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STEM classes for the masses p. 12 Plus: Small Schools Perspective: Learning the facts by visualizing the data p. 20

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March 4–7, 2019 Austin, Texas


The Future of Learning Starts Here Don’t miss out on the lowest rate of the season! Register by September 13.

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Volume 33 No. 3

FEATURE ARTICLES & COLUMNS STEM CLASSES FOR THE MASSES 12 How some Texas school districts are helping students get future-ready



The struggle is real



Mentoring in a doctoral program for school leaders

Sharon Lee, Ph.D. SMALL SCHOOLS PERSPECTIVE Learning the facts by visualizing the datas


Richard Erdmann with Christine Drew, Syfr Learning LLC TCEA TECH TAKE Blended learning: a student-centered approach to reaching the whole child


Charlotte Dolat TSPRA VOICE From news to PR: building positive relationships with the media


Courtney Sanguinetti LEGAL INSIGHT TEA publishes final T-STEM Blueprint


BOOK REVIEW What Texas school administrators are reading


A Syfr Learing Book Review by Richard Erdmann with Christine Drew

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OFFICERS Gayle Stinson, President, Lake Dallas ISD Greg Smith, President-Elect, Clear Creek ISD


Brian T. Woods, Vice President, Northside ISD Buck Gilcrease, Past President, Alvin ISD

TASA Professional Learning Calendar



President’s Message


Daniel Treviño, Jr., Region 1, Mercedes ISD

Executive Director’s View


Max A. Thompson, Region 2, Banquete ISD Jeanette Winn, Region 3, Karnes City ISD Charles E. Dupre, Region 4, Fort Bend ISD Richard Bain, Region 5, Silsbee ISD Clark C. Ealy, Region 6, College Station ISD Stan Surratt, Region 7, Lindale ISD Judd Marshall, Region 8, Mount Pleasant ISD Kevin Dyes, Region 9, Holliday ISD Kevin Worthy, Region 10, Royse City ISD


Executive Director

David Belding, Region 11, Aubrey ISD Kevin Brown

Assistant Executive Director, Services and Systems Administration

Ann M. Halstead

Amy Francisco

Director, Communications and Media Relations

Design/Production Marco A. De La Cueva

Editorial Director

Dacia Rivers

INSIGHT is published quarterly by the Texas Association of School Administrators, 406 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas, 78701-2617. Subscription is included in TASA membership dues. © 2018 by TASA. All rights reserved.TASA members may reprint articles in limited quantities for in-house educational use. Articles in INSIGHT are expressions of the author or interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of TASA. Advertisements do not necessarily carry the endorsement of the Texas Association of School Administrators. INSIGHT is printed by 360 Press Solutions, Cedar Park, Texas.

George Kazanas, Region 12, Midway ISD Jodi Duron, Region 13, Elgin ISD Shaun Barnett, Region 14, Stamford ISD Aaron Hood, Region 15, Robert Lee ISD Donna Hale, Region 16, Miami ISD Keith Bryant, Region 17, Lubbock-Cooper ISD Ariel Elliott, Region 18, Greenwood ISD Jeannie Meza-Chavez, Region 19, San Elizario ISD Michelle Carroll Smith, Region 20, Lytle ISD

AT-LARGE MEMBERS LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD Scott Niven, Allen ISD Jamie Wilson, Denton ISD Roland Toscano, East Central ISD

LEGISLATIVE CHAIR Doug Williams, Sunnyvale ISD

EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE Brian T. Woods, Northside ISD, Chair David Belding, Aubrey ISD Fred Brent, Georgetown ISD Jodi Duron, Elgin ISD Stacey Edmonson, Sam Houston State University Doug Williams, Sunnyvale ISD



TASA Professional Learning Calendar For details on our professional development events, please visit us at or call the TASA office at 512.477.6361 or 800.725.TASA (8272)





September 5-6

First-Time Superintendents Academy Various (FTSA) – Session II

Austin Marriott North Round Rock, TX


TASA/TASB Convention

Austin Convention Center Austin, TX


Curriculum Management Audit Training CMSi Level I

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX


Academy for Transformational Leadership Schlechty Center Session I


Curriculum Management Audit Training CMSi Level I

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX


First-Time Superintendents Academy Various (FTSA) – Session III

Austin Marriott North Round Rock, TX


Curriculum Management Audit Training CMSi Level II

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX


Academy for Transformational Leadership Schlechty Center Session II

Various August


San Angelo ISD San Angelo, TX


29-30 Administrative Leadership Institute Various

San Angelo ISD San Angelo, TX

Texas A&M University College Station, TX

December 3-4

CMSi Curriculum Management CMSi Planning Workshop

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX


CMSi Curriculum Management CMSi Writing Workshop

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX

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s leaders, it’s our duty to continually evolve our educational structures to meet the demands of both society and the trending job market. We would be remiss if we did not recognize the 180-degree shift over the past two decades in the employability skills currently in demand for the members of our future workforce who are sitting in desks on our campuses today.

Gayle Stinson

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE The soft skills often get lost in formal education, but it is exactly those set of skills that can make or break one’s career.

