As promised, WSSD has put up its first April committee meeting on Youtube – the April 12th Educational Affairs Meeting. They’ve done a great job technically. The audio was clearly understandable and having the slides on the screen helps to follow along. The microphone positioning probably could be better, it does pick up background sound, but the speakers were clear though it can be hard to know who’s speaking. There was a sound hiccup or two, but nothing major. It worked.
There was a great deal of talk about learning journeys, which is what they’re calling their trips to other educational institutions. The first discussion was about the trip to High Tech High, which is a small San Diego, California charter school. This was an expensive trip by several district staff that I’ve heard several complaints about from other parents (it cost somewhere around $30k). The situation of High Tech High seemed not analogous to our district’s situation (they get to pick their students, better state funding, charter school, etc.) and it’s an unrealistic comparison given the limited resources WSSD has available. The presentation also used a lot of jargon.
After listening to the presentation, it’s still not clear to me this required a trip across the country. There are similarly elite schools in the Philly area or elsewhere on the eastern seaboard with interesting curriculums. The project-based learning discussed is mentioned at a number of Pennsylvania schools in a short google search. Teachers seeing what teachers are doing elsewhere in person is productive, definitely, but I’m not sure the administration has justified the expense of traveling across the country. It’s not great for the district’s carbon footprint or budget.
Nannett Whitsett’s questions continue to be helpful. Her question, “What does project based learning mean to you?” led to teachers giving specific examples explaining it more clearly than the administration’s presentation. It’s a simple question, but it’s the kind of fundamental question meaningful to the general public that easily gets missed by a board full of insiders. I really liked hearing these specifics.
Compare that to educational professional Mary Jo Witkowski-Smith’s question about how the students do on standardized testing. It’s the wrong framing. The question is, are the students learning something useful? What are the outcomes, are graduates successful? The administrator that answered did give outcomes first and then standardized test results. It’s encouraging to hear they’re looking at outcomes more than increasingly discredited standardized testing.
I think it was Rachel Holbert that asked about the school’s selectivity (they pick their students), which I thought it was a good question, and Christine Dolle asked about special ed (or rather it’s lack thereof) and how the destination was chosen.
The second part was about the University of Chicago Lab School. Wikipedia says it’s a private school with a tuition of up to $40k/year where half of students are children of University of Chicago employees. It’s absurd to reference a school with vastly more resources where most are the children of academics as a model for WSSD. I’m sure it was a delightful place, but it’s unrealistic. What’s possible in a school with double the funding and where at least half the children’s parents have postgraduate degrees is not going to be reproducible here.
After this was a series of schools looking at space use, starting with Ephrata High and Middle School, which is in Lancaster not far from here. Unlike the two before, this one’s a similar school that recently went through a process similar to what WSSD is attempting. There were examples of how they repurposed their spaces.
Next was a series of schools looking at maker spaces at nearby schools, so a very specific aspects of education. The next school was Germantown Academy, another up to $40k/student private school, this one also close to home. I’m sure they have a very nice maker space, but again, vastly different resources available there. After that was Downingtown STEM Academy, which is a public school but like first one it’s one you have to apply for admission so it’s a selective school and it’s an IB school, so the curriculum is significantly different. But the resources available are probably more comparable. After that was a school I think they got the name slightly wrong, I think it was actually Technical College High School Brandywine Campus, which is another selective public school, though the equipment described there is out of our price range. After that was Abington High School, which I think is a regular public school and seemed more comparable than most of the others.
Last was Peirce Middle School (misspelled in slides) in West Chester looking at one of their STEM programs. And then there were a series of professional conferences district staff attended.
Finally, there was a strategic plan update, which has more up to date information than the strategic planning website the school district set up, but the presentation is available on the website here. There wasn’t much detail beyond the timeline, past and present.
If you want to hear more about the learning journeys, you can check it out on Youtube.
Categories: Government, WSSD