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If we stand still in a rapidly changing world, we will be quickly passed by.  As educators, we must be aware that our role is to prepare our students to enter an increasingly competitive job market and college application process.  If we accept the status quo when other schools and districts are making improvements, our students will be denied the highest quality education possible.

Continuous improvement is imperative and must be driven by a robust statement of mission and corresponding strategic plan.  A strategic plan charts a course for a specific future by setting goals designed to move the organization towards its aspirational mission.

In comparing district leadership and student achievement, Waters and Marzano (2006) identified five specific district leadership responsibilities that positively correlated with student achievement:

  • Establishing a collaborative process to set goals;
  • Establishing “non-negotiable goals” (that is, goals all staff must act upon once set by the board) in at least two areas: student achievement and classroom instruction;
  • Having the board align with and support district goals;
  • Monitoring goals for achievement and instruction;
  • Using resources to support achievement and instruction goals.

Ultimately, the responsibility of strategic planning belongs to the School Board.  According to the National School Board Association, One of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to set direction for a district. Boards should work with their communities to set a direction for the district through the creation of a mission statement and then development of specific goals intended to move the organization closer to realization of that mission.

The first step in the strategic planning process is usually to create a student focused mission statement.  This statement should reflect the values of the community and be focused on the outcomes expected for students rather than the actions or behaviors of adults such as teachers, administrators or parents.  The mission tells us what a graduate of our schools should know and be able to do.  Mission statements are aspirational rather than a statement of what exists today.

Because public schools should be a reflection of the communities in which they exist, there should be a process of input from parents, students, staff and community members.  Forums and surveys are typical data gathering processes.  Before a mission is set, there must also be a thorough examination of data for all aspects of district functioning including student achievement, discipline, climate, district financial records and human resources records.  It is the responsibility of the school board to create and approve the mission, but this should only be done after careful consideration of input and data.

After a mission has been created and approved, the Board of Education typically establishespriorities, which are the major areas that must be addressed in order to make progress toward the mission.  All areas of school district operations should be at least considered when creating a comprehensive plan.  Of course no plan is complete without priorities in the areas of curriculum and instruction but other areas of consideration may be finance, human resources, student services (counseling, discipline, wellness), community engagement, public relations/communications.

Once priority areas are determined, strategic goals should be set in each area.  Again, each step of the process should involve opportunities for input and collaboration with staff, parents, students and community.  Each strategic goal should clearly lead the organization towards achievement of the mission.  School boards should closely monitor progress towards goals and amend the plan over time so that it stays relevant.  Once a strategic plan is in place it must be updated regularly.  Goals that are accomplished should be celebrated and new goals that lead to the mission should be added.

Overall, a strategic plan provides direction for staff.  The role of administrators is to implement the strategic plan rather than to strike out on their own about what they independently believe to be the best course of action.  In the simplest terms, the School Board determines the “what” and the staff uses their expertise to determine the “how”.   Neither the staff or board can work in isolation, they are a team and they need each other in order to truly engage in continuous improvement on behalf of students.

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“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Carol S. Dweck,Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

Over the course of my career it has become clear to me from both extensive research and practice that absolutely every child and adult can learn at high levels if they are given the right amount of time and support.  As a teacher, it is not simply my job to deliver content, but instead my focus is on ensuring that those around me are both growing and reaching high levels of proficiency.  In order to achieve these goals, I believe that educators must subscribe to what Carol Dweck refers to as the “growth mindset” and the following elements must be present in our work:

  • Clearly defined and stated learning outcomes at various levels of complexity

For the last seven years, I have worked closed with Jay McTigue, author or Understanding by Design and the Marzano Research Laboratory to develop a system of clearly stated learning outcomes for all of the programs and courses within our schools.  According to Robert Marzano, effective learning goals provide both the student and teacher with a clear understanding of the target knowledge.  Effective learning requires that we are transparent about the learning goals, how we define proficiency and how we will measure growth.  When a student knows where they are headed as well as their current level of functioning, they can work with their teacher to develop a meaningful plan to reach their goals.  I also believe it is imperative to scaffold learning outcomes in a manner thatincreases complexity over time. I start with ensuring acquisition of content knowledge and then create opportunities for analysis and application of that knowledge to unique real-world problems.

