Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Iowa Education Summit: The Beginning of the Beginning

For the past two days, serious dialogue has occurred in IOWA focused on transforming education. Lead by Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and facilitated by State Director of Education Jason Glass and the Governor’s Special Assistant for Education Linda Fandel, Iowa’s Pre-K-12 through higher education was discussed, dissected, and diagnosed. The findings were not positive. The general consensus: our current education system is outdated, ineffective, and does not meet the needs of students.

The two big take always: the growing urgency for change and that in Iowa there ARE “pockets” of innovation and academic excellence.

Van Meter Director of Teaching and Learning Jen Sigrist, 5th grade teacher Janelle Thompson and I attended the Summit. We listened, participated and interacted with local, state, national and international representatives from business and education as well as policy and law makers.

The emerging theme from these interactions is that to “fix education” THINKING and LEARNING must change. Presenters identified crucial design elements of a new system of learning to include: high expectations for students and teachers, rigorous and relevant curriculum, meaningful instruction, flexible use of time, innovation, accountability and meaningful assessments.

Jen, Janelle and I became both excited and restless as the conference unfolded. Collectively we realized that there were a lot of folks doing a lot of talking, but that at Van Meter we were doing a lot of doing. As a panelist for two sessions at the Education Summit, I shared the Van Meter story thus far and our mission to become a 21st century school district by the fall of 2013.

Because of our transparency and digital connections, many attendees knew our story already and the distance we have covered in two years time. It was both humbling and an affirmation that numerous times Van Meter was specifically lifted up and cited by several in attendance as one of the “pockets of innovation”.

Those who know our story

Fred Bramante, member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education has been following Van Meter for about a year. He is a nationally recognized leader and advocate for creating an educational system that focuses on the student, giving them a voice and empowering them to take ownership in their learning. Prior to the summit, I had given him a Van Meter Bulldog lapel pin. Fred proudly wore the pin throughout the summit!

Iowa State Board of Education President Rosie Hussey also is a supporter of the work we are doing at Van Meter. She too wore her Van Meter lapel pin at the Governor’s Education Summit.

Governor Branstad specifically cited Van Meter in remarks at the press conference for signing of the Governor’s creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council. Governor Branstad shared that the innovations and thinking at Van Meter needed to be studied and replicated. University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allan also echoed Van Meter.

Support from Governor Branstad and Lt Governor Reynolds
Prior to the Education Summit, Secondary Principal Deron Durflinger and I attended the Education Town Hall meeting in Boone on July 21, 2011. At the meeting, Governor Branstad and Lt Governor Reynolds solicited input and responded to questions centered on the condition of Iowa’s education system. When talk turned to innovation, use of technology and a new model of education, they both cited the Van Meter Community School District. Lt Governor Reynolds shared with the audience her observations and impressions from seeing it firsthand.

So what does this mean?
This fall Van Meter moves into the “second half” of our quest of becoming a 21st century school/learning system by the fall of 2013. Our goal remains the same; to find student’s passions, empowering them to THINK, LEAD and SERVE. As we go forward, it is important we connect with other learners (wherever they may be) who are innovating and thinking differently so we can share, create and learn from and with them. This is crucial. By no means does Van Meter have all the answer or have everything figured out. “We are not the smartest people in the room.” Only by innovating, sharing, creating and learning with and from others will we all reach our full potential. This too is an important lesson our students will learn.

Fred Bramante, member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education, has been following Van Meter for about a year.

Rosie Hussey, President of the Iowa State Board of Education, showing her Bulldog pride and her lapel pin.