Monday, October 27, 2014

NCAC in Washington, DC--Reflections

It was very productive this past weekend to spend some time with colleagues both old and new in the Hyatt Crystal City outside of our nation's capitol. The occasion was the annual conference of the National Career Academy Coalition.

My school will be the first online school in the world, to the best of my knowledge, to gain accreditation under the NCAC National Standards of Practice. This requires satisfying members of a review committee and will likely not happen until at least 2016, when we are currently scheduled to undergo review. There's a lot of work to do prior to that.

But my last post was about an accreditation, so I'm steering clear of that topic for now. What I want to do is briefly detail my experiences at the sessions I attended, all of which, without exception, were in the lecture format. This is not an adverse criticism, though it may sound so. I have thought for years that a format that encourages interaction between the participants/attendees would demonstrate leadership by example in the professional development arena, and after years of providing alternatives in the way of "Playground" sessions at ISTE conferences, I have come to settle for the fact that "this is the way we've always done it" may actually be the best way to do it, at least for educators who can actually do get something out of "sit and git."

So, that said, however inelegantly, here are the sessions that I attended, along with notes and insights gained:

Friday:
9:00 - Teacher Externships: Bringing Relevancy to Student Learning; Dayna Paine, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System; Becky Padgett, Academic Coach
This was a most interesting session, as Ms. Paine shared a well-thought-out and successful program geared to fill in an experiential gap not in students, but in teachers. She explained that most of her teachers had come to teaching through the regular pathway, high school, college, then to teach. Many have not had varied experiences in other working conditions, at least not in full-time, career minded ways. My main takeaways were that roles of all sets of participants need to be explicit and clear from the outset, and that the externship relationships are intended to be maintained throughout the school year. The "collatoral skills" teachers experience and maybe even learn can make what they do in the classroom all that much more valid and real for their students.

10:30 - The Academy Model in an Alternative Setting: The Roosevelt Way; Dr. Heidi Houy, Principal, Roosevelt Learning Center; Jennifer Carson, Academy School Counselor, Rockford Public Schools
This session was close to my heart, since as we work toward the brass ring of accreditation, we struggle with many of the same issues of practice that any Alternative school will find. Roosevelt has come a long way in their implementation of the Academies model in spite of that. Clearly their ongoing response to Theodore Roosevelt's call to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" informs that. The transience of their student population, their practice of meeting each student where they learn and how they learn, and their robust community partnerships all weigh in toward success of their program. And it is a program, though the school diploma is the same one that students in a regular brick and mortar school receive. That said, with 1200 students moving through their system a year, in one way or another, they are working to give students who rarely get the attention they need the special small learning community that Academies can provide. Dr. Houy came from Special Education into Administration and if she had not told us that I would certainly have been able to guess it. She cares and does so in a proactive way. I was most impressed by her adaptations of the Academies Model to the Alternative School setting.

12:15 - Lunch and Keynote Speaker; Roberto J. Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, White House Domestic Policy Council; Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; Portia Wu, Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration
Mr. Rodriguez came in after our Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer for our MNPS (and, I was proud to learn, incoming President of NCAC!), had pitched some policy questions to our other guests. The answers were predictable but supportive. Mr. Rodriguez also preached to the choir, though I don't think anyone in the room was expecting anything otherwise. He mentioned that President Obama has visited not only our McGavock High School but several other schools across the nation, drilling down to the student level to help inform policy by what works. Disclaimer: I still believe in President Obama, despite his famously low approval ratings these days. I think history will be kind to his Presidential service, especially in the light of mostly successful opposing partisan blockages. If the country is polarized, I am just left of middle but absolutely nowhere to the right. I like his style and his humor and his effort to do well in a bad system. Watch this and see if you can do so with a dry eye.

