By: Shan Glandon Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration
A Tradition of Excellence with a Vision for Tomorrow
A pattern of excellence has been a tradition in the Jenks Public Schools, a district of almost 10,000 students located in and just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma:
It is also this tradition of excellence that prompted the more focused quality journey of the past thirteen years. The journey began in the mid-nineties with an introduction to quality principles and the formation of the Continuous Improvement Leadership Team whose vision and leadership efforts focused on shaping and sustaining a systems perspective, fostering a data-based decision making climate, and nurturing strong quality leadership and an intense commitment to continuous improvement. With a tradition of excellence, it would be easy for the District to become complacent and rest on its laurels; however, it is this tradition that fuels the vision for tomorrow and creates a commitment to “exceeding all-time bests.” With a tradition of excellence, it would be easy for the District to become complacent and rest on its laurels; however, it is this tradition that fuels the vision for tomorrow and creates a commitment to “exceeding all-time bests.”
One of the early key steps for student learning was the implementation of a district wide curriculum development and alignment process. The urgency for developing a consistent and coherent curriculum was powerful and compelling. By specifying the knowledge all students should share, then and only then, could the district assure equal access to knowledge for all students. The standards became the District’s desired academic outcomes toward which all students would strive and for which multiple assessments would be developed. With this systems focus, the “community of classrooms” shared some common knowledge, which made communication, progress, and continuous improvement possible. By organizing the planning and decision making around the entire period of a student’s education, the District created a comprehensive, systemic approach that has raised achievement for all students. The curriculum at each grade built on what the students had learned in the previous grades, thus creating a sequenced body of knowledge and learning expectations and a way for teachers to ensure a logical, progressive sequence of learning experiences for all students.
Other benefits of the curriculum development and alignment process have been the spirit of teamwork, which is created when multiple stakeholders from across the district (parents, administrators, teachers, and specialists) work together in a year-long process; the sustaining vision of an aim statement and the in-depth knowledge of effective instructional strategies, which are developed early in the committee process and based on reading the research, the national standards, and literature on research-based teaching and learning strategies for the discipline under review; the consistency of practice and pacing, which is assured through the adoption of primary program materials that are used by all educators and students in the district; and, the power of sustained, intensive, and classroom-focused professional learning, so teachers have the confidence and skills for research-based teaching and learning in the discipline.
A second key step for student learning began to take shape in 1997 with a value paradigm shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning. With this shift, the criterion for success in the district became the increased learning of the students, not that concepts or skills were taught. The right questions for each staff member became: What is in the best interest of the students? How does this innovation support improvement in student learning?
Concomitantly, formal processes for collecting, tracking and analyzing student learning data began to emerge. At the district-level, tracking and analysis of state testing results had been in place for many years, not only growth in overall scores, but also analysis of student segments and the objectives for each content area tested. In 2000, the District began working with Dr. Lee Jenkins to implement the essential elements process, a system of formative assessments. With this process, essential skills and concepts are identified in each content area for each course and grade level, and quizzes are developed based on the essential skills and concepts. The quizzes build in a constant review and preview cycle, so students no longer have permission to forget. Students track their progress using individual run charts; teachers use the assessments to accumulate data about student progress and make instructional decisions based on students’ readiness levels, interests, and learning profile preferences. Then in 2004, the District began implementing pre- and post-assessments for each core subject to track growth within a school year and from year to year for each student in the district. The questions for these assessments derive from the essential skills and concepts.
At the school-site level, principals and teachers have formal processes for analyzing results from state and district assessments. Administrators address student achievement and improvement of national and state test scores in their annual goals and action plans. Key questions for October of each year include: Who are the students who are at risk for failure? How can their learning needs be addressed? What interventions can be provided to help students close the achievement gap? At the classroom level, analysis of ongoing assessments has begun to drive daily instruction.
Training in the Data Teams process provided an additional tool for teacher teams to use to chart and analyze student assessment data, set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) goals, and develop and use common instructional strategies to meet student learning targets. Multiple assessment strategies have enhanced student ownership for learning and created an environment of data-based decision making, where “I think, I feel” is no longer good enough.
