School & District Management Opinion

Good Schools Start With Good Goals

By Tom Vander Ark — December 18, 2012 5 min read
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Good schools start with good goals. I really like the goal statements from Danville Schools, a small district south of
Lexington, Ky.:

  • POWERFUL LEARNING EXPERIENCES: Every Danville student will consistently experience classroom work and activities that are meaningful, engaging, and
    relevant, connecting to students’ interests and/or previous knowledge.

  • GLOBAL PREPAREDNESS: Every Danville student will be immersed each day in learning opportunities intentionally designed to develop skills such as
    critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and data analysis, enabling them to compete globally.

  • GROWTH FOR ALL: Every Danville student, regardless of starting point, will achieve at least one year of academic progress in reading and mathematics
    each school year.

  • EXCELLENCE IN COMMUNICATION: Every Danville student will be provided regular and multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning through verbal and
    written communications, visual and performing arts, and the use of multiple forms of technology.

  • AN INFORMED & INVOLVED COMMUNITY: The Danville Schools will establish effective two-way communication, in various forms, with all stakeholders in
    the community.

I love the fact that this starts with learning experiences. I don’t talk about curriculum anymore because there are so many dated mental models associated
with that word. I prefer to think about a linked sequence of experiences -- increasingly a combination of a standards-aligned customized playlist and hands
on, community connected, team based projects that culminate in quality multimedia products.

Superintendent Carmen Coleman said, “Project-based learning immerses students in meaningful experiences that teach them to think critically, problem-solve
and adapt, just to name a few of those most essential skills.”

I love the global preparedness in this statement and exhibited by, her team, and her board. They are widely read and have visited schools coast to coast.

I appreciate their focus on growth--for all students.

I love the focus on writing and communication--it’s the right college and career focus.

I love their connection to the community.

Danville Schools serve about 1,800 students, about two thirds live in or near poverty.

Kentucky students have benefited from thoughtful leadership for years. After former Kentucky chief Gene Wilhoit took over CCSSO, he created a national network of districts called the Partnership for Next Generation Learning. Danville was one of
six Kentucky districts to join. Wilhoit said about innovations in Danville,
“We are interested in supporting this kind of program at the national level.”

In 2009, the district connected with the nonprofit Buck Institute for Education, a leading authority on project-based learning. In 2010, the district sent
a team of teachers and administrators to High Tech High. Project-based learning class combining freshman science and language arts started in 2010. Student
“Presentations of Learning” started in 2011. A team visited three leading schools in New York City including the School of One.

Bate Middle School and Danville High School participate in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) initiative. Math teachers use Khan Academy and ALEKS assessment
and instruction software incorporated to individualize math learning.

The reforms Coleman put in place in the last three years seem to be working. They are one of the most improved districts in Kentucky in college and career

I appreciate the school board describing what comes with a Danville Diploma:

  • Intentional experiences to equip students with skills to persevere when faced with challenges; value and exercise creativity; discover how critical
    thinking skills are used across disciplines; become a functioning member of a team; exercise effective communication and presentation skills;
    understand the importance of taking initiative; learn about various aspects of leadership and develop those skills; adapt and problem solve; manage
    time and create a plan for accomplishing a task or goal; know how to find reliable and accurate information; and analyze, synthesize and make
    inferences from data

  • A requirement to demonstrate readiness to move to the next level at specific transition points (grades 5, 8, and 11) by demonstrating growth and
    development as a learner and productive, contributing member of the school and larger community

  • Meaningful, in-depth experiences for students with service learning and career interests as well as on-going opportunities to experience and explore
    both visual and performing arts

  • Opportunities each year for students to plan for successful pathways for both college and career, starting no later than fifth grade, with the purpose
    of being exposed to as many options as possible

  • A requirement to take either an Advanced Placement (AP) or college-level course and the opportunity to earn career certification

  • Opportunities for students, beginning in kindergarten, to become conversant in one language other than English or their native language, with the
    chance to explore others

  • Learning through meaningful projects and taking part in meaningful processes to develop deeper understandings

  • Opportunities to become financially literate, both on a personal level and within the larger economy

  • An understanding of using social media responsibly including possible consequences when appropriate judgment is not utilized; and

  • Development of what it means to be a responsible citizen, and a deep sense of connection to the Danville community.

That’s a great set of graduation requirements! To recap, it includes productive habits of mind, competency-based progression, college and career
preparation, financial and digital literacy, service learning and preparation for citizenship.

The board and superintendent want active learners. They believe, “education works best when students and families are full and active partners in defining
the challenges and opportunities they want to tackle.”

Kentucky chief Terry Holliday
wants to see more “unbridled learning.” He’s likely to see more of it in Danville.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.