins to assess their skills on standardized tests such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) .

Even as we enter the age of video and other more prominent multi-media, reading text on a page or screen remains the dominant gatekeeper for student success in the schools we construct. Recent CAASPP results in mathematics as compared to previous year’s CST tests are testament to the fact that now even in math, a student’s reading ability and interest plays a major role in their success in other subjects such as math.  This emphasis on reading in all the new tests and our new common core curriculum reflects the society’s demand for ever more analytical readers in society and the work place. All of this being said, RSD wants to help every child get on a path to loving to read and to becoming excellent readers. If they do, test scores and other metrics such as grades will likely follow in kind. More importantly, reading is a door to information, adventure, knowledge, and a process of understanding the world while understanding the self.

Reading is also a bridge to new mindsets and connections to the vast heritage of leaning developed by mankind. Reading is an efficient means to store and recall information and develop wisdom whether it is accessed through great novels, blog posts, or technical journals and articles. Along these lines, we are working to help every Rio learner develop as decoders of the sounds and symbols of the English language while quickly learning to makde sense of and understand what they read. At our Rio Real Dual Language Immersion Academy, in all our libraries, and in our middle school second language programs we are doing the same for student learning in Spanish, Mixtec languages, and other non-English languages.

Rio S.D. is also working to help every learner read “Academic Language” and the language of school and scholarly work such as research. We endeavor to guide children to “read” their community and local and global cultures such that they can better navigate them in the present and future. Yes Reading is Fundamental, but its not the only thing, and reading that is relevant and meaningful comes in the context of reading to learn as we learn to read. In this we mean that students learn to improve as readers as they use reading to learn about their subject areas and their interests. This year we are ever more focused on creating a community of readers such that all our teachers are playing a reading role by helping to support developing readers in every class from Physical Education to Music. While these subject area teachers may not be “reading teachers” as such, we are helping them to build the capacity to support learners as readers in their classes.

Our partnership with a team from California Lutheran University (CLU) and their California Reading and Literature Project (CLRP) is helping us build a firm foundation of reading teaching skills. Together we are poised to make great improvements in our students’ reading interest and excellence. We are also employing Improvement Science utilizing a recent partnership with edleader21 and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as we create Network Improvement Communities (NICs) aimed at improving literacy skills and interest for all students with a special focus on English Language Learners. Together, we are about to roll out our most ambitious initiative to partner with parents and families to support their children’s development as readers. We have partnered with an educational software company, Learning Priority, to develop tools that connect children, families, and school in a process of mutual support for the development of interested and excellent readers.

The LP/RSD learning dashboard will soon be active in allowing student, teacher, and family to access their child’s reading assessment results in relation to their grade level expectations. In its second phase the dashboard will also allow parents and teachers to quickly dive through the digital score and directly experience hearing their child read and examining their fluency,  accuracy, and comprehension by listening and viewing their child’s recorded reading and retell of a grade level passage. This simple tool is our first major digital effort to systematically connect families to their children’s reading development via a simple digital toll you can access on your cell phone.

All of these and many more efforts acknowledge that children have many things to learn in school while considering that their reading interest and ability is a critical gatekeeper to their success in school. We look forward to the dashboard rollout and to getting feedback and guidance from parents about its ongoing development as a communication tool for the 21st century.

Amazing Rio Technology Team

The Rio School District employs nearly 500 people in one role or another. All working together to provide the best possible learning environments and opportunities to our more than 5000 students in grades TK-8. One amazing team of four people, Kathryn, Tony, Oscar, and Brian make up our technology team. Together they do an incredibly complex and large scale job with great efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism. Our District is a One to the World District with one computer device for every student and multiple devices for staff. The Tech-Team built, and maintain a robust wired and wireless network that provides tremendous access to Internet based and other multimedia resources. Maintaining a mindset of security and protection while utilizing open source tools such as our Linux based Ubermix and Google schools platforms is a challenge that yields great rewards for learners of every age.

The Rio School District has leveraged much in the way of instructional shifts towards 21st century learning through the use of technology. Our powerful tech team of four are truly world class. Their type of work is often unrecognized except when things go wrong, which they rarely do, and this is just the nature of their work and people’s orientation to technology. This blog post intends to fleetingly make folks aware of the outstanding work they do to keep the Rio School District technology infrastucture and human users growing, learning and making a 21st difference for learners of every age.

If you happen to see a member of the team of four…pass along a word of appreciation. I recieved an email today doing just this and I showed it to one of the team on my cell phone which was routed through the wireless network system. Seamless.