Alignment and deployment of key processes have also been transformational for the District. The Continuous Improvement Model pillars (strong quality leadership, continuous improvement, systems/process focus, and stakeholder engagement and satisfaction) and foundations (teamwork, quality training, and data-based decisions) were developed in 1998. At the same time, the District initiated training for teachers, administrators, and other district leaders regarding “Deming’s Framework for Transforming America’s Schools” and “Tools and Techniques for Improving Quality of Teaching, Learning, and Administrative Processes.” With the identification of core values in 2002 and the subsequent formalization of a Strategic Planning Process, an alignment structure was complete: the District’s vision drove its mission, which drove the core values, which drove the Continuous Improvement Model, which drove district goals, strategic objectives and action plans; and, all supported: the action plans which supported the strategic objectives and goals, which supported the Continuous Improvement Model, which supported the core values, which supported the mission and vision.
The Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) process became the common tool for continuous improvement across the district, used to plan, implement, analyze, review, and revise goals, practices, and procedures. Each staff member develops a PDSA action as part of his/her yearly performance appraisal; the action plan identifies a goal (tied to district goals and strategic objectives) and describes in detail steps and strategies to accomplish the goal. Staff members also identify the data that will be collected as the measurement for the goal. At the spring performance appraisal conferences with supervisors, staff members share their data analysis and make decisions regarding whether to continue the cycle of successful plans or refine plans and begin revised cycles of improvement.
Through the development of the in-depth Budgetary Planning Process and an ongoing Internal Reviews Process, the District has maintained a high level in per pupil expenditures and consistently designates 82-83% of its operating budget for instruction and instructional support. Energy conservation (water, electricity, natural gas, sewer discharges) has been a priority of the district since 1997, freeing money in the building fund for adding and maintaining “state of the art” resources to support high academic achievement.
Strong parent and community support have become hallmarks of a Jenks Public Schools education. More than 95% of parents of high school students participate in the annual spring Career Action Planning conferences, enabling students and parents to develop and implement action plans for meeting graduation and college entry requirements and pursuing goals for careers. The award winning Community Education Program has developed an array of program offerings that support community needs from birth to old age, making the District’s buildings available to the community for after school, evening, and weekend use. In their first twenty years, the Jenks Public Schools Foundation has partnered with businesses, alumni, and families to raise money in support of innovative and creative programming. They also sponsor the annual Employee Appreciation Celebration and the Vision of Excellence awards, which recognize outstanding staff members for their leadership, focus on continuous improvement and customers, and use of quality tools and processes.
The reflective Baldrige process has been invaluable in reviewing strengths and opportunities for improvement, and has provided a framework for continuously examining the District’s systems and processes, levels of deployment, and cycles of refinement. It was also a moment for celebration when Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez contacted the District to extend his congratulations on being named a 2005 Baldrige Award recipient.
However, the journey continues…with a vision for tomorrow:
The recent passage of a $150 million dollar bond election provides funds to build a new math and science center, offering students increased opportunities for integrated learning, rigorous academics, and real-world problem solving.
Student, teacher, and administrator partnerships with schools in China support the District’s commitment to growing “successful global citizens, workers, and leaders who are knowledgeable about the world, able to communicate in languages other than English” (Stewart 2007) and prepared to understand and respect different cultures and perspectives.
Collaboration with the American Productive and Quality Center in Houston fosters opportunities to benchmark with other world class organizations and to participate in the innovative Process Improvement and Innovation in Education initiative of the Center.
Deployment of the quality tools and processes to the student level encourages the District to focus on 21st century learning and thinking skills, so students “know how to learn, think critically, solve problems, use information, and communicate, innovate, and collaborate.” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills)
Integration of professional learning teams at all levels of the organization enables the District to engage in deep learning and to concentrate on “crucial questions: What do we want each student to learn? How will we know when each student has learned it? How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning” (DuFour 2008) or demonstrates understanding of skills and concepts before teaching has begun?
Jenks Public Schools will continue their efforts to provide an environment of high achievement, an outstanding athletics program, and multitudinous opportunities for involvement in extracurricular activities. It is a world in which high test scores and national awards are the norm rather than the exception, and yet never will be taken for granted.
Shan has been a member of the District’s Curriculum and Instruction Team since 2000, and co-authored the 2005 Jenks Public Schools Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award application. She is a leader in curriculum development, instruction, and assessment. Shan earned a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree in Information Science from State University of New York at Buffalo. She is the author of four books.