2:00 - Melting Pot Marketing; Beverley Flatt, Program Manager (for the Academies of Nashville), Metro Nashville Public Schools
This was one of my favorite sessions, and only 20 minutes long. It was "sit and git," but a modified version since it was one of three sessions that could be chosen during the hour as participants rotated between 7 sessions. I spoke with two presenters who told me they had prepared for one hour sessions, so as you can imagine Bev talked fast. And she had alot to say. Her scientific research into the amazingly diverse Nashville community demographic and the appropriate ways to market to each of them is nothing short of brilliant. Raised eyebrows and smiles announced surprised learning around the table. Here's our Beverley's Prezi so you can learn too.

I was sooo tired of sitting down that I took a long walk down to Harris Teeter during the final session. There were some good ones offered though, with topics covering:
  • New software for career and education planning
  • Leadership practices for National Standards of Practice
  • Georgia Career Academies
  • School Counselors in academy settings
  • Career Academies and afterschool programs
  • Engaging business partners
  • and another software demo, from ConnectEd Studios
  • Monday morning units
  • Critical skills for career readiness
  • Lessons learned developing Career Academies
  • Developing a State network of Academies
I wish I'd gone to at least one of these, but the excellent thing is that many, if not most, of the presenters have uploaded their presentations for download.  I still have the NCAC conference app and will take a good look at what I can.

From 5:00-6:00 There was a "Speed Networking" session, billed as being like Speed Dating, and it would have been fun to watch but no one I knew went to it. I wonder how it went. Anyone go? Comment here if you did.

Saturday:
  I had room service breakfast, which cost me my entire per diem for the day but was pretty tasty. Then I jumped right into it:
  • I next attended (Innovation) Developing Workplace Internships: PG&E Energy Academy Summer Internship Program; Geneve Villacres, Community Relations, Pacific Gas and Electric Company; and Jerry Winthrop, Lead Consultant, California Department of Education. This session was an engaging look at a big program, statewide, really, and uniquely designed to deal with the rapidly graying demographic of their current skilled workforce. Though we don't have an Energy Academy, learning the way this huge project was implemented and has developed was heartening. I'm sure there are similar situations in Business and Marketing and that we can help provide skilled workers in this field and I will keep those methods in mind as we proceed. I was sure to leave my card with the capable Ms. Villacres since they did not upload their presentation and they promised sharing with those who reached out in that way.
  • I tried to attend the "Recent Research on Career Academies" but it was very slow paced "sit and git" describing research solely conducted in California and I needed something more "git up and go." So I went to what had been my first choice anyway, something unfortunately typo-titled in both catalog and app as "Managing by Manage: Team Work in Nashville" Huh? Just goes to show that no matter how many sets of eyes you get on a document things can slip through. However, this was my friends and colleagues and I wouldn't have missed it even if the data talk had been more hands-on or broadly based. Whitney Weeks, VP, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; Chaney Moseley, Director for the Academies of Nashville; and Matt Seaton, Director of the Pencil Foundation, tag teamed around the topic of the big overarching Leadership Councils they have created and improved to further focus the work between Business and Education Community Partners who support the Academies of Nashville. I was interested to see the reactions of attendees from Montana, Illinois, Hawaii, and a couple of other places, to the suggestion that this really effective system might be helpful in their settings. First of all, none could summon up a local organization that might fill the role(s) filled by Pencil Foundation in Nashville. Some seem to have strong disconnections between what their students need and what the community can provide, and imho I feel that Leadership Councils could help with this. Nonetheless it was fun to see these three more or less sardonically play off one another and I could tell that their presentation was both entertaining the attendees and challenging them to think. I'm grateful to work with them if not daily, at least regularly.
  • Lunch was on your own ("Who doesn't serve lunch at a conference on Saturday?" was the question posed by one of my fellow lunch explorers) and we met at Italia Cafe Italia in a quaint strip of mostly ethnic restaurants on 23rd Street, just a few long blocks away from the hotel. I don't think the food was all that good--my "Caesar salad" was iceberg lettuce and dry sliced chicken breast but the Calzone was reportedly good. The best thing was that my nephew Ed drove down from his home and met us and I got to chat for an hour with him and have him meet four of my Academies colleagues. 
  • Back at the conference playing field, I hit "Teaching Game Development in High School;" Eric Preisz, CEO, GarageGames, LLC. This vendor-delivered session surely enlightened me and I learned a bit, and though we don't have an IT academy (yet) we do have a Gamers' Club and this might be something of interest to them. I know the development structure I learned may be of great use in any development project. I'm pretty sure it flew over the heads of some in attendance, though, and when it was just about to wind up I headed out for a bio break.
  • By then we were down to the last session, and since I was somewhat sleep deprived from a great night eating, laughing and hiking 4.79 miles (yes, Beverley measured it) I went upstairs and took a power nap, which turned out to be a good thing since I was about to have a very decent roasted chicken dinner at the NCAC Awards Banquet, ending with Nashville receiving the first ever Model Community award, all 50 or so of us onstage (will add pic when I can find it!), then walk to Bar Louie with my colleagues to have tasty adult beverages and play "HeadsUp" on our iPhones. Another late, but fun night

