Princeton City School District’s superintendent Dr. Thomas S. Tucker was named the 2016 AASA National Superintendent of the Year. We had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Tucker, a distinguished Blackboard partner, about his district’s challenges, successes, and goals.
Blackboard: What are the main challenges your district is facing in 2016?
Thomas: Like many school districts across our nation, Princeton schools face issues of inequity and poverty with more than sixty-five percent of our students receiving free or reduced priced meals.
One of the most important challenges is maintaining the momentum that we are creating to meet the instructional needs of each student every day. This endeavor takes great teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, board of education members, and other community members working diligently to create a school culture that allows each of our students to succeed.
Blackboard: What role does technology play in addressing these challenges?
Thomas: 21st century education technology is to American education what the Gutenberg press was to book publishing in Europe.
Used to support teaching and learning, technology infuses classrooms with digital devices that support learning 24 hours a day/seven days a week, builds 21st century skills and increases student engagement and motivation. Technology has the power to transform the way teachers instruct. Additionally, teachers are playing more of a facilitator or coaching type role (instead of the sage on the stage). And of course, this 21st century model of teaching and learning connects teachers to their students in an effort to improve instruction, engage students and personalize learning.
Blackboard: You mentioned that students are using devices outside and inside the classroom, and that the role of the teacher is changing dramatically. Do you have any specific examples of how your teachers are using technology to assist with personalized learning?
Thomas: Yes. We’re using digital learning tools such as laptops, Chromebooks or iPads, to make the classroom more personalized. These devices are helping us create blended classrooms. The best example of a blended classroom combines the traditional classroom with an online learning space in order to improve education for each student. This method is turning the traditional classroom on its head.
One of the best examples of blending learning is a flipped classroom, a teaching and learning model in which the typical lecture and homework element of a course are reversed. Video vignettes of a lecture are viewed by students at home before the class begins while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, enrichment or discussions.
In Princeton, students are also engaged in formative assessments. The data from the formative assessments may identify a group of students who may need additional instruction or enrichment.
Additionally, with the opening of Princeton’s Grade 6-12 Complex, our 21st century learning spaces seamlessly move students and teachers from group learning to individual learning resulting in interactive learning experiences that spawn creativity.
I also want to applaud Blackboard for enlarging its digital footprint across America. Currently we are using Blackboard as our website presence with plans to include internal and external communication, parental notifications, and sharing of instructional best practices inside and outside of our district.
Blackboard: That’s wonderful, glad to hear it. Do you have any specific results where students are performing better because of personalized learning?
Thomas: The professional goal this year of Sara Jones, a national board-certified math teacher at Princeton High School, was to impact instruction based on data. She has small data points throughout her unit and adjusts in each lesson two or three lesson plans and activities based on where the students score. This helps close the achievement gap based on the target differentiation within a single classroom.
Ron Fausnaugh, the principal at Glendale Elementary School, found that some of his ELL students were not staying for the provided tutoring that they needed to help achieve in the classroom. To address this need, he and some of his staff went to the apartment complex where many of his students lived. His willingness to go to the apartments resulted in parents sending their children to him at the apartment complex for the additional tutoring that was needed for these students. This particular group of students often has estranged relationships with the school, and Mr. Fausnaugh’s willingness to personalize his relationship with the students and parents illustrated his dedication for their success.
Blackboard: Excellent. Congratulations. How do you ensure your principals and teachers are embracing personalized learning?
Thomas: Personalized learning must support the mission and vision of the district. In support of our mission, vision, strategic plan and board adopted goals, Princeton schools embraces personalized learning which is a collaborative teaching and learning model that places the student in the center of the learning process.
Blackboard: Would you mind sharing the five key components that came out of the board meeting?
Worthington Schools District Goals 2014-15
THE WORTHINGTON ADVANTAGE
Vision for American Education – The United States will lead the world in equipping its young people with the education they need to succeed and compete in the labor market, reclaim the premier status worldwide for preparing students for life’s challenges, improve the quality of early childhood education, support teachers through professional development and mentoring, provide a greater emphasis on authentic assessment, foster support for critical thinking and other 21st century skills, and ensure that every student graduates.
Vision for Worthington City School District – The Worthington City School District will be nationally recognized for fostering innovative teaching and learning practices and instilling a passion for life-long learning in all students.
Standard 1: Vision, Continuous Improvement and Focus (All students will master 21st Century Skills and graduate college, career, and life ready)
By 2014-15, Worthington Schools will prepare all students to perform well on district, state, national and international assessments (sophomores will take the state-mandated PSAT assessment beginning in October of 2014). Most importantly, we will require our students to become productive citizens who give back to the Worthington community.
Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration
Standard 3: Policies and Governance:
Standard 4: Instruction
Standard 5: Resources
Blackboard: Congratulations on all of your accomplishments and for building great citizens. In summary, what advice would offer other superintendents or district administrators that are facing similar challenges to your district?
Thomas: First and foremost ensure that decisions that you are making collaboratively with your school constituents places the student in the center of the learning process. Secondly, survey your school community to ascertain what will help your students become college, career and life ready. And lastly, be patient! Ensure you have people going on this journey with you because this is indeed a journey and you should not go alone. I am reminded of this quote: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Blackboard: It seems like you’ve done a great job of creating that collaborative environment. It’s evident even in the small conversation that we’ve had today that your teachers and principals are on board, and then the students get excited and are learning and performing. What’s steps do you think other superintendents need to take if they haven’t even thought about approaching blended learning or communicating better with parents and feel overwhelmed?
Thomas: You have to be guided by the belief that we are in this business to do what is best for our students and community. When you go to bed at night you want to be able to say, “I did my absolute best. I did the work of my students and my school community.” If you do that, you’re going to be successful. That’s what has guided me. Although longevity in the superintendency has its place in our profession, it should never stand in the way of doing what is right for children.
Blackboard: That’s great advice. We love that you are focusing on your students. Keep up the great work. Thank you for talking with us today.This interview was conducted by Sarah Tomczyk, currently a K-12 marketing manager at Blackboard. Sarah is a former high school English teacher and is passionate about technology and its ability to positively impact student achievement.
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