We have seen this movie; we know how it ends

rearview mirrorLast night, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 159. The issue of Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers, will now go to the house, and if passed, the governor will sign a bill opening the door to steady drastic change. The time is now to consider the future of education in Iowa, and this has caused me to return to one of my very favorite books. The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge, has been one of the most important books in both my personal and professional life.

I see the world around me through a filter of systems thinking rooted in Senge’s work, and what is happening in our state has put a spotlight in my mind on a particular Law of the Fifth Discipline.

Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. Senge (1990) wrote, “Often we are puzzled by the causes of our problems; when we merely need to look to our own solutions to other problems in the past.” Iowa is not the first state to package “school choice” as the solution to our educational problems. This means Iowans have a chance to travel this path with their eyes wide open. We still have an opportunity to avoid a future where our children and grandchild are wondering, how did this happen.

The state of Arizona started the Education Savings Account journey in the late-1990s with about $1 million of taxpayer money.  Today about $300 million of taxpayer money makes its way to non-public education programs and ventures. Iowa politicians and lobbyists have learned the same school choice playbook used in Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and other states from organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.  Let’s take a look at what we can expect in 25 years.

Arizona children sit in crumbling classrooms. Who is fixing them? This Arizona Republic article was published on February 3, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering why their local school is crumbling around their children, they won’t immediately recognize the link between their current state, and January 28, 2021, but if the governor’s efforts prevail, the link will be there.

This company says it’s ‘not a school’ and has no teachers. But it gets millions meant for charter, private schools. This Arizona Republic article was published on September 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering how taxpayer funds intended for educating children, are going toward stock dividends and CEO compensation, they will email and call their elected officials, but won’t automatically recall how Kim Reynolds, Brad Zaun, Amy Sinclair, and others invited profits before learning into our state.

With class sizes as high as 40 students, can Arizona schools keep kids healthy? This Arizona Republic article was published on May 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are angry with local school boards and superintendents because of staff reductions and overflowing class sizes, a different generation of educators will be facing the consequences of the choices we are making today.

“Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” (Senge, 1990).  Unfortunately, humans don’t naturally and automatically recognize root cause, and doing so becomes harder and harder with the passage of time. In Decorah Schools, we have a mission of Learning – Thriving – Creating Our Legacy. We intentionally call out Creating Our Legacy to heighten our awareness that we are the leaders of the systems in which we live and work. Our future is in our control, and the choices we make today ripple into the future farther than we can perceive.

There is still time to change our narrative. The Iowa House will take up Education Savings Accounts in the days and weeks to come. It is critical we recognize that what is happening at our statehouse is not a fixed moment in time. We are creating a future that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.

25 years from now, I will be 73 years old. I will be retired and a different generation of superintendents will be meeting the challenges of the day. My hope today is that Iowans will take actions that allow those in the future to see us as ancestors who left a legacy rather than ghosts.

How we Planned for Continuous Learning

I have received a few questions about the results of the continuous learning survey we sent out to parents, and how we went about making a decision about our continuous learning model.   While a great deal of work went into the decision, I want to share a few key pieces of our work.

We began with the creation of a logic model; a graphic representation of a complex issue, problem, or process.  This was an important step because it allowed us to maintain a focus on our priorities, and key short, medium, and long-term desired outcomes.

We also brought together a representative group of district stakeholders (two board members, administrators, TLC team members, and teachers) to work through several quality/continual improvement processing tools focused on key questions and best practice in continuous learning.  You can access the agenda for that meeting at the link below in order to gain a deeper understanding of what occurred.

DCSD Continuous Learning Prep Meeting Agenda

Additionally, we asked for feedback from parents. You can review combined district results, and building specific results by clicking through the Google slides below.

As a district, we recently went through a process to renew our mission, vision, and values.  My hope is that as you review the process we used to make a decision, and plan for emergency closure continuous learning, you will see evidence of our newly established values.  We believe these are more than just words; we want to live our values through our daily work.

Decorah Community School District is guided by the following core values:

Collaboration and Community – We believe collaboration and community partnerships promote innovation and shared responsibility.

Curiosity and CreativityWe believe curiosity and creativity lead to meaningful learning.

Engagement and ExcellenceWe believe engagement and excellence foster personal ownership, and pride and joy in work and learning.

Equity and Well-beingWe believe equity and well-being ensure a safe learning environment, a sense of belonging, and student success.

Integrity and HumilityWe believe integrity and humility create respectful, trusting relationships.

Stewardship and SustainabilityWe believe stewardship and sustainability promote efficient and effective operations now and in the future.

Thank you to the parents who provided feedback through our surveys, and thank you to our staff who worked collaboratively to meet the needs of our students and families in this unique time.

2019 Iowa School Performance Profile Results Rollout

At the end of January, the Iowa Department of Education opened public access to the 2019 Iowa School Performance Profiles website.  The Performance Profiles website is an online tool showing how public schools have performed on certain measures. The website includes district and school scores, ratings, and data.  The Iowa Department of Education updates the Performance Profiles website annually.

You can visit the Iowa School Performance Profiles website at iaschoolperformance.gov.

I encourage you to watch the video below to gain insights into how district and school performance profiles are created, and strengths and opportunities for improvement within Decorah Community School District results.

The Iowa Department of Education has provided a helpful fact sheet regarding Iowa School Performance Profiles.  You can find the fact sheet here.

The Iowa School Performance Profile System was designed to meet accountability standards in the federal  Every Student Succeeds Act.  You can learn more about how Iowa meets federal public education requirements here.

The links below will take you to our district and building specific profiles.

Thank you for taking some time to understand the Iowa School Performance Profile system, and how we use the system to continually improve our district.

DCSD Condition of the District

Almost a year ago, I came to Decorah to interview to be the next superintendent of schools.  When I was invited to interview I was told I should be prepared to present an entry plan to the board of directors.  I could prepare a handout for the entry plan presentation, but I was told they did not want a Power Point presentation.  The handout I prepared began by communicating my purpose, and how I intended to present information back to the board about what was learned through deployment of the plan.

Since starting work July 1, I have engaged in a variety of activities designed to do what I told the board I would do during the interview process.  Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to have a mid-year check-in with our board members, and I shared a bone diagram capturing key elements of what I think I have learned.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, our Decorah Community School District staff met in the DHS Auditorium for a Condition of the District presentation.  We dedicated one of our late start Wednesday mornings to learning key information about who we are as a system.

I think it is important that our community be aware of these key desired outcomes as well.  Therefore, I invite you to watch a summary what was shared with staff using the video below.

Much of the work that is described in the video will be done in order to bring greater clarity to the shared why, how, and what of continually improving our Decorah CSD system.  As we do this work we will strive for transparency in our efforts, and to provide ongoing communication to you our stakeholders.

To that end, I am sharing a working document that is guiding our efforts to ensure we are creating a great environment for our employees to work, and for our students to learn.

Thank you for your continued support of Decorah Community Schools!