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Updated: Mar 22, 2018

This semester I have experimented by integrating a strategic planning course and a resource allocation course for a second-year cohort of doctoral students.

Dr. Mark Ecker, a retired superintendent and I have built this integrated course around a project-based learning module related to paradigm shifts. We tasked teams of students to create a school district that best addresses the new education paradigm brought about by globalization and technology. We prepared them by delivering the concepts of strategic planning and resource allocation with the assistance of a dozen guest lectures, each focused on some dimension of the new education paradigm, delivered by current or past superintendents and education scholars. The content for the course is informed by readings unlike most education courses. While peer-reviewed stalwarts such as the American Journal of Education, the Journal of Educational Change, the Journal of Education Finance, and the Journal of Educational Administration are referenced, students in this course are mostly informed by The Economist, World Economic Forum reports, the World Bank’s Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, the Harvard Business Review, the Education Policy Analysis Archives, the Journal of Corporate Citizenship, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Journal of Law, Economics & Organization.

We also rely on reports from organizations such as the US-China Business Council. Whether it’s global citizenship, competence, competitiveness, or overcapacity, China is part of every global-centric conversation.

As the semester winds down and the project presentations are coming together it appears as though the freedom to create has been a welcome challenge for our students. Our students who “get it” will take from this experience an understanding that a reformer who strives to meet the needs of the future by manipulating the past paradigm instead of building a model to support the emerging paradigm are reckless and not suited to accept the challenges of the superintendency. I refer to such people as 'Pretenducators' (loosely combine pretender and educator). Massive youth unemployment and a global talent shortage disproportionately effects minority and lower socioeconomic levels of students. Education leaders must be champions of equity – first and foremost. Dr. Ecker and I expect the school districts our cohort of students are creating, to be designed to model global competence by focusing on equity, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

That leads to the questions: What is global competence and what exactly is a 21st Century learner learning? We can all agree on the global part. It’s generally defined as the ability (acquire the skill set) to thrive in a culturally and nationally borderless society. At a School Board Study Session this past Thursday, April 14, 2016 in my school district, hundreds of parents and community members crowded the board room for a 2-hour session to learn about our plan to produce 21st Century learners [Full disclosure: school consolidation was part of the discussion too and perhaps that too inspired attendance :) ]. It was an enlightening experience for me. Not only was the participation rate the highest it’s ever been according to local historians (close to 50-times greater than then our usual Board meetings) but there was passion in the room. The level of genuine interest was palpable and inspired me to continue my work. We are having this conversation as a District because we are at a crossroads.

Fourteen years of declining enrollment has left us in the unenviable position of playing catch-up. And when you’re trying to catch-up you’re obviously not in the lead. We aspire to lead, not follow. To that end, we have spent the majority of this school year studying ourselves so that we can become a destination district for our community and the greater San Gabriel Valley region.

Kurt Lewin, the father of Change Theory wrote, “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”

Since I have been the superintendent I have come to truly understand my District. I have learned that our collective community is poised and ready to become a model school district that others can only hope and aspire to replicate. Throughout the strategic planning process, which will produce our 5-year strategic plan to be known as the Competitive Advantage Plan, we have collected over 5,000 surveys and focus-group responses to the ultimate question:

Of the myriad of things schools are expected to do, what is your highest priority? The answer in a nutshell was produce students who are prepared for the 21st Century and all that it encompasses.

Now, back to the second part of the question: What exactly is a 21st Century learner learning? At a recent Saturday workshop attended by a community-based strategic planning development group, the approximately 50-person team defined their expectations for how we should prepare our students for the 21st Century. There were lots of things, as you might imagine. But the bottom line was to abandon misguided policies and practices that threaten our student’s futures, encourage standardization and homogeneity, and produce robotic test takers. Instead they want us to adopt polices and practices that stimulate innovation, cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents such as creativity and critical thinking, and create learning spaces and environments that foster collaboration and allow such policies and practices to flourish.

In other words, they want us to build 21st Century schools that produce 21st Century students.

So, we're doing it. After all, we are servants.

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