Week of: February 20, 2012
I mentioned several months ago how principals and teacher leadership teams across Leander ISD came together to answer some critical questions: What is it in classrooms that creates a high level of student engagement? What is it that causes students to be enthusiastic about their learning? What is it that we can do to best help students achieve our vision of all students exiting our system with a passion for learning? In short, what is “It”?
In our quest to define “It,” we identified Seven Student Learning, or “It,” Behaviors that we believe are keys to ensuring students have ownership in their learning. This week, I will give you a couple of examples of how the Seven Student Learning Behaviors support success in two innovative programs.
Destination ImagiNation (DI), a school-sponsored, creative problem-solving program open to students in grades three-12. We say that DI is not a program, it’s a process because competitions are the culmination of many hours students have spent, often after school and on weekends, creating theatrical scenarios, building props and making costumes, all of which must come together and solve complex problems. Students involved in DI must create and design their solutions, without adult assistance, and include all of the elements necessary to bring it to life.
On Saturday, February 18, hundreds of students, comprised of 78 teams, competed at the 2012 Destination ImagiNation (DI) Regional Competition at Harker Heights High School. Historically, our students excel at DI, and this year was no different. From the regional tournament, we are proud to send seven DI teams — from Block House Creek Elementary, Steiner Ranch Elementary, Wiley Middle School, Cedar Park High School (two teams), Rouse
High School and Vista Ridge High School — on to the state competition in Corpus Christi in April.
At the same time, after months of hard work and numerous competitions, roughly 30 LISD students from Cedar Park, Leander and Vandegrift high schools are traveling to San Antonio this week to represent LISD at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge regional robotics championship.
Last September, these students began to design robots that could manipulate bowling balls, racquet balls and small crates, and scale ramps and stack objects in order to score enough points to qualify for each competition. Trust me when I say that the robots they created are very impressive. But even more amazing is the level of understanding in math, engineering, computer science and teamwork required to make the robots. On top of that, as with DI, the majority of the work that went into these robots was done outside of school.
It goes without saying that the Seven Student Learning Behaviors are central to the success of both DI and the FIRST Tech Challenge. These programs require students to dig deep within themselves to own their own learning, understand the challenges they must overcome, collaborate and communicate effectively with others, self-assess on their progress, problem-solve to improve their results and use higher-level thinking and creativity to create something that accomplishes their goals successfully. Success is completely in the hands of the students, which can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of DI and the FIRST Tech Challenge.
One of the most important Learning Behaviors students exhibit in DI and the FIRST Tech Challenge is that of collaboration. It takes a considerable amount of teamwork to successfully prepare a DI solution or program a robot. Students have to learn to listen to each other and consider opinions other than their own, which also requires a certain level of maturity. At the same time, DI and the FIRST Tech Challenge push students to plot the course for their own success and learn outside of the classroom setting.
Whether students are honing their computer programming skills or mastering costume design, students involved in DI and the FIRST Tech Challenge are gaining skills that they will use throughout the rest of their lives. These programs encourage students to flex their Seven Student Learning Behaviors muscle— they are what “It” is all about.
To all of our state-bound DI teams and regional robotics contenders, we wish you the best of luck at the next level of competition.
Have a great week!
Week of: February 20, 2012
Now that the Leander ISD Board of Trustees has named Florence W. Stiles Middle School (FSMS), the district is working diligently to get Leander ISD’s newest campus up, running and ready for students next fall. If you’ve had a chance to drive past the campus on 3250 Barley Road in Leander, you will note that it is a beautiful school. The inside hallways and classrooms are even more impressive with brightly painted walls and plenty of natural light.
This week, FSMS Principal Susan Cole has spent a considerable amount of time meeting with students and parents to introduce herself and tell them a little bit about the new campus. Whenever a new school opens, the first classes that begin there are given special responsibilities that set them apart from all of the other classes that will come through it in the years to come. During her visits, Ms. Cole has been asking students to consider what mascots and colors they like best because as is tradition in LISD, the first classes will have the opportunity to vote on the school’s colors and mascot. Once the new school year begins, the first classes will be asked to establish the traditions that will make Stiles Middle School a distinct and vibrant center for learning. The younger students will look to the first eighth-grade for leadership and to be role models. Together, the first classes will come together to create their own community with a unique sense of school spirit and pride. As you might imagine, it’s a pretty exciting experience.
