As Technology continues to permeate education, we have a responsibility to find the balance that best leverages technology while utilizing the best use of teachers and support staff – their knowledge, their passion, their ability to connect with learners – in essence, their humanity. So here we are, mired in a sea of EdTech and OtherTech, floating in a pool of $billions and dodging headlines about the evil AI co-opting little Timmy and Tammy’s freedom of choice.
And through all the noise, we have voices of wisdom like Chris Knutsen, Superintendent at Florence Unified School District.
According Knutsen, “I was the seventh principal in nine years at Florence High School and the school was struggling. When I talk about the stars aligning, there was a group of people that all came together and I think we came close to accomplishing this idea of trying to not leave any kids behind.
“We initially tried to do it from the top down and bottom-up approach, where we first wanted to take the ceiling out of our school so that all the high flyers could fly as high as they could go. We added the International Baccalaureate program; it's a rigorous program where kids test in six areas at a high school level with 900 kids. It becomes difficult when you're talking about the master schedule when you may have three high flyers in this area or two in this area or four in a high flying foreign language class so you have to get very creative in how you address taking the ceiling out of the school, so we had to have an excellent master planner who could address the individual needs of all of our students.
“Sometimes, teachers would be teaching three different levels of the same subject in the same class period,” said Knutsen. “Sometimes, if we couldn't find a math teacher, we would have to think outside the box and maybe use ITV and hire a parapro and then switch them back and forth every other day, but we had to think outside the box on a lot of those things. We addressed the bottom quartile by capping classrooms at 18 kids and we would add a parapro in there. We called it triage and the teacher would teach face to face an ability group of six kids out of the 18, while another group of six would be doing relevant practice and another group of six would be getting assessed by the parapro. We increased the amount of time in those English and math classes to double blocks, so of course when our kids are behind academically we have to figure out how to put more time in so that they can master the concepts.
“To take it one step further, we added a 35-minute period in the day that we called remediation, so this is where technology really helped us,” Knutsen said. “We became a 1:1 district back then and every Friday we would formative test our students and then my math department chair (she's sitting back there, she's now a principal) she and the assistant principal would create rosters for the following Monday and the kids that didn't pass those formative tests they would be re-taught the material in remediation while other kids would go to various teachers for help so by doing this model if you look at over the course of that five years in Reading we went from a 68 to a 91 pass rate, and in math we went from a 47 to an 80.
“When did equity and SEL become a bad word? I mean if you listen to our politicians,” Knutson said, “a lot of times you hear them saying that Equity is a bad thing it's all about equality. I love the visual of education as this fence that's five feet tall and you might have a high flyer that's six foot, four. He can see over the fence, but you might have some other Kid from the Bottom quartile that is four foot two. How do we build more time in, maybe teach kids in different ways so that they can get the concepts? We need to give him a boost so he can see over the fence.”
This is just a bit of the wisdom of Superintendent Knutsen. It is amazing how well common sense still works in the technological age if you still have it. The superintendent defines the concept of finding our humanity in a technological world, and this video takes us from A to B, with quite a few “why didn’t I think of that” moments. Enjoy!