21. Foundation-Laying in the New Learning Infrastructure

The new learning infrastructure is not easy for some Americans to accept. Ironically, many citizens believe free enterprise supersedes constitutional law. Whatever makes sense at the moment is more viable than following well-crafted rules.

A philosophy disastrous for building bridges. And detrimental to our nation’s schools.

Unfettered enterprise and democracy are not mutually supportive. They co-exist in both positive and negative ways. A delicate balance.

Free enterprise has been the hallmark of American growth and power in the world. Constitutional provisions put guardrails on that system to uphold the rights of everyone, not just those who amass property and acquire power.

Vernon and Amy are used as symbols of how the marriage of assertive enterprise and constitutional law can work together in the management of a school district’s academic program.

Those who serve on boards are often affiliated with the corporate world. They believe a district superintendent should have executive decision-making power. A superintendent with enterprising leadership skills and a powerful vision.

That approach works well with the management of finance, personnel, property, legal matters, facility planning/development, compliance with general regulations, and relationships with external service providers.

It does not work well in the development and management of academic programs. Most board members are not acquainted with the intricacies of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. And most certified administrators are not well enough trained in those domains.

Up to now this story has been presented through the eyes of Mary Chapman, a teacher education student and rookie seventh grade science teacher. Her new friend, Barbara Morgan, joined the district two years before Mary’s arrival. Barbara teaches eighth grade language arts.

Barbara will enter as a main character in the story, as she provides different insights and teaches a different subject.

Barbara Morgan’s Story – Part 1

Unlike Mary’s experience, my teacher education program did not include the same topics and exercises. Most of my courses focused on teaching methods and lesson planning. Resources used to prepare lessons were almost exclusively developed by publishers of educational materials.

I was also enrolled in a university program designed to prepare elementary teachers. In my case I chose language arts as my area of concentration, which gave me certification as a middle level language arts teacher.  

The new learning infrastructure process now used in the district was just getting underway when I joined the Sheridan Middle School faculty. Board member Vernon Preston, because of his wife’s intercession at the famous board meeting, supported the effort.

But he remained dubious.

Vernon was one of two board members who became part of the ad hoc steering committee assigned the task of creating an action plan. That plan centered on just one thing: creating the academic program policy.

The board and superintendent decided to include on the steering committee representatives from teaching and administrative staffs. In addition, they included representative parents and patrons.

I was surprised to be appointed to the committee as a middle school teacher.

Consultants from the Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI) were brought into the district to help launch the steering committee’s work. Vernon’s wife Amy, a constitutional lawyer, was pleased to learn the steering committee was equated with a kind of constitutional convention.

Creating bylaws for governing the academic program was tedious but essential for long term management of curriculum and instruction. Without such guidelines, program governance is ineffectual. CLI had helpful templates, as well as examples from other districts.

With CLI’s help we were able to complete a draft of the bylaws in two days. That may sound like an eternity, but much was accomplished. After deciding we would name the primary governing body the Curriculum Council, we completed these sections:

  • Curriculum Council Definition and Description
  • Council Functions
  • Council Meeting Procedures
  • Amendments to the Bylaws
  • Personnel Serving on the Council
  • Council Leadership
  • Selection of Council Members
  • Membership Terms and Duties
  • Recordkeeping
  • Appointment and Oversight of Subject Area Committees

It is hard to explain how I felt professionally and emotionally in those early weeks of the first year.

I expected a year of getting my feet on the ground. To become acquainted with students and organize my lesson plans. Trying to stay ahead of routine challenges associated with subject matter knowledge and classroom management.

My self-perception in August was of a young and inexperienced teacher. A person looking forward to years of gaining the maturity and experience needed to be a true educator.

Those feelings persisted but with an unexpected caveat.

The caveat was sitting at a large table in the Board Office as a full member of an important decision-making group. A committee that included key administrators, board members, and other people from the staff and community.

Rebecca Johnson, the committee chair, was assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She was in her 40s and had a doctorate. She was self-assured and conducted the meeting cordially, yet purposefully.

She asked us to introduce ourselves and talk about our background. Not in a proforma way.

Rebecca carefully listened and often inquired about something special in each response. She was interested in my International Ambassador work and what I learned. 

Later that day I told my husband how participation in those few hours changed me. Not as an ego inflator but rather a broadening of outlook. It authenticated my place as part of a team commissioned to validate the importance of education.

I was told I had a voice. And other young teachers in the district also had a voice.

My opportunity to use that voice started earlier than others new to the district. But we ALL established a system in which we were heard.

A system in which we delivered on our promises to enlighten children and young people.

The feeling I developed did not apply to my career alone, but to what my colleagues and I were able to do — to enrich the lives of those we teach.

Rebecca and others on the steering committee opened our door to that opportunity. To that responsibility.

And to continuously pay it forward.

 ©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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