Since its October release, our community has been engaged in a conversation about Jeffco Generations, the district vision document. The discussions happened in person and electronically over social media. They happened inside and outside of our schools, and they happened in both one-on-one and in large group conversations.
Overall, my professional assessment is that the Generations vision was well-received in Jeffco. This is not particularly surprising (at least to me) as it was written after several months of listening and learning about Jeffco to understand the district’s past strategic direction and the community’s aspirations for our schools.
However, three important tensions did emerge in those conversations. In some ways, these tensions represent conflicts over values and philosophies when it comes to education and what our hopes are for our students. For us to move forward, as a community, it is important we find a resolution to these tensions and a clear direction for our schools.
The first tension was between those who favored a fact-based, teacher-directed, and content-focused (acquiring key facts and knowledge) form of learning versus those who favored hands-on experience and student-directed learning focused more on solving complex problems or completing projects. The problem with both these characterizations is that neither is entirely accurate. A content-focused (or core-knowledge) education can, and should, also entail rich student experiences. A student-centered and problem/project-based approach works best when students have important and key foundational knowledge.
In essence, we need both a clear academic curriculum aligned to high standards and an authentic, meaningful, and engaging student experience. So, the solution to this tension is balance and trying to find a way our students can have both.
The second tension that emerged was the appropriate place for educational technology in the learning experience. On one hand, we know it is possible to transform learning with technology – students can create, interact, publish, learn, and collaborate with devices in a way not possible in an entirely analog and paper-based world. We also know our students will need to live and compete in a technology-rich world and we need to prepare them for that. However, concerns were raised about our students losing the ability to have real (versus electronic) relationships, and that it was important that students be able to write things by hand. Some research even indicates that retention of information is increased when we write things down.
Again, the solution we need is a balance. We do need to embrace technology and how it can change the learning experience, teach students how to navigate the digital landscape, and better prepare our students for their future. We also want our students to form genuine and real in-person relationships and to be able to write things down by hand when needed. In short, our students need both.
The final tension that emerged related to pursuing innovations versus supporting our existing programs. In any organization, a tension between the new and innovative and the core existing functions exists, and there is danger in focusing too much on one or the other. Too much focus on innovation can lead to distraction by the latest shiny object and the investment of a great deal of time and energy into things that may not necessarily pan out. Alternatively, an over-focus on what you already have can lead to stagnation.
Again, our solution is balance. We must find ways to take calculated and empirically-based risks. We must also support and invest in our existing programs and services. Innovation moves us toward breakthroughs and greater efficiencies. Investment in our core services keeps us aligned with best practices and ensures our students are getting the best we have to offer.
Going forward, we will be releasing a strategic plan in March aligned with the Generations vision, which will set us on a multi-year journey to greatness. To get there, we will need to find balance.
Jeffco’s kids deserve all we can give them and for us to be all we can as a community and school system, we must work to see the world more in terms of “and,” and less in terms of “or.”
I’m excited about our schools, our community, and what the future holds for our kids. Please continue to stay engaged in this important work in the days and months ahead and, on behalf of all of us with Jeffco Public Schools, thank you for the opportunity to serve your family!