Nation’s Top Superintendents Talk about the Greatest Challenges in Education


This video was captured at the 2019 Learning Counsel National Gathering in Dallas. Three of our nation’s leading superintendents convened to discuss the most pressing issues in education today.

When asked about a mandate for social emotional learning, which is the number one pressure point in American education according to the 2019  Learning Counsel’s National Survey, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Superintendent at Dallas ISD said “We were very fortunate to receive a $7 million grant from the Walsh Foundation to take SEL to scale.”

“We have a treatment group and a control group of schools in which we've launched social emotional learning and it's been very exciting to watch. Once we received the Wallace Foundation grant, the board passed a policy to make sure that we take this to scale and this is one of the few things that we've been able to actually borrow some external resources to make sure we deploy it in a very careful and precise way, so we're very fortunate that we had that option.”

Dr. Jay Lang, Superintendent at Chelmsford Public Schools said “I was a little surprised about three years or so ago when we were meeting to put together a three to five-year plan for the district. One of the things that came out of one of the surveys was the need to really address social emotional learning. Our district is a very high performing district and academics is certainly the focus of our work, but when we surveyed staff and parents they said we need to take a step back and make sure that we're really addressing student social and emotional learning and that they feel comfortable with the school always being supportive so that that they can achieve academically and realign our goals for that year and then create a three-year plan moving forward.”

“There's a lot of work front and center. We ended up with three overarching initiatives and three overarching goals at the district. The first goal was tied to academic performance and the initiatives that we want to have underway. But our entire second goal was around social emotional learning, creating SEL teams or MTSS games within the schools. We had consultants come on board and actually help to coach up and support our staff. One thing you have to acknowledge when you work with social emotional learning is the need for time to keep student learning at the center of the work. But you can’t forget the adults, because a lot of times the adults need to be supported. It’s a change in landscape, a change in environment for the teaching staff and the special support staff.”

Another topic discussed by the panel was the complexity of technology now, and how it can be overwhelming for teachers. For those of you who follow the Learning Council, you know the organization has been talking a lot about helping teachers focus on their humanity and allowing tech to carry more of the workload so schools can deliver true personalization. Dr. Jamie Wilson, Superintendent at Denton ISD said “I think it can be overwhelming for our teachers because there's so much out there. And one of the things that I think adds to that is our teachers for the most part really want to search for the best thing to help their kids in every situation.”

“We as leaders have to have that positive supposition, that that's what they're trying to do. And if you have that positive supposition, that allows you to support what they bring to you because they are searching for gains that will help their kids. The number one thing that I hear from them is they want it to work. When they sign on, they want it to work. It’s important to be able to discern good apps that improve instruction and learning. There are a lot of things out there that are really good marketing but might not have anything to do with student learning outcomes and helping teachers in the classroom. And for building level administrators to also recognize that although we may transform our classrooms into the next age of the 21st century, there are still some teachers out there that are getting results in the way they know how to get results, and we have to foster that as well. Making sure we’re supporting them and moving them into an area that’s going to help them help their kids.”

The panel of superintendents, whom many feel are the some of the best superintendents in the country, shared their wisdom on a variety of subjects, from scaling social emotional learning to helping teachers handle the increasing stress and workload, to creating learning that is experience-based and can compete with popular learning alternatives. This is a video that you’ll definitely want to watch. In it, you’ll find strategies today that you can implement in your own district as early as tomorrow.

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