Over the holiday break, I had the time to reflect on this past year and all the changes that have come to Jeffco Public Schools, and to also consider our future. 2017 marked a number of seismic changes in Jeffco. This past spring, the Board of Education decided to make a change in the leadership of the organization and began searching for a new superintendent.
As I came to Jeffco this summer, the biggest question loomed around what would be the long-term strategic direction for Jeffco Public Schools. This question was dependent on what collective vision would emerge from the community, the board, and me as the new leader. I spent much of July and August crisscrossing the county in an effort to understand context and build relationships. For me, the adage “seek to understand” was strongly present as I worked to get to know Jeffco and what hopes and fears were present in our community.
In the fall, the community began considering the direction our schools would take through the Board of Education elections. Ultimately, three incumbent candidates prevailed in November, effectively stabilizing Jeffco Public Schools’ governance for at least the next four years.
During this same time, I was working heavily on a new vision document for our schools which sought to build on the district’s previous strategic plan, but also to clarify a bold new path for our students, staff, and community. That document, Jeffco Generations, was released in mid-October and we have been engaged in a community-wide discussion about it since then.
The big idea behind Generations is to change the student experience – an intentional effort to make our students’ experience authentic, meaningful, and engaging to prepare the kinds of complex work they will need to perform as adults. Generations takes a different approach to school reform than many past efforts in that it goes directly to the student experience and asks us to create something profoundly different, because if our efforts to change education do not impact how our students experience learning, then we really have not changed anything at all.
As the Generations document was discussed in our schools and community this fall, the ideas within it were (for the most part) well received. Questions did arise around a few concepts, such as how to balance the importance of skills (such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation) with content knowledge (facts and key concepts). Questions also arose about the best ways to leverage and use technology in learning, how we would measure our success, and in what order the proposed changes would be sequenced. Other questions emerged on how we support existing and successful programs, while embracing the “entrepreneurial spirit” and innovation called for in the document. Rather than derail our progress, these questions served to sharpen our future direction.
Now, as we turn the page and look forward into this new year, I’m incredibly excited and optimistic about Jeffco Public Schools and where we are headed. We will put ambiguity behind us, and lean into the challenging, exciting, and delightful work of changing the learning experiences for our students. We surge forth into this new era, propelled by the hope for what is possible, and our love for our children.