When Superintendent John Asplund arrived to lead the Farmington school district in a struggling region of the Illinois farm belt, he brought a massive change with him: The word “yes.” Yes to new paint. Yes to new classes. Yes to a smarter budget. Yes to a new parking lot. And yes to a giant solar panel project. Do you have an idea? Pitch it. At the very least, ask. Asplund has been preaching—and practicing—the mantra of innovation, and encouraging the administrators and teachers who work in the district to take their own risks, and try new things. While encouraging the district to honor its rural heritage, he’s pushed his team of educators and the community at large to adapt to the dramatically shifting economic realities and to expose students to the skills and opportunities they’ll need to find their footing in an economy vastly different from when their parents graduated from high school. “If things are good for kids, we should be doing it,” Asplund says. “You try to say ‘yes’ to as many things as you can because, even though we’re going to screw a lot of things up, we’re gonna learn from that mistake and we’re going to make it better the next time. Doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to get you anywhere.” This video was produced as part of Education Week’s Leaders To Learn From project, recognizing outstanding school district leaders from around the country.
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