Lindsay Unified ‘Changing’ education
By Reggie Ellis
lindsay – A new national study lists Lindsay Unified School District among those illustrating “How School Are Changing” in the era of digital learning but also personalized learning.
The report is the fourth and final chapter in a yearlong research on the state of education technology by EdSurge Inc., a company that publishes newsletters and studies on the use of teaching technology. EdSurge explored how schools and districts across the U.S. are experimenting with their models and technology in order to better prepare students for the future ahead. Lindsay Unified was among 14 schools and districts in Ed Surge’s report that excelled at two of the 19 elements of at a time. These elements, or “building blocks that make up a school,” ranged from “edtech selection” and “professional development” to “change management” and “infrastructure.”
The report asked six key questions about how a district can go about transforming their educational system: “Why do we want to change teaching and learning?”; What does these changes look like in practice?”; “What resources do we need to make this happen?”; “How do we prepare our community for redesign?”; “How do we implement these changes?”; and How do we scale and improve?”
Lindsay Unified provided the example to answering two of those questions: “What resources do we need to make this happen?” and “How do we prepare our community for redesign?” Lindsay Unified excelled on two fronts – communication and policy. While the report noted that everylearner has access to a digital device and that every learning has 24-hour access to online resources through its citywide Wi-Fi program, it said none of those would have been possible without the last decade of educating its Board of Trustees, staff, students and community members about the vision, mechanism and replication of its performance based system.
In the interview with Ed Surge, Superintendent Tom Rooney said the vision was formed in 2007 when the district reviewed data that said nine out of 10 of Lindsay valedictorians needed remedial courses in college. Over the next six months, district administrators met several times per month for two to four hours studying the problems with traditional education, the future societal demands and what skills and competencies they wanted their graduates to be able to demonstrate. The district then conducted a series of work sessions with parent groups, teachers and administrators from each school and grade level as well as local elected officials on the School Board and City Council. These meetings laid the groundwork for Lindsay’s Performance Based System (PBS), a renowned student-centered philosophy of education that allows students to work at their own pace and only move on to the next level if they have demonstrated competency.
“When you listen to and honor the voice of the community and then empower everyone to play their part in making the vision a reality, all things, including personalized learning, are possible,” Rooney said in a 2015 article he submitted to Ed Surge.
Rooney told Ed Surge that of the biggest hurdles in implementing PBS was convincing the Board of Trustees to sacrifice its graduation rate which is used heavily in determining district funding.
“Districts are measured on how many kids they get through in four years. Money comes to the district based on the ‘seat time’ factor and positive attendance,” Rooney told Ed Surge. “That’s an issue, and some district boards won’t let the district change to a competency-based model because it’ll keep the district from getting money.”
Rooney also got the Board to approve radical changes to their education system, such as scraping letter grades, grading on a curve as well as scoring students on non-academic skills such as being civic-minded, students as economic producers and goal-setting, all of which are aligned to the LUSD’s Life-Long Learning Standards of being: A Well-Balanced Person, A Self-Directed, Lifelong Learner, A Caring, Compassionate Person, A Civic-Minded Person, A Responsible Global Citizen, A Quality Producer & Resource Manager, A Culturally Aware Person.
Unfortunately, Lindsay’s system does not fit neatly into how the California Department of Education assess student achievement and school district evaluations. So Lindsay applied for a waiver from the State’s reporting for graduation rates to allow students who were not competent in all educational areas and topics to return for a fifth year without the district being penalized for making sure all graduates were college and career ready.
“We won’t have an official graduation rate this year on the web site because there was a technical issue between our program and the program software that the state uses,” Rooney told Ed Surge. “We have kids who come back for a fifth year, and in Lindsay, we say that’s good! If our graduation rate goes down because of the work we’re doing, we’re okay with that.”
In order to help teachers and parents become competent in the system, Barry Sommer, the district’s Director of Advancement, started holding professional development sessions for teachers and classified staff members each summer beginning in 2007, even before the system was officially implemented. Sommer also had students and staff create videos in Spanish that parents could access through Empower, the parent portal on the district’s web site. Since then, the district has also started a Parent Empower team, a group of Spanish speaking parents to help educate other Spanish speakers about the system. committee to help inform parents.
“If you want to get a message across, put learners in front of adults,” Sommers told Ed Surge.
Sommer said the biggest obstacle to transforming education in Lindsay has been retaining staff. He said many teachers, and some administrators, were “mired in the old system” and that “not everyone believes that every child can learn.”
And while LUSD learners are still lagging behind the statewide average for proficiency in English language arts and math on standardized testing, Lindsay students have made progress in several areas compared to 2010, when PBS was fully implemented at all grade levels. The number of Lindsay High School graduates attending a four-year college has increased from 20% to 41%; and the number of graduates obtaining a college degree in four years increased from 7% to 57%.
“This is really difficult work, but having a growth mindset is what’s brought us our success,” Sommer told Ed Surge. “As long as you yourself have a growth mindset, everyone will start to believe.”