I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Suzy Lofton-Bullis, Deputy Superintendent of Lago Vista ISD, a district of approximately 1500 students in the Texas Hill Country and 15 miles from the Austin city limits. I am excited to share highlights (some paraphrased) of our conversation in hopes it inspires other school leaders in our state.
Question: How are you working to support your teachers as experts in Lago Vista ISD?
Dr. Lofton-Bullis: We have created protected time for Professional Learning Communities. This is incredibly challenging on multiple points in a small district with many singleton teachers. Protecting this time is a priority and the principals have done an awesome job supporting teachers as they collaborate and grow from one another.
Question: How has the identification of high priority learning standards in your district impacted teaching and learning?
Dr. Lofton-Bullis: We were C-SCOPE users, but we surveyed our teachers to determine the extent to which they were using it and the response was – almost none at all. What was happening was the instruction was very textbook-driven. So, we moved to creating our own district curriculum. We used our Professional Learning Communities as experts to unwrap the standards and identify the priority standards. From there, they developed performance assessments connected to the priority standards. We support teacher autonomy as to where priority is placed and they use data to make those decisions.
We see our educators as experts – they know the students, they know the content. So, they make more decisions regarding where they are going in their classrooms. This is the 5th year of our district created curriculum. We started with elementary and continued to create through secondary.
Question: What advice do you have to share with other leaders about this process to create your own district curriculum?
Dr. Lofton-Bullis: The sooner your teachers understand you’re never really done with the curriculum, the sooner you can make progress. There are always so many changes, with different students each year, changes coming from the state, such as new standards, everyone needs to realize its a constant recursive process.
Question: How does this work impact onboarding of new hires?
Dr. Lofton-Bullis: We have a strong in-district mentoring program that helps. Also, our Professional Learning Communities play a big role. When they are together, the teachers share what they have done before and what has worked and they decide what to do next. We also have a curriculum agreement with Comal ISD. When we are starting a new class, for example, this gives us something to look at – what was done in another district. We use this for inspiration, if nothing else.
The principals are what made the implementation of our curriculum happen. We hire new principals to be successful. We interview principals and leaders with this vision in mind. We also interview and hire teachers with this in mind. It’s not for everybody. Sometimes, it’s not a good fit. In the hiring process, we are transparent from the beginning. We don’t let a candidate leave an interview without knowing what we do here. We’re looking for a good fit for Lago Vista.
I appreciate Dr. Lofton-Bullis’ time for this conversation. I challenge you to consider your responses to these questions and to share your story as a district/campus leader.
For the latest happenings in Lago Vista ISD, visit www.lagovistaisd.net or follow the district on Twitter @LagoVistaISD.