What keeps superintendents up at night?

by Jean Tower

I attended a Crystal Ball Session, What keeps superintendents up at night?

The answers of Chip Kimball especially resonated with me, but all superintendents were passionate, credible, and obviously struggling with envisioning a path to a new future.

The session was moderated by Lillian Kellogg, CoSN Board Member.

Jack Dale, Superintendent, Fairfax Co. Public Schools, VA
Edgar B. Hatrick III, Superintendent, Loudon Co. Public Schools, VA
Chip Kimball, Superintendent, Lake Washington, WA
Robert Slaby, Superintendent, Storey Co. School District, NV
Jerry Weast, Montgomery Co. Public Schools MD

What keeps you up at night?
Slaby: The current attack on public schools make me afraid for schools and what they will look like in five years.
Dale: In this declining resource environment, how do we keep up with all the things we are seeing here at the conference?
Hatrick: The same thing that keeps most superintendents up at night – money, money and money. There is a nexus between the change the white house is pushing for and funding. There is a competition between class size and technology making it hard to keep up with the technology we should be providing.
Kimball: Ten years from now, when I look back, will I see a school transformed to serve kids in the digital age or will I still be in a school system designed for the industrial age? I want to be able to look back and say our school system is fundamentally different.
Weast: How do we develop the culture that keeps our students engaged? Technology helps keep that engagement.

What do you envision five years out?
Hatrick: I see continued growth and declining resources.
Kimball: I am worried about attracting and retaining good teachers.
Dale: I see not a lot of increased resources for public education, so how do we redesign the learning environment for kids with fewer adults? How do we use technology to have kids be more independent and self-directed learners?
Weast: Five years from now we will wake up and understand we have to do something different to compete globally. Mobile technology will revolutionize education and how we do things – address poverty, mobility, sorting and other issues.
Slaby: I see a changing job market – right now those with a BA have 5% unemployment while those with only a high school diploma have 20% unemployment. Some jobs are not coming back and we need to focus on jobs of the future and educate our kids for that future.

How do we change learning environment to reflect how people work in the 21st century? The conversation is less about numbers of devices, ratios, the hardware, and shrink-wrapped software, and more focused on questions like, how do we use tech to address today’s challenges?

Kimball: We are in middle of an evolution – we need to make sure every kid has access to learning 24-7, 365 days a year. Structures are outdated – we are funded on attendance and seat time. We need to leverage online learning, mobile access, and data systems to bust through the dam and make real the promise of learning 24-7, 365 days a year.
Hatrick: When first computers were introduced in education I was there and I thought it might be the beginning of individualized instruction – I think it still holds that potential. We are not yet there. There are two extremes it can help with – students who need remediation and the other end, gifted students being held back by group mentality – we need to unleash top performers to discover on their own what they can’t wait for their teachers to teach them.
Dale: In Fairfax we are working on an electronic curriculum, instruction, and assessment tool. The other initiative – individualized learning plan for all students – builds on strengths of students rather than remediating deficits. It will allow kids to learn on their own.
Weast: We need to try to reimagine how students can use mobile, thinking about cloud technology and not relying on time and location. We can use technology to deal with engagement of the employees and students and to overcome isolation. Mobile devices not ubiquitous 5 years ago but are today – that’s the lever.
Slaby: We are all in same arena – we want to use technology to help you teach to bluebirds, robins, and crows all at the same time. Kids can use technology to find out what they don’t know and what they want to learn.

Last question, how can we all help, as a community at large?
Kimball: Do not accept the status quo. We resign ourselves to politics and pressure – do not. If I, as your superintendent am accepting the status quo, please call me to the carpet on it.
Hatrick: Work on congress – the federal government does not have enough money to run a  federal education system – right now we scatter federal funds out on the water and wait for something to work. Can you imagine what would happen if the federal government made it their business to provide wireless to every house in America?
Dale: What is powerful is when you team with other people in your district to be creatively insubordinate.
Weast: Doing fewer things better – don’t chase every rabbit. We need to deliver on four things: deliver trust, hope, compassion, and stability.
Slaby: There are two things we need to do. One is to ensure a public education for all children and stopping privatization and vouchers. The second is that if you see a problem don’t ask why look for a solution, asking why not.

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