A word from Superintendent Quintin Shepherd

Closing Thoughts: Continuous Improvement

The following article was provided by Superintendent Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.

My personal vision is to foster a culture of continuous improvement in all that we do. As you have all come to know, I also have a relentless commitment to radical transparency. I am going to use this space to talk just a bit about the last few weeks as it relates to in-person instruction, remote instruction, and hybrid instruction.

I will start with in-person instruction. Things are going well. This is to be expected, of course. We have been doing in-person instruction for an exceptionally long time and we are good at it. We can always do better, but this is something we are familiar with, all our teachers have practiced in this format and all our students are also practiced in this venue. Our students have been fantastic. They are following the new safety procedures very well. Many of our in-person learners at the secondary level have taken it upon themselves to buddy up with a remote learner partner to make sure those students have what they need. Our staff are busy on any “normal” year trying to manage in-person learning, and this year, many of our staff have taken on the responsibility for remote learners as well in the hybrid environment.

Let me explain for just a moment about how a district supports a campus because this will be important later in this post. Victoria I.S.D. uses the ESF (Effective Schools Framework) for school improvement. It is made up of five “levers” we collectively work on always with an eye on improvement. Those five levers are: 1) Strong school leadership and planning; 2) Effective, well-supported teachers; 3) Positive School Culture; 4) High-quality curriculum; and 5) Effective Instruction. Much of our recent academic success in all our schools can be tied to the ESF school improvement framework. There are many things I like about the ESF, and one of the most important is when a campus selects a lever of focus, it requires the campus to make “commitments.” There are many commitments for each of the levers and these commitments are not to be broken. When the campus selects a lever and makes the commitments, the district is also compelled to make certain commitments back to the campus. This keeps the district in partnership with the campus and both have a responsibility to keep their commitments to each other. It is powerful.

Let me shift to remote learning. Remote learning is new for most of us. We have had some experience in a few courses in the last few years, but many of us have not tried fully remote learning before the pandemic. Because of staffing and structure, we have been able to have dedicated remote classrooms at the elementary level and our secondary classrooms are hybrid. There has been a steep learning curve for the district, our teachers, and our students. While our remote learning environment is good, I would also admit the learning experience is not as robust as in-person learning. Removing the student physically from the teacher has a detrimental impact on the teacher’s ability to quickly respond to the learner’s needs when there is confusion, a question, or something that needs further clarification. Please do not misunderstand this to mean remote learning is bad or our teachers are not trying as hard as they know how. The last few months have shown me that remote learning is simply more difficult and not as effective as in-person learning, yet. However, I think it could be.

Last week, we sent our exchanges and surveys to our teaching staff, parents, and students. We asked several questions related to the five levers I mentioned previously and asked our teachers, which of the levers should we focus on to have the greatest positive impact on remote learning. About 650 staff helped paint a picture that the “home to school connection” was the area of greatest concern. When we asked parents and students, they selected the home to school connection as the greatest area of concern as well. This is a good thing, we have agreement. You can find all the results on our website. This week, we have been working as fast as possible to use what we have learned from the ESF tool and apply it to our remote learning environment. There are many discrete areas we are focusing on, one that bears mentioning here. We are working with teachers and parents to identify remote “campus commitments.” These will be our commitments to the families and students who are remote. We are also working to identify “home commitments.” These are commitments the home must make for remote learning to be successful. If traditional ESF requires the district and campus to make commitments (because those are the places where learning occurs), then digital ESF requires district, campus, and home commitments (because the learning is happening in partnership with all three). We believe unless these commitments can be made and kept, learning will suffer.

Provided by: Superintendent Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.