At the same time, we know that starting a new school can sometimes be a little nerve-wracking for students. As if being in middle school weren’t enough, there will be a new building to learn and new teachers to meet. To ensure that every school in LISD is the best that it can be, the district never opens a new school with an entire staff that is new to LISD. Our culture is too important. So, this spring current LISD teachers and staff will have the opportunity to request a transfer to Stiles Middle School. Once that is complete, we will begin hiring new staff for the new middle school. This process has proven to give new LISD campuses a nice mix of seasoned and new-to-profession staff, and almost guarantees that FSMS students will see a familiar face or two on the first day of school.
While the Stiles Middle School won’t be open for visits until late spring, current fifth-grade students who are zoned to attend there next fall will have the chance to visit Henry Middle School and Wiley Middle School to learn about electives because all LISD middle schools offer the same classes. Ms. Cole will attend these campus visits also to answer any questions.
I have no doubt that FSMS will live up to the high academic and extracurricular standards set by our other seven middle schools. Ms. Cole’s goal is to build a positive school climate that focuses on student learning, fosters creativity and critical thinking, and promotes high standards of ethics and character.
And like all LISD campuses, our parents will play a huge role in the success of Stiles Middle School. As principal, Ms. Cole values collaboration, whether it’s with parents, teachers or community members, and will use those interactions to create a positive, collaborative culture, with a constant focus on student learning. FSMS is already in the early stages of forming a PTA. If your child is zoned to attend FSMS and you are interested in learning about the PTA, you may attend the first preliminary meeting on Tuesday, April 10, at 6 p.m. at Wiley Middle School. As the new school year gets closer, there will be numerous other volunteer opportunities for parents of Stiles Middle School students. Stay tuned for more details.
When Stiles Middle School opens its doors next fall, it will join the 36 other campuses which comprise LISD to form solid foundations of excellence.
Have a great week!
P.S. For more information about Florence W. Stiles and Officer Leonard A. Reed, whom Elementary #24 was named after, please visit www.leanderisd.org.
Week of: February 13, 2012
Last week, on the heels of Leander ISD’s Continuous Improvement Conference, I had the privilege of sitting in on students’ COOL (Career Opportunities on Location) Week internships at SHW Architects, along with KVUE and the Texas Film Commission, where I too got an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to have a career in journalism, radio, TV and film. Not only did I have a lot of fun talking with students about their experiences, but I also saw firsthand how beneficial it is for LISD students to work alongside professionals to better understand the school-to-career connection.
COOL Week lets students “try on” a potential career for five days in February. All last week you could find LISD students job-shadowing professionals here in our local community, to as far away as the Houston area, doing everything from planning special events, writing computer programs and even caring for exotic wildlife. During COOL Week, students experience how specific occupations are preformed and see what types of skills, education and training are required to be successful in professions that interest them. After it is over, students often decide whether that particular career aligns with their personal goals. COOL Week is a truly great experience for our students, and LISD is very thankful to the many business leaders who make this program a reality for our students.
In LISD we want our students to graduate high school college- and career-ready, meaning we must empower our students with the resources necessary to plan for their post-secondary opportunities. One of the most important resources students need for post-secondary success is an understanding of financial aid options. LISD, like most area districts, is hosting free Financial Aid Saturdays, presented by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, from 8:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. at each of our high school campuses to help students and their parents navigate the complicated application process. Upcoming locations and dates for Financial Aid Saturdays include Cedar Park High School on February 11, Vista Ridge High School on February 18, Rouse High School on February 25 and Vandegrift High School on March 3. Students and parents may attend any event.
Gearing up for the college experience isn’t just for high school students. In fact, the University of Texas at Austin is hosting Explore UT, an annual free open house for students of all ages and their families on Saturday, March 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. No registration is required to participate. Even if your collegiate loyalties lie outside of Longhorn country, you might consider going to Explore UT just to expose your children to its hundreds of innovative learning activities and exciting college atmosphere. Having a top-tier university right in our backyard is one of the greatest advantages to living in the LISD community, so don’t miss out on this great opportunity.