  • Engaging and innovative research based instructional strategies

Students must be actively engaged with material in order to achieve high levels of learning.   Students should find the information and activities challenging and yet engaging.  Lectures that provide information that can be found in a text or with a simple Google search are ineffective.  Although I employ a variety of strategies depending on the needs of my students, I have found particular success with a project or problem based approach.  According to the Buck Institute for Education, Project Based Learningis ateaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.  Unlike the older methods of “doing projects” at the end of a unit, Project and Problem Based Learning as we know it now, allows teachers to work in a collaborative manner with students who are engaged in deep learning.I view myself as a collaborator with students and a facilitator rather than a lecturer.

  • Effective use of formative assessment and feedback to personalize the learning process

The research of John Hattie has allowed educators to demystify the learning process and his simple statement of “know thy impact” should be the driver for teaching.  Hattie’s synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of educational researchtells us that we should focus on the strategies and practices with the highest impact.  Providing feedback and effective use of formative assessment are among the highest leverage strategies that a teacher can employ.  Feedback must be honest, accurate and delivered in a caring manner intended to convey essential information about the learner’s current level of functioning and progress.  Similarly, using a variety of methods to gather formative data allows me to tailor instruction to the needs of the group as well as individuals.

  • Trusting relationship between teacher and learners that fosters perseverance

The very act of teaching implies that there is a respectful and trusting relationship between the instructor and the learner. As a teacher, I must create an environment where every student feels valued and appreciated.  The environment needs to encourage risk taking, and an understanding that failure is part of the learning process.  It is only from these failures that we understand our misconceptions and are able to engage in a process of deep learning.   Allowing our students multiple opportunities and methods to show proficiency, taking the time to get to know students personally, and working individually with students when possible are methods that build trust.

Education has been my passion for my entire life.  I care deeply about improving outcomes for all learners and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity for success, no matter their level of background knowledge when they begin.  I have taught a wide variety of adults in a number of venues over the years.  When I taught at the university level, I was successful with both inner-city teachers as well as teachers from affluent suburbs by having high expectations for all, respecting their backgrounds and experience, being available for extra assistance and working tirelessly to ensure their success.  Similarly, I have worked as a practitioner in public schools with thousands of teachers over the last 25 years.  I have worked with my leadership team to develop ongoing professional development for new teachers as well as experienced teachers.  I am proud that our teachers are truly 21st century instructors who are innovative, effective users of technology and truly embrace a problem solving approach and that our data shows steady improvement in student achievement over time.

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Attending a comprehensive high school is part of the unique experience of receiving a public education in the United States.  According to the Webster Dictionary the word comprehensive is an adjective to describe “including many, most or all things”.  The fact that American high schools attempt to be all things to all people should be cause for celebration and in fact, is part of what’s great about our schools.

The purpose of our schools is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and graduate prepared for college and career.  However, learning should include not just academic, but social and emotional growth as well.  Participating in one of the many extracurricular activities offered by a comprehensive high school can provide a student with a multitude of opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and to express their creativity.  These opportunities come from participation in not only traditional athletic and fine arts programs but clubs as well.  At most comprehensive high schools, almost any student can find a club to meet his or her interest.  At my previous district we had clubs that met a variety of students desires including meat society, conspiracy club junior statesmen, knitting club and fishing club.

An extracurricular activity is sometimes the factor that drives a reluctant student to come to school.  The truth of the matter is that most teens, at one time are another, are reluctant to come to school.  Students who see some or all of the academic work as rote or drudgery find their time participating in an extracurricular to be the most interesting part of the day.  The growth and learning that occurs during clubs, sports and activities can seem effortless because the student is engaged in an activity in which they have high interest.

Athletics, arts and clubs are part of what make our schools special and are often what our students remember most fondly from their years in high school.   As adults, there are one or two special teachers who stand out in our minds, but almost every adult has a variety of memories of high school from playing in “the big game”, to cheering their team on to victory, to performing in a music ensemble or drama production or perhaps watching a friend give a performance they never thought possible.

