Who is Telling Your Story?

Guest blog by Lawana Pulliam, Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology in Canadian ISD.

Who should be telling your story?  Is it fair for your story to be distilled down to a 1-page summary report from TEA with a single letter grade indicating your district’s level of success?  Can a letter grade based largely on state-created standardized test performance accurately communicate the critical work and care for students that creates your story?

These questions should create a cause for pause if you are public school district in Texas.  Canadian ISD, under the direction of former superintendent Kyle Lynch, decided in the fall of 2017 that we wanted to tell our own story.  We were not sure how to make this happen, but we believed for the sake of our students and community that it was imperative. Brave leaders were already paving the way for us, such as Mary Ann Whiteker, with her passionate State Board of Education speech, and Dr. Karen Rue’s Community Based Accountability work at Northwest ISD.  After listening to both of these inspiring leaders and reading the Public Education Visioning Institute’s seminal 2008 document, Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas, there was no turning back for our district.

The beginning of our journey was simple – we decided to create a Canadian ISD Profile of Graduate, allowing us to begin with the end in mind and drive all of our decisions moving forward.  This profile was developed over the course of a semester with a variety of collaborative forums involving staff, parents, community members, alumnus, and current students. The resulting document has served to inform our actions and illuminate the way forward as we embraced community-based accountability.  

Picture 1

Along with our profile of a graduate, we created State of Schools Community Reports for every campus and the district overall.  These reports communicated our demographic information, showcased our areas of success, and documented the areas we were strategically working to improve.  The campus reports were shared with parents and the district report was mailed to every CISD taxpayer, ensuring as much as possible that our community was sufficiently informed.  

Moving into the spring of 2018, Superintendent Lynch heard about a TASA group, the Texas Performance Accountability Consortium (TPAC), which was starting its 2nd year of work in the area of local accountability.  This group was specifically focused on the creation of Community Based Accountability Systems.  TPAC represented a logical next step for CISD, so we signed up for year two, aligning ourselves with a group of diverse, but similarly minded districts across Texas.  

Being new to the group, we were required to attend TPAC orientation in March of 2018.  At that meeting, John Tanner spoke about accountability and why creating a Community Based Accountability System is critical.  Mr. Tanner’s message resonated with our beliefs about the use of assessment data to inform teaching rather than label kids and schools.  It also aligned perfectly with our Profile of a Graduate and vision for Canadian ISD. Throughout the summer and the next fall, Mr. Lynch and I attended a variety of TPAC meetings to learn as much as possible in an effort to share this learning with our district.  

Fast forward a bit with me to spring 2019.  We had been involved with TPAC for a year now and were prime to take the next steps in community-based accountabilityYou know that feeling?  The one you get when you are having a conversation with a group of people and you suddenly realize you are the only one who understands what you are talking about?  It’s uncomfortable and surprising, to say the least. Well, that happened for us at a District Improvement Committee meeting in the spring of 2019. As we were debriefing on the latest learning in reference to the Pillars and the Community Based Accountability Manual, it became apparent that nobody else understood what we were talking about.  They understood the work we had done with the Profile a Graduate and the School Reports, but the true work of the CBAS manual and the Pillars was foreign to them.  

After that meeting, Kyle and I discussed the lack of understanding with our administrative team.  Again, we were surprised to find that they had very little understanding as well. The problem was this, he and I had been engaged in this learning and work with TPAC, but we had not fully inducted our admin team or instructional staff.  It was at this point in our journey that we had to pivot – we could create a beautiful CBAS, but if our principals and teachers couldn’t talk intelligently about it, then we were wasting out time. This is our story, the story of all of Canadian ISD and everyone must be on board and fully understand the work.

What do all good teachers do when a plan goes poorly? We modify and adjust to meet our learners’ needs and ensure success.  Queue a new plan… 

We created an induction training for our administrative team, school board, and a focus group of teachers across the district, which would involve:

  1. Walking the teams through the Smartness Profile activity to make sure everyone understood the “Why”.
  2. Introduce and discuss the CBAS Manual, specifically the 7 Pillars.
  3. Create and agree upon a CISD Elevator Speech that allows ensures common understanding and vocabulary.  

The first group we worked with was our administrative team – they came up with a working draft of the elevator speech.  Next, we informed the board to explain and get input. The last group we worked with was our Focus Group of teachers.  They had strong feelings about changing some of the wording in our speech, which definitely made sense. See the adjustments below.

Canadian ISD believes we are more than just STAAR test scores. 

We are creating a system of reporting based on the areas that our community values. 

We are developing problem solvers who have a strong work ethic, perseverance, and are prepared for success beyond high school. 

Our The goal of the accounting tool will be to is to focus on growth, not perfection, through complete transparency.

As we concluded the Teacher Focus Group meeting, we asked for volunteers to lead our entire district through this process during the upcoming August Staff Development.  Four brave teachers came forward. They worked over the summer to adjust our presentation to fit what they thought would be the most well received and easily understood induction of CBAS for the entire Canadian ISD staff.  Their primary message focused on telling our own story, and not allowing TEA to reduce us to a letter grade – they believed passionately that we were, and are, more than a state-assigned grade based primarily on a standardized test.

On August 15th, 2019 that team of 4 passionate educators delivered the induction training, not the superintendent and not campus principals.  That team alone led the conversation, and that is when our momentum shifted.  After the induction training and ensuing discussion, staff members were carefully divided into 7 different Pillar Groups:

  • Student learning and progress
  • Student readiness
  • Engage, well rounded students
  • Community Engagement and Partnership
  • Professional learning/quality staff
  • Fiscal and operational systems
  • Safety and well-being 

 

Each group was charged with identifying 2-3 Key Questions in reference to their specific Pillar. 

An example key question might be:

Student Readiness:

To what degree are we creating effective readers and writers at Canadian ISD?

Surprisingly, the teams came up with their key questions relatively easily and themes organically emerged, specifically the theme of creating problem solvers.  This was one baby step closer to our Community Based Accountability System.

The staff met back together as a district in November.  Our administration thought it best to complete this work using campus teams.  Each principal led their campus through a process of working with the Key Questions and the Change Engine.

Picture 2

Again, our teachers showed up and took a serious approach to this important work.  They were truly focused on how we can improve the work we do here at Canadian ISD.  

I am not going to lie, this work was really messy.  We made sure our staff was aware of this from the beginning, because there truly is no wrong or right answer.   We asked our teachers to focus on improvement and growth, which they did.

From that work, we are now much closer to a true Community Based Accountability System for Canadian ISD.  Our next step is to decide how often we want to report out to our community and how are we going to do so.  This discussion will involve all stakeholders: staff, board, parents, students and community.

During the process, one of the questions a teacher had was very insightful – she asked if we would ever be completely finished with this work.  I asked what the group thought the answer to that question would be and there was a resounding, “NO.” I responded affirmatively; this work will never be complete if we do it correctly. We will always be in a mode of reflection and growth.  Our world is ever evolving, and we must evolve with it as an educational entity. Our business is developing human capital and it is the most critical business, our community, and society in general, depends on us to always improve our practice and prepare our students for an uncertain future.  We will always be more than an A, B, C, D, or F and WE want to tell our own story.

 

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