At the Learning Counsel’s Regional Learning Leadership Symposiums, attendees tell us they love the Guest Administrator Panel Discussions most of all. Partly because the Learning Counsel takes great pains in bringing you the brightest leaders from every region. But more than that, the panel discussions know no limits – everything is on the table and no holds are barred. Panelists present the unvarnished truth, and then quickly get to the solutions for every situation presented.

In this Tampa area Administrator Panel Discussion, you’ll hear from Dr. Ann Hembrook, Area Superintendent from Marion County Public Schools, Duane Weeks, Chief Technology and Data Systems of Lake County Schools, Dr. Matthew Hoff, Director of Virtual Instructional Programs from Hillsboro County Public Schools and Ryan Moody, Principal at Oak Park Elementary School, a part of Hillsboro County Public Schools. Your moderator is LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of Learning Counsel News Media and Research.

According to Dr. Hoff, “It's been a unique ride to learn the differences of the virtual world for folks who are in secondary education. Home education is under my umbrella and when I first got this job in in 2020, there was around 6 000 kids in Hillsborough County that were in home education, then it ballooned to about 15 000 in the middle of the pandemic. Most of those families were not in home education for the home education purpose, they were there because they were either scared of COVID or just didn't want to be in school. That number is leveled off between 11,500 and 12 000. Now that's still a whole lot of families, double what it was pre-pandemic; they can choose whatever avenue they want and we don't always know what they're doing. I know we talk about hybrid Logistics but the hybrid we're used to in our cases, kids especially in high school would go to school for four periods leave for three periods take those courses online and create their own their own path. That happened for years in Hillsborough County but it's really ballooned because once parents got a chance to taste their own menu, they really want to try and pick and choose one of our tables. We were saying how education is not the most flexible industry, so how do we make adjustments to fit what we do as a system but also for the stakeholders that are using our system?

Here's a little bit about Lake County,” said Duane Weeks. “Two years previous to the pandemic, we set on my role as the chief technical officer, kind of a technical equity initiative to some extent. We had one or two schools that were 1:1 and everybody else had whatever was left. That was a powerfully unfortunate message to send the students that if you're zoned for this school you get all the good stuff and then nobody else does. In year two, we were rolling out 1:1 to the high schools when the pandemic struck. One thing that I think is very important is we have an unbelievable gift in Lake County schools which is that we have a hardcore common instructional vision and so what I mean by that is we read, write, think’ and talk every day in every class period like if somebody goes through an evaluation that's what we expect to see.

“We also kind of subscribe to something known in Lake County as the instructional framework,” said Weeks. “When it came time to build these digital tools it was very easy; I didn't buy a bunch of tools just because they were neat, I bought tools because they've worked hand in hand with instruction. Boom, the pandemic hits, and then we all go completely digital and so the question is, how do you rebuild that now that it's over now that things have normalized? I'm unbelievably grateful because this is the first year we've not had a variant resurgence that has wiped us out, or set us back like we did this time last year. We were all worn out from Delta or Omicron or whatever they were up to at that point and I guess the thing I was going to say is that we are leading the work by returning back to that core instructional vision so when we talk about the flexibility it is kind of a curiosity because I feel like if we were one of the few districts that was unbelievably disappointed that we could not take the test the year of the pandemic we had seen things in the progress monitoring that were going to lead us to believe that we were going to have an unbelievably successful year and then School collapsed. We do have more kids in our virtual program, that part is true. The state has dictated what we can offer as far as hybrid learning and things of that nature. I think for us the path leading back and continuing on that work is possibly the hardest path because we understand putting these things like attendance and discipline and everything else back into the bottle is a little difficult post pandemic, but we are making progress”

We had the opportunity two years ago when the pandemic hit,” said Dr. Hembrook, “To really change education and to really leverage technology with strong instruction, to really provide students with what they need. But the challenge is that every district is at a different place in either access to digital technology or access to teachers (or to teachers’ ability). What's their knowledge level of technology and how do they use that? I'm from Marion County and Marin County has pockets in the district where even with mobile hotspots you cannot access Internet capability. That's a really big challenge. It's going to take a lot of collaboration across districts to learn from each other to get to where we need to be, but also listening to all our stakeholders, our parents, what are they saying, what do our teachers say? What's their level of comfort and their ability, right?

I'm still on a school site,” said Principal Moody. “An elementary school site, so that could be much smaller than most secondary schools. They're coming with a district perspective, from an entire district to a portion of the district to a particular area of the district who probably works with the hierarchy; what Dr Hembrook said is a big problem. She said we all need to work together, but we don't do that in education. Starting from the people who make the biggest decisions, where finances go, what's allowed, they're not even working in education so they're making those decisions, which goes down to the leadership boards and the county, state, the board and let's not even bring up the feds. Right down to every elementary school or preschool or wherever you're still dealing with, we don't have a system that we can all agree on because somebody wants to make their position look more important to someone else's so they can keep that job or get this funding or land that Grant and we forget we're all supposed to be in it for the students.”

Problems on the barrelhead, these guest administrators pulled out all the stops and found genuine solutions to the very difficult discussions of the day. These administrators are not only some of the brightest and best in the Sunshine State, they are some of the brightest educators in our nation. You won’t want to miss a moment of this powerful discussion. Ideas flow fast, and there are plenty to bring home to your own school or district.