From pre-K through the 12th grade, the skills to support our culture and our nation must be taught and reinforced daily. As a part of TASA 2025, we have dedicated ourselves to the commitment of building an educated citizenry. In our quest for the optimal mixture of academic and technical skills, we must never forget the importance of the soft, interpersonal skills of each individual as we build our human capital. The soft skills often get lost in formal education, but it is exactly those skills that can make or break one’s career. Fortunately, we partner with the home and community, so as they prepare their children for their path in life, we will strive to meet our challenge of designing the pathways for the more than 5 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas. With the transformation to digital technology and artificial intelligence rapidly unfolding before our eyes, we can no longer wait until students enroll in career/technology classes in high school to teach the essential skills that are the basics of an integrated STEM educational program, nor can we wait until high school to reinforce the soft skills necessary for the workforce. Principal concepts founded in design-based, inquiry-based and cooperative learning must be introduced as early as the ABC’s. Further, we must incorporate interpersonal skills into every student’s educational career so that they will be more equipped to handle professional relationships, communicate effectively, leave positive impressions and make appropriate decisions throughout their adult lives. I fully understand that finding that niche in every student can at times feel like a daunting task; however, we must never cease in trying. In my own life, I have three children who have always approached the art of learning through very different lenses. Around 400 B.C., when Plato said, “Mathematics is the language in which the gods speak to people,” he most assuredly was thinking about my eight-year-old son. Numbers speak to him; however, numbers do not speak to every child, which in turn poses challenges to educators who are tasked with preparing each child and their unique manners for the demands of a highly technical workforce. There are students like my oldest daughter, who views the world with the spirit of Albert Einstein and believes that questioning and curiosity are the cornerstones and driving forces for any and all educational endeavors. And then there is my middle, hippie daughter, who, although she is quite successful in her academics, is more akin to the philosophy of The Beatles — all you need is love. All three children are excited about school and have hopes for the future, but all three have totally different ideas of how to achieve their dreams. As both a parent and an educator, I have to constantly seek avenues that will ensure that each has the opportunities to not just survive but to thrive in our society. This is the challenge that educators must see as their mission. We must educate all students, brimming with individuality, and ensure that each is armed with state-of-the-art and modernized skills so that they can meet the demands of a progressive workforce, but they must do so with the skills to succeed on any team. On every campus today, we all have a Plato, an Albert Einstein, a John Lennon, and we must continually strive to meet not just their needs, but also the other thousands of grains of beautiful sand that will carry our country forward. It’s when we bring all of these pathways together, that we build an established, educated citizenry.


Soldier-Coursed Flash of Inspiration A New Community Gateway Captures Instruction and Imagination in Masonry

Braswell High School serves as a portal to the high-growth corridor east of Denton. Acme’s flashed brick brings rich color with unique range and character to focal points of the new campus. At athletic facilities, the design includes two complementary Hill Country Stone colors for increased scale. Soldier coursing shows the versatility of modular Acme Brick, which contrasts beautifully with larger units. The result is a high school visually organized to support educational excellence and create a lasting, distinctive neighborhood identity.

"We chose three colors of flashed brick—all made at Acme Brick’s Denton plant—for their variations in color and play of light, which helped meet a school district desire for local materials and sustainability. In combination with Hill Country Stone, the brick allowed us to differentiate the buildings’ massings by function and location.” — John P. Brooks, AIA, Senior Associate, VLK Architects

Ray Braswell High School West Field House, Denton ISD Little Elm, Texas architect VLK Architects, Fort Worth general contractor Balfour Beatty, Fort Worth masonry contractor DMG Masonry, Arlington Acme Brick materials Acme Brick (Denton Plant) Cranberry Flash, Ebony, Burnt Pumpkin Modular Ruff Featherlite Building Products Jefferson, Canyon Antique Smooth Architectural Masonry

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exas public schools place a priority on creating and sustaining quality STEM programs, so the opportunities available to students these days are astounding. Our students compete in robotics and cyber security, design and build rockets, clone cattle, make discoveries in labs, and serve as interns at scientific research institutes. These kinds of experiences were not available when I was a student.

Kevin Brown

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW How can we best support quality STEM experiences in an ever-changing environment, especially when state funding for public education is very limited?

We know that quality applicants for STEM jobs are in high demand worldwide, and part of our call is to help students be prepared for them. However, this is a daunting task due to the sheer breadth and ever-changing landscape of science, technology, engineering and math. Many of the careers our children will pursue do not yet exist. How can we best support quality STEM experiences in an ever-changing environment, especially when state funding for public education is very limited? The good news is that administrators and teachers prove time and again that they can overcome such challenges. Rather than focusing on what they can’t provide due to limited resources, they focus on what they can control. Providing a program for every STEM career would be an impossible task, so instead, our schools work to foster creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills through engaging STEM experiences to inspire learning for life, regardless of course offerings. Rather than focusing on preparing students for a one-size-fits-all standardized test that, by its very nature, disincentivizes the characteristics we should encourage and diminishes both the love of learning and the joy of teaching, many educators are customizing and personalizing the learning experience as much as possible based on student interests and strengths. This is the true calling of educators, and it’s key because, as important as STEM education is to the future, many students’ strengths lie elsewhere, such as in the arts, humanities, and leadership. All students can benefit from personalized learning. In this issue of INSIGHT, we celebrate educators and schools that create relevant, challenging learning experiences in STEM, despite the challenges of limited funding and the overemphasis of standardized tests. These types of quality educational experiences can have a tremendous impact on the trajectory of students’ lives, whether they ultimately choose careers in STEM or in other fields.