Although the economy is now on the upswing, when things get rough again, surely one of the first conversations about how to save money will be to cut arts, clubs or athletics.  These discussions often ignore the irrefutable fact that these activities offer invaluable learning and leadership opportunities for our students.  If we define twenty-first education skills as creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking and we recognize that athletics, clubs and the fine arts foster these skills then we should actually increase opportunities for involvement of students.  Some schools have gone as far as requiring that students have extra curricular involvement because they recognize the essential learning that occurs in these venues.

American high schools are often the target of negative attention in the media and by reformers.  However, the notion of a comprehensive high school with a wide array of sports, clubs, fine arts opportunities and leadership opportunities for students is one area in which our schools excel.  It’s part of what makes our high schools special and something to celebrate.  As an educator, I’m proud of a record of decision-making that supports and expands these amazing opportunities for our students.  If you have any doubt about the importance of these programs, I challenge you to attend the next performance or sporting event at your local high school and see for yourself what our students have accomplished outside of the classroom.

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As the school year comes to a close, we once again find ourselves in a time of both celebration and reflection. Another year has passed, we have celebrated the academic, creative and athletic successes of our students and our graduating seniors are on their way to new adventures.   June is a time for teachers to calculate final grades and for report cards to be sent to families, and at the district office we are poring over data from the year in order to determine the trends and patternsthat point us in the direction of improved outcomes for students.

There is no doubt, the data from the last five years tells us that we are moving in a good direction.  Our students are performing considerably better than state and national averages and TUHSD student achievement increases year after year.  As a district we track many data points.  Here are just a few highlights of our success:

College Enrollment and Completion Rates

This is the first year that we have had college entrance and completion rates available to us as a district. In the coming years, we will continue to work to ensure that more students are prepared for success in post high school education.

  • TUHSD has a far higher percentage of students who enroll in and complete college within six years. In fact,our college completion average is 15.8% than the national average.

Advanced Placement Courses

The research is clear, access to rigorous coursework in high school is one of the best predictors of success in a post high school environment.  The statistics for our Advanced Placement courses are just one way that we assess rigor in our schools.

  • Total number of AP courses taken per school year has increased from 2918 to 3729 over past five years.
  • Percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on the AP exam (generally considered a passing grade) is 21.8% higher than the California average and 24.5% higher than the national average.
  • The percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams has increased over the past several years even with the huge increase in numbers of students taking the courses.


The SAT website defines the test as a, “standardized assessment of the critical reading, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills students have developed over time and that they need to be successful in college”.  Many of our students are also now choosing to take the ACT assessment, which is accepted by almost every college and university.

  • Average SAT scores for all demographic groups have increased over five years
  • Total number of students tested and percentage of students tested has increased over five year term

Graduates Meeting UC/CSU Requirements 2007-2013

The University of California and California State University systems have set minimum entrance requirements for admission.  Our courses are aligned with UC/CSU standards and courses that meet the entrance requirements are noted in our course descriptions.

  • There has been a 7.4% increase in the number of students who graduate with UC/CSU requirements over the past five years. This is well above the state average.

Academic Performance Index Growth Scores

The Academic Performance Index (API) is calculated by the state and incorporates a variety of measures including state assessments.  The new state assessments, which are aligned to common core standards, will be give for the first time in Spring 2015.

  • API grew district wide from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between the achievement of our Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between low income and non-low income students from 2009-2013.
  • All subject areas have shown a positive trend in average growth over the past five years.

These data points are a source of pride for our skilled teachers, staff, administrators and trustees. As a district, we continue to monitor many data points so that we can be sure that our great schools continue to perform well and benefit ALL students. We are committed to ensuring that all students, even the highest achieving, learn and grow during their four years of high school.  Continuous improvement is often difficult to attain in a high achieving system and so we are immensely proud of these accomplishments.  As a community, we have so much to celebrate this June.  Our students are served well by our teachers and schools.

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