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Four Superintendents Ply Their Districts’ Experiences When Detailing How They are Paving a 21st Century Pathway for Learning

Four panelists from rural school districts around the country discussed how to prepare their students for a 21st century world, drawing on their distinctive experiences.

The AASA conference session Thursday afternoon took place in the Knowledge Exchange Theater.

Brian Creasman, superintendent of Fleming Country Schools in Flemingsburg, Ky.; Matt Dillon, superintendent of Petal School District in Petal, Miss.; Jill Jacoby, former superintendent of Fort Cherry School District in McDonald, Pa.; and Jeff Dillon, superintendent of Wilder School District in Wilder, Idaho, recapped their efforts to improve the quality of education in their districts.

Matt Dillon introduced his people, purpose, process model to summarize his accomplishments. He explained that teachers are evaluated based on their credentials and absentee rates. Having quality teachers is a fundamental principle of an excellent school district, he said.

The process section of his model includes publishing each day’s grade-level lessons and assessing the district’s progress through an accountability dashboard. The dashboard is annually published in a local newspaper and includes quantitative and qualitative data that measure the performance of the school district.

Creasman presented his district’s career tech lab and passion-driven learning projects to ready his students for the real world. When he spoke about the welding program at his district’s high school, he said each graduate has a salaried job waiting for them.

He referenced the involvement of students and teachers as a valuable asset. Through an extremely active student council and an empowered teaching staff, Fleming County Schools is able to assess the satisfaction of the members of their community.

Jeff Dillon offered an alternate model for approaching education. He explained that Wilder School district has flipped the traditional equation of American schools, so that learning is a constant and time is a variable.

In Dillon’s district, each student is required to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above. Additionally, there are no grade levels. Instead, students progress through material at their own pace until they have completed it all.

Similarly, Jacoby introduced the “road map” model, where students move through grade levels at their own pace. In her model, a student can move on to the 3rd grade once they have mastered all of the knowledge of the 2nd grade level.

Jacoby also highlighted her mission of breaking the poverty cycle in her community through a “mindset change.” To do so, she developed a strong equity policy, where each student answers the question “what has shifted in your thinking?” when having conversations about different cultures.

These educators compiled their efforts to build capacity in their rural school districts in order to prepare their students for an evolving world. Their ideas and initiatives suggest a blue print for similarly located schools.

(Ava Sjursen is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a junior at Harpeth Hall in Nashville.)

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