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TEACHER PERSPECTIVE The struggle is real By Marissa Torres

Sometimes we forget the importance of allowing students the opportunity to struggle, and even to feel unsuccessful at times.


s educators we want our students to succeed. The main reason most of us enter the education profession is to help children become productive and successful members of society. Sometimes in this desire for success, however, we forget the importance of allowing students the opportunity to struggle, and even to feel unsuccessful at times.We must teach kids how to persevere and struggle effectively through classroom challenges if we have any hope of creating problem-solvers ready to deal with the challenges of the real world. This embrace of struggle and perseverance does not mean lessons should end in tears and lower self-esteem.When challenging students, we must ensure that we are making their struggle productive. The definition of “productive” is to produce a result. If students are struggling at all times and never producing a result, it will lower their self-confidence and deter them from trying in the future.This is the antithesis of what we want.We want students to understand that when they put forth effort and persist through challenges, they will eventually get positive results. First, let’s picture a traditional classroom where students are not challenged and there is no productive struggle.The teacher is afraid to let the students feel any ounce of failure, so he often plans lessons geared toward the lower performing students, leaving the majority to feel bored.When a child doesn’t know the answer to a question, the teacher will call on another student or simply carry on with the lesson, eventually providing the answer himself. In classrooms like this where productive struggle is lacking, instead of effectively learning the content, the student is internalizing three very important lessons: The teacher doesn’t believe in the students’ abilities, the students will not be held accountable during class discussions, and most importantly that it is acceptable to give up when you are struggling.As educators, we want to be stressing the opposite of all of these lessons.This is why it is imperative that we include productive struggle in every classroom every day. Recognizing the importance of productive struggle is the first step, but what does it look like in practice? Whole group openings of lessons are perfect opportunities to challenge students while still offering the support necessary for success. During these openings, teachers should teach to the highest performing students in the room to ensure everyone is challenged. If scaffolding is necessary, it should be done in small groups. Openings start the lesson for the day, so the students should be given a problem that relates to that day’s content. Because it is new content, it will naturally be challenging, but students should learn to apply previously taught content to figure it out.



For example, if your third-grade students have been studying areas of a rectangle, you could put up an irregular shape that consists of two rectangles. For example: Sara is carpeting her room and closet as shown below. She determines that she will need 32 square yards of carpeting. Is Sara right or wrong? Justify your answer, and if she is wrong determine what her mistake is and what the correct area of her room and closet are.

In this problem, the students not only have to figure out the area of an irregular shape (something they haven’t yet learned), but they also have to use that information to determine if Sara is right or wrong and why. Once the question is posed, it is important to allow students time to discuss it with their peers.This peer work alleviates the pressure of the whole class judging their thoughts, and allows for students to bounce ideas off each other. During peer discussion, the students are expected to struggle. For some, all they will need is the support of their peers to make their struggle productive. For others, however, they will need some support from a teacher. When the teacher does decide to intervene, it should be with guiding questions that will get the student thinking about the problem. What do you know about this problem? What have we learned that could help you solve it? What do you think the first step should be? What is the problem asking you to find? How do you know? These open-ended questions allow the teacher to offer support and guidance, but still allow for the student to struggle through the work. After peer discussion, the problem should then be debated by the whole group. During this discussion, there is no passing. If we allow students the ability to pass, we are not holding every child accountable.This can be a difficult adjustment for students. If the speaker is struggling, it is often hard for the other students to sit quietly and wait. They want to jump in and offer their opinion. This restless energy is felt by the speaker, pressuring her to pass. One strategy to alleviate this is a two-second cheer: If the speaker is struggling silently while attempting to answer, another student will shout, “Come on ____, you can do it!” Then the rest of the class claps and cheers for two seconds. The listeners have gotten that energy

of wanting to speak out, and the speaker feels supported. At the end of the two seconds, more often than not, the student will come up with an answer. If this strategy does not end with an answer and the student is truly confused, silent or doesn’t know how to go on, the teacher needs to again use guiding questions, allowing the student’s struggle to become productive. This productive struggle may at times seem harsh, especially at the elementary level, but it teaches lifelong skills that the students will need to be successful. During the first few weeks of school, many students are not accustomed to this kind of challenge, and some of our openings do end in tears. Students are easily frustrated and dislike the feeling of struggling through a lesson without total reliance on a teacher.They are initially uncomfortable with being held accountable for every answer and every discussion. However, as the year progresses, an amazing thing starts to happen. Students who started the year silent or giving up begin to believe that they have the tools to figure out the answers. Rather than a disparate collection of students with fixed mindsets and differing levels of performance, the class transforms into a more cohesive group of students with growth mindsets who believe that if they persevere in a task, they will succeed. As educators, most of us believe in the benefits of growth mindsets, hard work and perseverance in theory, but we forget that these lessons need to be taught alongside the TEKS.The same qualities that make us good teachers — compassion, empathy, the desire for students to succeed and the impulse to help — can sometimes get in the way of our students learning perhaps the most valuable lesson we can teach them. Giving students the answer is easy; teaching them the value of struggle and perseverance involves struggle and perseverance on the part of the teacher as well. I challenge all educators to let your students struggle. They will learn the value of effort and persistence.They will learn how to be problem solvers and that they possess the resources to face challenges. They will learn that struggle is often an opportunity for growth, and that success is sweeter when it is harder won. Ultimately, if we succeed in this endeavor, our young students will learn to be productive and successful adults. n Marissa Torres, Texas’ 2018 Elementary Teacher of the Year, teaches third grade in White Settlement ISD.

