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
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
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
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
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