The Learner First has partnered with Goldendale School District (GSD) in Washington State since 2019. This week, GSD’s School Board was awarded Board of the Year in the category of Small School Districts for its extraordinary efforts in supporting GSD’s focus on learning and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congratulations to the GSD School Board, Superintendent Ellen Perconti, and all GSD staff, students, and families for their tremendous success and distinction.
The following is a statement from GSD.
Goldendale School Board is honored to receive the Small School District Board of the Year award from the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA). GSD’s Board is one of three chosen from the 34 Boards of Distinction for 2021. Steilacoom and Auburn Boards were honored as the medium and large district boards of the year.
WSSDA’s Board of Distinction application asked boards to illustrate how their actions exemplified visionary leadership and helped their schools close opportunity gaps. WSSDA indicated that the selection panel was impressed by GSD’s Board’s participation in The Learner First’s “Change Team” process, a process designed to move district leadership using dialogue that deepens understanding of the system and creates action based on this understanding. GSD’s Change Team efforts arose from the following Board goals:
- All children will achieve
- All children will have quality teachers/staff
- All children will be in safe, healthy learning environments
- All children will have the support of the community through ongoing communication and connection.
These goals provided the impetus to look to accelerate the district’s growth and are resulting in three primary shifts within GSD:
Shift 1 Redefining Achievement: The board established a goal that all students will achieve. Our first level of inquiry began by exploring what that really means. The board cited examples of students who had excelled in terms of grades at school, but had struggled when leaving the school context. They also cited students who had struggled in terms of grades at school who were now business owners in the community. An added layer in this inquiry was the context of COVID-19 and a heightened awareness regarding the importance of well-being.
The results of this work are a broader working definition of achievement that includes self-understanding, connections, knowledge (content standards), and competencies (collaboration, communication, etc.). GSD is establishing common ways of understanding this broader definition including the use of progressions that describe levels of growth. In addition, we are working to ensure that we pay attention to the whole child throughout all learning opportunities.
The board, in their mid-year review, requested that we continue to grow this work and vision throughout the district, and that successes in implementation are celebrated, highlighting students’ growth toward this broader definition of achievement.
Shift 2 Safe and Healthy Learning Environment and Family Connection: In 2019, the GSD board identified that the learning environment in the district was not conducive to all students learning at high levels. They used discipline, suspension, classroom exclusion, and state assessment data to develop an understanding of the students who were not engaging in active learning. In addition, the district Change Team’s initial rubric-guided review of GSD’s culture of learning highlighted the need for action.
In order to create a culture for learning, GSD started the 2020-21 school year with Family Connections. Each teacher met individually with students and family members during the first three days of school. In this meeting, the teacher learned more about the family’s hopes and dreams for their child and about the needs of the family as a whole, especially in the context of remote learning. These meetings provided a powerful connection and foundation for both families and teachers, and the process was so effective that we instituted it again at the start of the 2021-22 school year.
In addition to creating learning environments in which students thrive, we were faced in the fall of 2020 with new COVID protocols. GSD entered into hybrid learning in mid-October, navigating the board-supported mitigation strategies. In mid-April we were able to provide in-person learning for all students daily in a shortened day (due to distancing requirements during meals). As a result of diligence in implementing layered mitigation strategies, GSD did not have any COVID spread within the school day.
Shift 3 Focal Students: GSD Board understood that the start of the 2020 school year was a stressful time for staff, students, and families. They were explicit in having high expectations for the district while offering understanding and grace in the context of the pandemic. This meant a careful balance in providing clear expectations while remaining cognizant of not layering too many new initiatives.
The GSD Change Team initiated the idea of working on lesson design to more fully engage students. Fourteen teachers representing each of the buildings participated in this powerful professional learning facilitated by The Learner First. The first step of the lesson design process was for teachers to identify one or two of their classes’ ‘least-served’ students—students who would most benefit from changes to their learning experience. After identifying the student(s), the teachers interviewed them and then used the information they learned about the student in crafting their lessons. The impact on students’ learning was immense, as is the continued impact on teachers’ practice.
The GSD school board celebrated the success of the process and has asked that this work continue and expand, specifically stating their desire for staff to “stay hungry” in their learning.
The past 24 months have not been easy. GSD’s Board has navigated many challenges and continues to grow as a Board. The Board of the Year honor is not seen as an ending point, but as a push to grow and develop into the best leadership possible for the students of Goldendale.