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classes for the masses How some Texas school districts are helping students get future-ready By Dacia Rivers



It seems like everyone in education is talking about STEM, and with good reason: That’s where the jobs are. Job growth in STEM industries is eclipsing growth in other areas. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM jobs are expected to grow by 8.9 percent by 2024, compared to 6.4 percent estimated growth for non-STEM jobs. Even job-seekers who choose not to go into a STEM field experience higher pay when they have strong STEM educations. As these numbers increase with each new projection, school systems across the U.S. are working to increase STEM learning in their classrooms, hoping to prepare students for the types of jobs that will be in demand when they graduate. STEM academies In Lewisville ISD, north of Dallas, a community survey hipped staff to just how in demand STEM-focused education is. During the 2015-16 school year, the district checked in with parents via survey to see what type of curriculum they’d like to see prioritized in local schools of choice. Survey results showed that STEM was the number-one priority for parents in the district, which wasn’t a huge surprise to administrators, considering the amount of attention STEM education had been receiving on a national level.

To enroll in one of the STEM academies in Lewisville, students are chosen by a lottery system, with no prerequisites for attending. The sheer number of interested students was evidence of the desire for STEM-focused educational paths:The first academy, at Donald Elementary School, offered 120 open seats to students, and administrators received more than 400 applications.

“That just shows the commitment they have to doing this,” Greene says.

Teachers at the new STEM academies were not required to complete STEM certification, but Greene says at the first campus, he hoped a minimum of six teachers would volunteer to do so. Instead he got 22 volunteers, making Donald Elementary the campus with the most certified STEM teachers in the entire U.S.

“That’s what the teachers have really been working on, creating design challenges that integrate all of the other standards and components,” Greene says. “It’s very project-based, problem-based learning.”

The STEM academy at Donald Elementary opened its doors in August, and the next two, at Polser and Valley Ridge elementary schools, will open in August 2019. Greene says he thinks of the campuses as “STEM-plus” academies, because they focus on all of the TEKS, just like any other school in the district, but add in “As a result, we knew there was a strong the STEM element through engineering interest, and we added a third campus to design challenges. help accommodate that overflow,” says Greene. For instance, at a STEM academy, elementary students studying the weather in their Demand wasn’t just high among students science class might go beyond learning and their parents. To become a STEM about an issue such as erosion by adding academy, campuses had to apply for an engineering challenge to their lessons. selection, showing that the staff and the They might identify a place on their camcommunity were fully on-board to make pus that suffers from soil loss, then design the transition. and create a solution to the problem.

Lewisville ISD designed its STEM curriculum in-house, with help from the

“We knew we wanted to do something in our district to impact that national trend that we’re seeing,” says Jonas Greene, STEM administrator in Lewisville ISD. “Our vision in LISD is that all of our students enjoy thriving, productive lives in the futures that they create.” The district took a big leap into meeting this prioritized need by converting two elementary schools into STEM academies. In the 2016-17 school year, administrators chose two older campuses with declining enrollment to make the switch.

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STEM-certified teachers in the district. Texas has no set engineering standards for elementary students, so the district worked with the National Institute for STEM Education in providing teacher certification and developing curriculum. Over time, the district plans to add STEM academies at the middle- and high-school levels. At 27 other campuses in the district, administrators have added a once-perweek STEM class into the specials rotation, a move to get all students in Lewisville ready for the careers that await them. “Our primary goal is not only to create students prepared to take STEM jobs, but students prepared to take any job they wish to pursue,” Greene says. “We know the skills they learn in STEM are what we call 21st century skills, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and these skills are going to be useful to them no matter what they decide to do post-high school.” A STEM class on every campus Mamy good ideas have a humble genesis. From one spark can come a wildfire, and you can wind up with a Starbucks coffee shop in seemingly every strip mall in America. In Dallas ISD, their STEM spark started at the middle-school level and is in the process of growing to touch every campus in the super-sized district. Jeff Marx, computer science and technology director, brought his engineering and computer science background to the district about four years ago, determined to incorporate more STEM learning. Since most of Dallas ISD’s middle schools were already providing elective computer literacy classes and therefore already had the necessary staff, that’s where he decided to start. “We repurposed some of those elective courses so that they were focused on programming and robotics, instead of just 14


computer literacy,” Marx says. “That’s where it really started, and it took off pretty quickly.” Quintanilla Middle School was an early trailblazer, offering four sections of robotics in the first year. The school garnered a lot of attention in the district and from the media. The students were engaged, and teachers at other schools began to take notice. “When other people would come and visit the school, they would see that the students were really engaged, and they were learning to program and to think vocationally,” Marx says.

interested in fostering STEM education at her campus. And so, in the 2016-17 school year, teachers at Frederick Douglass began incorporating one hour of coding per week during the school day. In the past, schools in the district have offered STEM programs as extracurricular activities, such as after-school robotics teams (the district has about 250 of those) and coding clubs. This new push doesn’t seek to replace those, but to incorporate STEM learning during the school day to reach more students.

“We had a lot of success, the students were really engaged and liking it, and the teachers seemed to be enjoying it as well,” Marx The idea caught fire like a patch of thirsty says of the pilot program at Frederick Dougrass. Within just one year, Dallas ISD glass Elementary. This past school year, the was offering programming and robot- campus was joined by 31 other elementary ics electives at 30 of its middle schools. schools in the district that added coding to From there, Marx says the next logical their curriculum as well. Marx hopes that step was to offer the classes to students at other schools in the district will join them, and the wind does seem to be blowing in the elementary level. just that direction. “We wanted to think about how to create a pipeline and get them started young,” To facilitate the new classes, the Dallas Marx says.“That way when they come to ISD board approved a bond that allowed middle school, they’ll already have some schools to use funds for computer scibackground knowledge, and they’ll be ence and robotics at the elementary level. These funds have covered much of the able to excel in those classes.” technology used, including AlgoBots and One of Dallas ISD’s elementary campuses, Roamers, which offer software that teaches Frederick Douglass Elementary School, programming through child-friendly puzwas welcoming a new principal at that zles and games. time, Marquetta Masters, and she was

