Del Norte County’s public schools are not as good as they can be, but educators and community members are taking important steps to change that.
The shortcomings have been well-documented, the desired improvements well-spoken and the possible models for reform well-researched.
By next fall, plans call for versions of education reform that have worked elsewhere to be implemented here. That will likely include a heavy emphasis on professional learning communities — in which instructors collaborate in a more organized fashion on what to teach and how to teach it — and some possible forays into individualized learning that blurs the lines between grade levels so that students are grouped more by ability than by age.
A professional learning community — PLC — has already been implemented at Crescent Elk Middle School and is paying dividends in improved student scores on standardized tests.
It might seem obvious that schoolteachers should work closely with their colleagues to ensure the same basic material is being covered and to share expertise on what’s working and what isn’t in classrooms. But institutionalizing it throughout the district is no small task.
Some teachers will be eagerly receptive, others resistant. All of them no doubt want what’s best for their students, and traditionally in public education instructors have ultimately been left to their own devices. The time has come to insist they all get in the same boat and row in the same direction.
You’ve heard of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It means many things — not all good — to parents and educators. Almost everyone questions its unrealistic insistence on improvement approaching perfection. If the bar is set too high, after all, failure is assured. But it has changed the landscape to establish two new realities in school districts around the country: improvement is required, and it will be measured by standardized test scores.
As it moves toward wide-scale implementation of reforms, Del Norte basically needs to adopt a No Teacher Left Behind Act. Everyone must embrace the collaboration of PLCs, bringing individual skills to the table along with a willingness to learn from and collaborate with colleagues.
District administrators face a twofold challenge: 1) They must figure out the logistics of establishing PLCs — when will teachers meet with each other and what will they be expected to accomplish? 2) Through leadership in many forms — cajoling, counseling, praise, constructive criticism and an unalterable insistence on improvement — they must ensure that the benefactors of all this change are the students of Del Norte County.
The charge to schoolteachers must be to not only embrace the reforms, but to reach out to students of all ability levels with missionary-like zeal. Not every child has engaged parents who mete out proper encouragement and discipline — but every child should have teachers who do so in the classroom.
A contingent of local educators visited the Sanger School District in Central California, which has achieved a startling turnaround in student achievement in an area more demographically challenged than Del Norte. In turn, Sanger Superintendent Marc Johnson came to the North Coast to talk education reform with a group of community leaders.
Johnson’s presentation made it clear that improving schools is about more than just adopting the right reform model. He was nearly evangelistic in emotionally describing his efforts to organize already talented teachers into team players who never lose focus on their students.
Not everyone can muster Johnson’s brand of capable charisma — in 2011 he was named the Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. But he does provide an example worth emulating.
So far, Del Norte has taken the right approach to reform. Making all the efforts pay off for our children will require leadership and resolve that starts at the top.
— Del Norte Triplicate