By RICH PLACE
Three administrators from the SGI School District this week made a quick visit to the U.S. Department of Education to participate in a forum dedicated to exploring the way students learn in classrooms across the country.
Superintendent Kimberly Moritz, High School Principal James Bialasik and Middle School Principal Shanda DuClon spent a day in the nation’s capital, attended the forum on Tuesday and flew back home that night.
Moritz said they had been invited about a week and a half prior to the event after ED officials took notice of how SGI is challenging the narrative of education and also its plans for the P-TECH center that is up for a district-wide vote in May.
Following the conference — which was entitled “Principals at ED: Rethinking the Students’ Instructional Day” — Moritz admitted it wasn’t what she expected but she said it was worthwhile and interesting to hear from districts of various sizes.
“It was a great day filled with presenters from across the nation who were sharing their stories about innovative learning opportunities within their schools,” Moritz said.
The conference featured eight speakers from across the country who provided examples of ways they are rethinking education and ended with a series of roundtable discussions among those at the event.
In an email to staff late Tuesday night, Bialasik explained the purpose of the event and explained the ongoing struggle of balancing the application of knowledge and skills with the standards, assessments and mandates that go along with being a public school.
“I’m moving towards the realization that habits of mind and skills (perseverance, grit, iterative thinking, problem solving, etc.) are becoming more important than content due to the fact that content is everywhere,” Bialasik wrote in the email.
He noted initiatives already underway at the SGI district, such as the new Guiding Coalition and the board’s belief in the “Three P’s:” permission to try things new and different; protection by the board and superintendent when a teacher tries something new; and policy reduction.
The SGI team invited to Washington, D.C., this week was asked to do its own presentation, but Moritz opted to present when they potentially return in June because the invite came at too short of notice for such a presentation, Moritz said.
Between now and then, she said she plans to ask those who invited SGI staff about the overall purpose of the event and, most importantly, who is listening to the presentations being conducted — something Moritz said wasn’t quite clear with those who presented on Tuesday.
“It was so very cool we were invited to the U.S. Department of Education, we did learn from other schools from across the nation and we do have the opportunity to present what we are doing in Springville when we go back in June,” Moritz said.
From the event, Bialasik in the email challenged his staff “to keep thinking about ways to infuse those authentic applications of knowledge coupled with student choice” in their classrooms.
The trip came a week after the board witnessed a handful of less traditional learning styles from its staff and students, including the Plastic Frankenstein Project at the middle school. Students learned about the effects of plastic on the environment and researched ways to reduce the school’s footprint through project-based learning instead of a traditional classroom setting.
Moritz after the conference said that’s one example of the kind of innovative learning the district allows that is different than more traditional education that focuses on assessments.