Administrators in Dallas ISD have created some of their own curriculum development and professional development, but the district also partnered with, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science in schools. “Having to back us up has made it much easier to scale out all our professional development,” Marx says.With such a large district, and a growing program, training is important. Last summer, Dallas ISD trained more than 500 elementary teachers to bring these STEM-based lessons to their students. These participating teachers receive a weekly curriculum, based on the K-12 computer science framework. STEM lessons at participating schools might involve physical computing, programming robots or delving into deeper computer science topics, such as hardware, data, social implications of technology and security. The sheer amount of interest is testament to the program’s success, but Marx says the benefits are visible to anyone who visits a participating classroom. “Students now have an increased confidence that they can do this stuff, they can code stuff, and that confidence helps them in other areas as well,” Marx says. A new way to teach Historically, teachers have joked that they always needed to be just one chapter ahead of their students. But these days students walk into a classroom with limitless information at their fingertips, cellphones at the ready to provide a counter argument to whatever might be on the lesson plan, say, even the roundness of the Earth. You can try to fight it, and plenty of schools do, but in Aldine ISD, administrators are trying out a new program to help students harness and understand that wealth of information.

“We are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge,” says Akilah Willery, executive director of instructional technology in the district, which lies in and around the Houston area. “Kids have access to all that information, but we haven’t been a good guide on how they can use it.”

To create this new curriculum, Aldine has partnered with multiple groups, including, Rice University and WeTeach_ CS out of the University of Texas at Austin. Teachers and administrators have been poring over the national computer science curriculum created by and finetuning it to meet the needs of students Starting this fall, middle school students in in Aldine, aligning lessons to meet local Aldine will be able to take an elective com- standards. puter science course designed to prepare them for life in a high-tech world. They also reached out to the Texas Computer Education Association and the “In the past we asked teachers to see how Region 4 Education Service Center for they could incorporate STEM and com- support as they initiated the new classes. puter science into existing content, but it Beyond the electives,Aldine is also working wasn’t enough,” Willery says. “We needed to create extracurricular STEM programs something more because we didn’t want for students at all levels, including particiteachers to have to figure out how to fit pating in a local robotics competition and it in. We wanted something a little deeper planning a spring hack-athon where stubecause our kids wanted more, and they dents can show off their coding and design skills. were capable of more.” This new elective gives students a daily chance to look at computational thinking. Classes will incorporate hands-on, projectbased learning to give the students the opportunity to build and be creative when solving real-world problems. The main purpose of the program is to get Aldine students ready to apply for the jobs that will await them after graduation.

From there, Willery hopes to expand STEM classes down to the elementaryschool level. “We really believe that if we get these kids thinking about design and an engineering mindset early on, we’ll probably have more success throughout the grade levels,” she says.

“For the most part, the kids are not going to have to write a composition when they go for a job interview,” Willery says. “We want them to be communicators.We want them to work in teams.We want to throw crazy problems at them and have them come up with never-before-thought-of solutions.”

For other districts looking to incorporate more STEM learning into their curriculum, Willery suggests visiting weteachcs. org. A grant-funded program, WeTeach_ CS provides resources, training and support to schools adding computer science programs at any grade level. The group has been a big help to Aldine administrators as they work to institute this brand-new Willery says traditional curriculum doesn’t program in the district. always allow for this kind of collaboration and problem-solving, and that teaching “The teachers are really excited about under the umbrella of STAAR can result seeing what the kids are able to produce,” in lessons that are too black and white and Willery says. “So far our kids are showing don’t include enough creative thinking. us that there’s a whole lot we don’t know that they’re willing, and bravely willing, to demonstrate for us.” n

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HIGHER EDUCATION Mentoring in a doctoral program for school leaders by Sharon Lee, Ph.D.


electing a doctoral program is one of the most important professional decisions that an educational leader can make. The decision to pursue a doctoral degree is often just one dimension of broader personal and professional development goals for individuals. Classroom teachers, building principals, area directors and assistant superintendents are looking for programs that can help them add to their current knowledge while preparing them for advancement. While convenience, affordability and timing are a few of the factors considered when making this decision, many doctoral students find that they prefer a personal approach where faculty will serve as mentors and coaches as well as advisors and teachers. Countless models are currently in place throughout the country, and the cohort model is one that is gaining prominence for the many features that are built into the program. While a cohort model is usually designed to insure both retention and student success, it also helps to build developmental relationships that go beyond the completion of the program. Universities with mentoring programs build on the benefits of mentoring and coaching while advancing educational excellence for the program participants. With completion rates for doctoral programs hovering at the 50 percent level nationwide, a program that offers a student-centered approach with built-in mentoring often exceeds 80 percent completion.

Mentoring relationships Research is clear that an individual’s academic motivation can be improved through the formation of developmental relationships through mentoring. Mentoring in conjunction with building relationships has been shown to increase student engagement, improve academic motivation, encourage career aspirations for the future and expand civic engagement. The Leaders Lyceum (2015) claims that leaders engaged in developmental relationships develop faster and more effectively than those who are not. When mentoring and coaching are integral parts of a doctoral program design based on a servant leadership model, the results are powerful transformative research that addresses significant educational issues. Programs with mentoring as a key element often report high retention rates and even higher rates of job promotions and advancements for their students as they pursue doctorates. Research done with completers in at least one program shows that mentoring and the cohort model of relationship building was pivotal in the completion of the doctoral degree. A program with built-in mentoring allows for students to develop relationships with the directors, the faculty and the other cohort members throughout the doctoral program. When mentoring and coaching are built into the program, all students develop deep personal and professional relationships with other educational leaders. Karcher (2005) defines mentoring as a deliberate pairing of individuals for support, guidance, attention and care over an extended period of time. Coach U (2005) defines the coaching relationship as one that “accelerates the process of great performance … a journey of personal and professional discovery” (p. 10). Hastings (2010) says that a coaching relationship is an outstanding “vehicle for change and transformation” (p. 46) that “accelerates what is already underway or about to begin” (p. 3).



