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LOSD can learn from best practices of other districts

As a Lake Oswego School Board member, one of the most valuable things I do is to visit other high-performing districts to stay informed and share ideas. While attending a conference in the Bay area recently, board colleague Sarah Howell and I had the chance to tour school districts in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, two high-achieving communities located near Stanford University.

We toured schools and met with district leaders, staff and teachers and returned with several new ideas worth “copying and pasting” into our own community. Here are my favorite lessons to share:Barman

1. The superintendent in Palo Alto Unified has helped form a consortium of six high-performing school districts nationwide. Each district sends its superintendents and top staff to different communities each year to share best practices. These six communities vary in size and financial ability, but they share the desire to be among the best public school districts in the country. It was the superintendent’s opinion that this is the best use of professional development dollars the district spends on its CEO.

2.  Palo Alto Unified offers full-year high school language classes as an elective beginning in seventh grade. For example, students who complete both seventh and eighth grade Spanish can enroll in Spanish 2 as freshmen. Palo Alto wants to make sure that kids have a strong foundation moving forward.

In our district, we currently offer one year of Spanish beginning in eighth grade. We already have asked administrators to look into extending this to a two- or three-year opportunity so students can try a second language before having to worry about its effect on their overall transcripts.

3. Palo Alto Unified is a big proponent of teacher development. They made a strategic choice to save dollars by having larger class sizes in order for them to invest in Teachers on Special Assignment. These teachers rotate between classrooms and help all staff incorporate best practices. The teachers we spoke with loved having TOSAs in the room sharing ideas while offering support in technology, mathematics and language arts.

4. All the districts we visited have a clear vision around the use of technology in the classroom. We observed kindergarteners creating their own movies on iPads, learned about elementary school “coding clubs” and watched students use Google Earth in a writing project. Many of these tools were enabled through free learning websites or low-cost programs, all supported by a technology TOSA.

5. Menlo-Atherton High School offers ACT and SAT prep classes as part of the regular curriculum. Enrollment in the class is by lottery and the class is held in “0 period” prior to the start of the regular school day.

These are just a few of the forward-thinking best practices we witnessed on our visit to the Bay area. We shared a comprehensive list of these ideas and more with our board colleagues and district leadership team.

Lake Oswego students will be engaging with these students as they compete for admission to college and the jobs of the future. I am motivated to see what ideas we can incorporate in our own schools. I look forward to hearing your feedback on these, and other ideas you may have. Please feel free to contact me at rjbarman@aol.com.

Bob Barman, Lake Oswego, is a member of the Lake Oswego School Board.

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