Hiking to the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument
The conference was over, and so am I.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Accreditation! Check!

Yesterday MNPS Virtual School rounded out two days of intensive review by a four person visiting committee from AdvanceED, the accreditation organization which handles Continuous Improvement model review for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The extensive review process was described afterward by one of our Academy of Business and Marketing partners, who had undergone it herself, as "maybe more intense than writing my [Masters] dissertation." It involves weeks of collaborative work within the organization, compiling documentary evidence that the school meets or exceeds a set of criteria set by the reviewing organization, which serves over 32,000 schools in 173 countries. The process needs be driven by a single person in the school but everyone in the team is tapped to help provide evidential  documentation. Dr. Witty was the driver, and our "small but mighty" Executive Leadership team, aided by most of our Adjunct v-Teachers, contributed.

In order to even begin compiling said evidence, long meetings with a detailed self-evaluation tool were held in order to identify which kinds of documentation may be needed for each individual element in an extensive rubric. 

During the visit, the four team members from AdvanceED scheduled and held separate interview sessions with stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, faculty, and administration. They sequestered themselves in a conference room for hours, also spending time meeting off-campus in their hotel, discussing and debating findings toward preparing an exit review report rooted in consensus.

At around 2:30 yesterday, Dr. Karla Gable, the leader of the review team, reported out. She presented our brief "External Review Exit Report for Digital Learning Institutions." Toward the end, Dr. Gable shared what AdvancED calls their "Index of Education Quality, "a set of numbers that represent the review findings in quantitative ways so that they can be compared with those achieved by all of those many schools in their system. Our scores in each of the free domains, "Teaching and Learning Impact," "Leadership Capacity," and "Resource Utilization," were very significantly higher than the averages. I won't detail those but I will share that our overall score was 337.80 and the AE Network average overall score is 282.79. The final slide in her PowerPoint set proclaimed the news:

Dr. Karla Gable prepares to present final findings
MNPSVS recommendation

We had done it. The information we had collected and shared in a massive Dropbox folder, then summarized in a 43 slide PowerPoint of our own on Monday, had clearly demonstrated that we deserve to be among the digital learning institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The committee team's report further noted a few things, including that the strides toward excellence we have made over our brief life as a program and a school--these at other districts have only been made with both funding levels and staffing levels at 3 or 4 times the ones we have had in place. Either we are very efficient or we are very lucky. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two. And we are blessed to be led by Dr. James Witty, our Executive Principle, who is organized to a tee and completely knowledgeable about how Continuous Improvement philosophies and concepts drive a school to excellence.

Our team is very special, and by that I mean not only our core Leadership team--I extend that description to everyone in the school, all the stakeholders, all of us. Importantly, now that we have distinguished our school in this way we can return our full attention to exercising the continuous improvement we have demonstrated thus far. Thank you, AdvanceED, SACS, and Metro Nashville Public Schools. We're on it.

Over and out,
Scott
Cross-posted from MNPS Virtual School