Our college- and career-readiness culture is pervasive throughout the district. All of our elementary schools are committed to seeing that all students graduate with every option open. Even our youngest students have opportunities to grow the skills necessary to be successful after high school. As part of that collective effort, Grandview Hills and Mason elementary schools have been working toward becoming International Baccalaureate schools. After an extensive application process, LISD is very proud to announce that Grandview Hills Elementary was notified that it is now officially an IB World School. As an IB World School, Grandview Hills Elementary is globally recognized for offering instruction that challenges our elementary students to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning. We applaud the motivated students and dedicated staff at Grandview Hills Elementary for all of the hard work they’ve poured into earning this prestigious distinction.
Whether a student pursues education at a two-year college, a trade school, a four-year university or a career in the armed services, LISD is giving our students the tools and resources necessary for success. Achieving a satisfying career takes years of education, planning, studying, training, hard work and, we believe, access to opportunities that include COOL Week, Financial Aid Saturdays, Explore UT and the rigorous LISD curriculum.
If you are interested in learning more about these programs and opportunities, please visit www.leanderisd.org
Have a great week!
Week of: February 6, 2012
This week, Leander ISD staff came together for our 19th Annual Continuous Improvement Conference. To help our participants refocus their attention on our shared vision, this year, the conference highlighted our definition of student learning, the Seven Student Learning Behaviors.
During my opening remarks, I reminded LISD that the Seven Student Learning Behaviors are here to stay. Seven years from now, we will achieve our vision that every student graduates with all options open, and we will do so by focusing on the Seven Student Learning Behaviors. These student behaviors are elemental in that they are a part of our efforts to close the achievement gap, to ensure all students are college- and career-ready and to focus on the whole student.
In LISD, we honor and celebrate that the majority of the sessions at Continuous Improvement Conference are run by LISD staff because we know that we learn best from each other. Countless LISD teachers shared their strategies for fostering the Seven Student Learning Behaviors in their classrooms. Whether they addressed how technology can be used to promote student collaboration or how to use differentiated instruction to keep students engaged, participants learned something new and practical to bring back to their schools and classrooms.
In addition to the hundreds of LISD staff-led sessions, this year we were fortunate to have Stephen Barkley, Dr. Rich Allen and David Langford as some of our featured speakers. These top-rated educational professionals addressed some of the pieces that produce student ownership of learning, the heart of the Seven Student Learning Behaviors, and pushed us to rethink the way we do business.
As the keynote speaker, Stephen Barkley challenged the entire LISD system to become a collegial environment where professionals come to work believing that the work of their colleagues impacts the work they do each day. He encouraged everyone to have a true team mentality. And while LISD already prides itself on being a district where teachers vertically and
horizontally collaborate, in a collegial environment, teachers are focused on ensuring that every student in their class is ready for the next grade level or course and does their best to support the grade level or course that feeds theirs. A collegial school district is where everyone believes they are responsible for every student in the district. This type of system-wide collaboration is exactly what we are about in LISD. And this idea is what makes the Continuous Improvement Conference such a beneficial experience for the entire district to be a part of. It is a powerful reminder that no matter what their job is, everyone in LISD comes to work to focus on student learning.
Our professional development conference is how we come together to put more resources in our instructional tool belt. For almost two decades, this conference has been the keystone of the LISD learning culture. We are fortunate to have three days in February to learn, grow and continuously improve our processes, and return revived and ready to finish the year strong. Moreover, we are blessed to give staff a chance to interact with employees from different campuses and departments and to hear colleagues, as well as leading educational experts, address key practices that will improve student learning.
On behalf of LISD, I would like to thank all of the presenters at this year’s Continuous Improvement Conference for sharing their insights into the Seven Student Learning Behaviors, and I would like to especially thank our special guests for offering their successful instructional practices. The LISD Continuous Improvement Conference would not have been the incredible learning opportunity that it was without their participation.
The Seven Student Learning Behaviors are our blueprint for ensuring that every student graduates with all options open. It is my firm belief that by cultivating the Seven Student Learning Behaviors within our students, we will give them the skills to be life-long learners today, tomorrow and beyond.
Have a great week!