Students in the Dallas Baptist University (DBU) program provided their own definition of mentoring in a recent survey. Many definitions coincided with printed definitions. Graduates said mentoring involves “a commitment to the success of another person” or “coming alongside another person in a learning journey.” More than one graduate mentioned the importance of “providing guidance and advice for navigating through professional situations successfully.” More than 80 percent of the respondents mentioned the word relationship when defining mentoring.

Growth as a servant leader

The program at DBU is designed to tap into the best of both mentoring and coaching. In some instances, a student needs clear guidance or some words of wisdom from someone who has already been through a similar circumstance. At other times, they need someone to ask the tough questions that allow them to discover solutions and plans on their own. As a result of the good advice and good questioning that were achieved through mentoring as well as coaching, the students have been successful in both completing the degree and moving forward in their professional roles. DBU doctoral students reported several major benefits of the mentoring they received while in the program through an evaluation survey at the end of the program.

In the evaluation survey at the end of the DBU program, graduates elaborated upon what they learned about mentoring during their experiences in the doctoral program. All participants mentioned servant leadership — a term that is central to any DBU program. They used words such as empathy, support, understanding, positive intentions, connections, relationship building and safety. Those words came up repeatedly as they talked about their own mentors as well as the mentoring that they now provide for others. “This program helped me recognize it’s all about those I mentor. I feel much more successful at my job if I just focus on what people really need. And maybe that is the essence of DBU servant leadership.” Another respondent said, “What I think I gained most from the DBU doctoral program is a deeper understanding of the concept of servant leadership — having a servant heart — a major component of mentoring.”

Growth as a professional Many students reported job changes and advancements both during the program and after receiving the doctorate. Much research says that mentoring expands professional and educational opportunities. Slicker and Palmer (1993) show that students who have mentors go farther in their education, while Knight (2011) suggests that professionals who have good coaching are better prepared for job transitions.

At DBU, the servant leadership vision is demonstrated through every program, in every class and by every professor. Instilling this in our students is the heartbeat of our university. Knight (2011) says that coaching builds a partnership between the individuals. He lists equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, praxis and reciprocity as key elements of a good coaching relationship. He reminds good coaches that “identifying our principles is important because the way we act flows naturally out of what we believe” (p. 18).

Growth through mentoring Students all reported professional, academic and personal growth as an outcome of the program in direct result of the mentoring relationships established. The directors of the program fully understand the importance of connectedness and meet regularly with the students. In addition, weekly emails with process details,

encouragement and spiritual guidance are hallmarks of the program. Karcher (2005) identified connectedness as one of the main features of mentoring best practices. Bernstein-Yamashiro (2004) says that building a positive relationship through mentoring is critical for building self-advocacy and self-initiating skills. Students definitely felt connected through the process.

Cohort relationships While mentoring came mainly from the faculty and directors in the program, every student recognized the role of the cohort in the way they felt supported and connected in the program. When talking about the cohort, the two most important words reported in both surveys and interviews with graduates were safe and supportive. • “Because of the cohort, I felt safe.” • “Working with the cohort was a safe way to expand my world, especially academically.” • “So far, the biggest support system has been my cohort members. While they don’t have more experience in the doctoral program than I do, we share similar academic experiences, so there’s a strong sense of empathy that provides support. Having a group of people that know what you are going through is so helpful because it reminds you that you are not alone.” • “I think because of our cohort … we almost instinctively formed some mentoring partnerships and small groups for support.” • “I think that’s the value of the cohort and the way it was set up supports our growth.” • “I suppose anyone who has a shared difficult experience also understands the unique bond that develops out of that situation.”

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Mentoring strategies The survey and interviews asked the graduates to identify the strategies and activities in the doctoral program that provided the most support for them as future educational leaders who will also become mentors to their colleagues and staff. The interviews were designed to gain their perspective about what they found to be most beneficial. There was a long list, which provided some interesting insight into both formal and informal mentoring that took place in the program. A few of the most mentioned activities are shown below: • Shadowing supervisors • Debriefing • Active listening • Mentoring with compassion • Regular contact • Availability • Effective questioning • Offering timely advice • Authentically connecting on a personal level

Emotional aspects of mentoring Substantial research suggests students have high incidents of depression during an Ed.D. or Ph.D. program. Magelssen (2016) says that more doctoral students are reporting significant mental health issues today than in any past generation of students. He identifies some of the stressors as family responsibilities, financial concerns and culture-related anxiety. Pain (2014) claims that as many as one-third of doctoral students are at risk of depression. She does comment that having an “inspirational” mentor may offset the risks of depression in students. “When people have a clear vision of the future and the path that they are taking,



this provides a sense of meaningfulness, progress and control, which should be a protective factor against mental health problems” (para. 4). There are hundreds of books about successfully navigating the doctoral program, and many give advice about finishing a dissertation. Almost all of them mention the advantages of keeping priorities clear as well as finding support from advisors and colleagues. Marino, Stefan and Blackford (2014) give 10 rules for completion, and networking and seeking support from mentors are important aspects of their advice. DBU students speak often about the strength of the cohort model in providing support: • “The connection I have with my cohort is food for the soul.” • “It is a blessing to be around bright, accomplished, humble and hardworking learners.” • “I have been sharpened by many professors and cohort members.” • “Until my time at DBU, I did not have relationships with other working educators where I was consistently encouraged, prayed for and mentored.” • “Without faith, prayer and encouragement, it will wear down your soul.” • “I am blessed to be in a caring and supportive cohort.” • “The love and support of my cohort is mirrored by the same level of care and understanding I receive from professors.”

