Over the decade that Steve Webb has been superintendent in America’s Vancouver (VPS) the level of challenge has increased. Expectations have been raised, the student population has grown to more than 24,000 and a higher percentage of students live in or near poverty. Over 80 languages are spoken in the Portland suburb.
Home of the first school in the Northwest, Vancouver has been an education leader for 180 years. The school board association has selected Vancouver as a technology visitation site three times.
On many accounts, observers say Vancouver is “hitting it out of the park.” As a founding member of League of Innovative Schools and Future Ready districts, Vancouver has invested in technology, connectivity and leadership development. As a leader in ConnectED initiative, VPS has trained teachers to leverage digital tools effectively in the classroom. Instructional Technology Facilitators work with curriculum, mentor and special education teams to lead, teach and support innovation.
Webb led the VPS’ weLearn 1:1 which, with the support of the 2013 technology levy, led to deploying devices and digital resources to student, and professional learning opportunities for teachers. He often talks about “going slow to go fast,” and they’ve made a huge amount of progress in under his leadership, said Sara Shapiro, who directs the League of Innovative Schools.
VPS is recognized as a leader in the innovative library/librarian movement under the leadership of Webb and chief digital officer Mark Ray.
Webb’s commitment to wraparound services stems from his own experience growing up in poverty. Two years after becoming superintendent, Webb created “opportunity zones” in 16 highly impacted schools. They set aside space for a services coordinator to help meet the needs of students and their families.
Recognized as a “Leader to Learn From,” Web stresses the importance of building public support, developing teacher capacity, and empowering the people in charge at each school to be the connecting point for community partners, volunteers, and families.
See Digital Promise’s recent podcast featuring Webb.
But superintendent Webb acknowledges, “We have work to do in math.”
Meeting the Math Challenge
With growing poverty and mobility, Webb wants a “Common, coherent, guaranteed curriculum” across the district supported by high quality resources.
“We want our teachers to focus on developing impactful instruction,” said Webb. He’d rather have them designing experiences than content--quality pedagogy that gets at deeper learning.
“The teacher’s role in Vancouver is to design high quality lessons leveraging the resources provided relative to a core adoption,” said Webb. They’d like to avoid the Sunday night problem of teachers searching for resources.
Webb takes calculated risks, he wants Vancouver to be “Leading edge, but not the bleeding edge.” He’d rather be the best adopter of a quality program than the first adopter.
With any adoption, Webb expect a digital footprint and assessment suite. He values strong support for teacher learning across the district.
“We lead with pedagogy and empower teachers to design standards-based lessons,” said Webb. He’d rather have them planning lessons that developing content. They value rigorously and expertly vetted comprehensive curriculum.
Open Up Resources
Like many districts, VPS is exploring the use of open education resources (OER). They use Icurio to curate OER. They appreciate the value of OER but Webb is concerned about opportunity gaps if it’s not a common coherent curriculum.
“Economies and efficiencies are important but not most important criteria,” said Webb. “We won’t compromise outcomes.”
Two Vancouver middle schools will be piloting the new standards-aligned open math curriculum from Open Up Resources (formed as the K-12 OER Collaborative).
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.