Vision 2015 Annual Conference: It’s About the People, Not the Programs

October 21st, 2011

Category: News, Policy and Practice

More than 300 educators, business leaders, parents, community leaders, and public officials met on Tuesday, October 18, at the annual Vision 2015 conference at the University of Delaware to take stock of Delaware’s collective progress in creating world-class schools.

There were clear successes to report—new standards, new assessments, and dynamic new people and organizations on the scene. But the predominant theme was clear: the glitter of winning Race to the Top is over. Today, 18 months after the announcement of the $119M award, Delaware is squarely in implementation mode. Implementation is not sexy. It’s also a minefield riddled with potential mistakes and mid-course corrections.

The candid discussions about the hard work before us made for powerful moments. For me, these conversations were the best parts of the day. For example, Ben Jackson of The New Teacher Project in Baltimore led a great panel on the revisions currently underway to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system (DPAS II), which include student growth as a part of every teacher’s evaluation.  Deb Stevens, of the state teachers union (DSEA), asked us to think strategically about how we make such a massive shift with 9,000 employees statewide.  She asked us to be sharper about the vision and the path forward, noting that our teachers must find value in what they are being asked to do, in order  to  overcome the natural resistance that all of us feel when asked to do something differently, especially something as complex and central to our professional lives.

Scott Thompson, Director of Teacher Effectiveness Strategy for Washington D.C. public schools, spoke from three years of experience in implementing DC’s teacher evaluation system, “IMPACT.” He described several things that worked well: actionable feedback for all teachers, significant increases of $20K in base pay for top performers,  performance bonuses, and the transitioning out of the bottom two percent of teachers.

For me, this difficult conversation exemplified the theme of the conference: Getting it done…and done right. There is a tremendous urgency to implement, yet a critical need to implement well. How do we know if we’re doing it right? Scott offered a litmus test:  ask yourself if you would be comfortable placing your own daughter or grandson in front of any of the teachers in your district or state right now. If the answer is “no,” you’ve got work to do. He also urged the need for our path to be well communicated and clear, and the need for acceptance of feedback at all levels along the way. Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery echoed this point, as well, when she said, “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The frank dialogue continued throughout the day and was most striking in the inspired and candid conversation between Richard Colvin, Executive Director of Education Sector, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Both Colvin and audience members didn’t hesitate to ask the governor tough questions about teacher evaluation, funding, and a number of other issues that the governor and the state contend with daily.   The governor underscored another prominent theme of the day, which is the responsibility that each of us has to contribute to this work, “Just getting it done among the people in this room is not sufficient.  Please take the passion that brought you here and share it with those outside.”

In the afternoon breakout sessions, the conversations grew more intimate and pointed on specific topics, on everything from how to turn around our lowest performing schools to the role of school board members in school improvement to how we can ensure college and career readiness.

At the end of the day, the quote that resonated most with me came from Steve Godowsky, a former Delaware superintendent, who said, “it’s not programs that will win the day, it’s the people.”

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Paul Herdman



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