Conclusion Since the inception of innovative doctoral programs such as the Ed.D. K-12 program at DBU, the profession has been continually looking for ways

to improve the overall experience for students. Mentoring and coaching for educational leadership are often built in from the beginning, and the power of the mentoring relationships with the students is encouraging. Some final comments about relationships in the DBU survey pointed to the positive aspects of the mentoring graduates received in the program. • “I have learned that mentoring is essential for success in a doctoral program.” • “I learned by experience the influence and positive impact mentoring can have on others.” • “I learned the value of finding mentors, not just the official ones.” • “When I felt adrift and overwhelmed, my mentor was a lifeline, a buoy of hope when I was disheartened.

Mentoring and coaching should continue to be a significant dimension of a doctoral program. Research confirms that developing caring, supportive, meaningful and reciprocal relationships with students will result in a sense of agency, belonging and competence. Mentors can express care for students, challenge their professional growth and expand the possibilities of their personal development. An additional benefit of a strong mentoring program is that graduates can learn important aspects of mentoring through their personal doctoral journey that they can apply in their new professional roles as outstanding educational leaders.n Shannon Lee, Ph.D, is director of research in K-12 Education at Dallas Baptist University.


Bernstein-Yamashiro, B. (2004). Learning relationships: Teacher-student connections, learning and identity in high school. New Directions for Youth Development, 103, 55-70.

CoachU Personal and corporate coach training handbook. (2005) Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons. Sage Foundation Pub. Hasting, J.V. (2010). The next great awakening: How to empower God’s people with a coach approach to ministry. Coaching4Clergy. Karcher, M. (2005). The effects of developmental mentoring and high school mentors’ attendance on their younger mentee’s self-esteem, social skills and connectedness. Psychology in the School. 42 (1), 65-77. Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Knight 2011 Knight, J. (2011). What good coaches do. Educational Leadership, 69 (2), 18-22. Leaders Lyceum (2015). Leaders Lyceum-Development Relationships. Retrieved June 16, 2015, from Magelssen, S. (2016). Our academic discipline is making us sicker. Theatre Survey, 57 (3), 389-394. Marino, J., Stefan, M.I., & Blackford, S. (2014). Ten simple rules for finishing your Ph.D. PLOS Computational Biology, 10 (12), 104. Pain, E. (2014). Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges. Wellness and Health, doi:10.1126/science.caredit. a1700028 Slicker, E. & Palmer, D. (1993) Mentoring at-risk high school students: Evaluation of a school-based program. School Counselor, 40, 327-334.

Welcoming Dynamic




Focused Texas School Public Relations Association

SMALL SCHOOLS PERSPECTIVE Learning the facts by visualizing the data by Richard Erdmann with Christine Drew, Syfr Learning LLC


ive years ago, Chevron and TASA formed a partnership with Syfr Learning to create a series of STEM Summits. On two occasions we invited participants from STEM-focused nonprofits to present their solutions. The first was e-NABLE, who had developed software to make prosthetic hands made with 3-D printing. Even before the three-day conference was over, Lewisville ISD was using the product and had made a prosthetic hand for someone. Since then the idea has spread within Texas and internationally. In January 2018, Chevron asked that the TASA partnership create a one-day forum on leadership, and we decided to pursue the ideas of creativity and communications. One of the topics was the visualization of data as communication. We asked the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden to send two people who work internationally in education. They have just returned to Texas to train 1,400 social studies and science teachers in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (CFISD). What they are doing there is also well suited for small to midsize districts. Through collaboration among multiple districts, these projects can be used by a district of any size. To understand why Gapminder is a great STEM solution, take five minutes and watch the founder of Gapminder, Hans Rosling, talk about global health by visually representing data here: com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo. The video also illustrates what can happen to a subject such as statistics when you insert someone with a creative background. The creative director in Gapminder, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, is not a statistician nor a software developer, but a designer. STEM includes designers! Who knew? While our interest in bringing Gapminder to the Leadership Forum was to stimulate interest in students learning the technology and how to design visual data, CFISD’s participants wanted to use the Gapminder tools initially to help students learn about the world and then later learn to use the software tools to represent and work with data. Debra Hill, the former director of secondary science at CFISD, explained her vision for Gapminder as a two- to four-year project, moving from the use of visual data to improve their existing courses to the use of software to create new visual data and probably new courses. Why did they choose this sequence? Often, we do not know or understand just how much the world is changing or believe it when we see it. Visualizing the data helps make the data real (they also have a website, Dollar Street, that visually documents poverty to help us understand the relationship between income and how we live). If you want to assess your knowledge of the world, participate in Gapminder’s short quiz here: Don’t be embarrassed about your results. Random guessing beats most of us. Why? Because we try to reason our way through to the answers using the information we already have, which is usually out of date. (The folks at Gapminder have written a book about this, currently a best seller, “Factfulness.” A review of the book can be found on our website: As a result, CFISD decided to get the facts of the world right first and then focus on how to use the tools. 20


The approach in CFISD to use these tools is driven by a basic three-step process focused on critical thinking and informed decision-making. The first step is helping students experience visual data to understand and use facts, the second is learning how to communicate with data technology tools and third, master the necessary software tools to create their new investigative questions that go beyond the data captured in the Gapminder database, so they can do their own research and create their own visualizations. Might this be important to rural districts? Let’s look at one example of how data gets used in a rural environment. On virtually any cattle ranch, a rancher gathers data on species of grasses, soil types, weather trends, water patterns, cattle breeding, weight, price fluctuations and when to sell. Weather, trade policies and price fluctuations make managing the ranch a complex and somewhat unpredictable problem. Within 10 years we see ranchers using tools like those developed by Gapminder to make complex decisions easier. Just like drones and smarter tractors, ranchers and farmers need to be able to see the data to make better decisions. While contacting some in the wonderful cohort of leaders who attended the Leadership Forum, we had two surprises when we called Kelli Moulton, superintendent of Galveston ISD. First, GISD had STEM in pre-K through fourth grade, an uncommon occurrence based on who we called. Second, they had a program that is easily replicated for rural districts and relates to their needs in agriculture: gardening. As a bonus, the same school, Morgan Elementary School, also has robotics. When asked the question, “Why STEM so early?” the principal, Divya Nagpal, responded, “The most important time of any person’s life in terms of growth is the early age. If we want to develop an interest in technology, math and science, the time to begin is then.”

The school introduces STEM topics in three ways. Every student uses technology whether it is their cellphone, Chromebook, iPad or computer. Every student also participates in the gardening and robotics programs. Let’s start with gardening because any school can do it. Gardening can be applied to every part of STEM and has many benefits beyond the obvious tie to the life sciences. We asked about math to get some examples and Nagpal provided several links to algorithmic/algebraic thinking. Algebra has been a stumbling block for about two-thirds of our students for decades. The curriculum reform of the last 10 years is attempting to push it down into the early grades. For example, take vertical addition and turn it into an equation in the first grade, or take a problem such as x + 4 = 6 and call it a onestep equation whether in vertical addition or equation form.

and then modifying if after you’ve used it for a year or two made starting easier and increased the probability of success. Off-the-shelf solutions aren’t as popular as they once were, but in two of our three examples (robotics and big data), off-the-shelf products and services provided the foundation for future creativity. Even the gardening project benefited from using an outside source (Morgan even uses e-NABLE and a student has made a prosthetic hand for another student in the school). Because the Gapminder software illustrates the merger of the arts and sciences, we also wanted to find an arts program that had integrated STEM. We found one in North East ISD’s School of the Arts (NESA). Arts programs are expensive, and while NESA’s program is no exception, there are some characteristics that should be of interest to small schools. Students design, build and wire sets (models of which can be built with 3-D printers), create and manage acoustics and lighting and even design costumes. All of these are part of STEM learning and the technology resources can be shared for use in other courses, reducing the overall cost and eliminating the purchase of duplicate technology. To the extent that smaller districts pursue the arts, think of it as a broadening educational experience rather than a narrowing one and look at ways to integrate STEM by stretching dollars around a bigger piece of the curriculum.

Gardening provides a concrete, project based, real-world environment in which to use algorithmic and algebraic thinking. It ranges from measurement, buying and selling and keeping a journal full of plant and financial data, to measuring the processes of growing: sun/shade, rain/no rain, soil, sand, etc. Again, to quote Nagpal, “Math performance has improved substantially as evidenced from informal and formal assessment data.” Nagpal found help for her gardening program from local sources such as the farmer’s market and SMART Family Literacy, who were able to supply a curriculum of sorts that got them started as well provide an outlet for their If you look for a lesson in these and other STEM programs, it would be to go slow product. at first so you can go fast later. Build from Morgan Elementary built its robotics a successful base and never sit on your foundation on Lego robotics and then laurels. Keep improvising, innovating and supplemented it. We mention Lego not experimenting with your successes. Leadbecause it’s the only robotics program for ers are always the learners themselves. young children, it isn’t, but because the Chevron made so much possible through experience of the Gates Foundation with the TASA-Chevron STEM Summits. We small schools indicated that building from are all grateful for their sponsorship and an established model, buying a solution, for the creativity of our participants for developing new STEM projects in their schools. n 21 FALL 2018

TCEA TECH TAKE Blended learning: a student-centered approach to reaching the whole child By Charlotte Dolat

The reality is students today learn very differently and we need to continue to adapt practices to meet their needs.


hen I think back on my years as an elementary teacher, I often fondly recall having students experiment with growing lima beans. Students were able to see the life cycle of a plant in a short amount of time. As part of the experiment, students were encouraged to change a variable and predict an outcome. Would the beans grow and thrive more effectively under different conditions? As educators, we know that our students grow and thrive in a variety of environments. We are constantly refining our instruction to best meet our students’ needs. We look for ways to close the achievement gap, build relationships and include social-emotional learning because we want our students to thrive and become productive, contributing members of society. We know the jobs of tomorrow have yet to be created. However, we do have access to an increasing body of research that shows what employers are looking for in prospective candidates. In a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), hiring managers were asked what skills they prioritize when hiring college graduates. Here are the top five skills employers say they seek (in order of importance): 1. Ability to work on a team 2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems 3. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work 4. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization 5. Ability to obtain and process information

As we strive to create environments that prepare our students for a successful future that achieves these qualities, the blended learning model is one approach to try.

What is blended learning? Rooted in a student-centered approach to reaching the whole child, blended learning is a combination of face-to-face interactions, digital content and hands-on learning. Blended learning also promotes student autonomy. It’s about meeting the needs of your students and allowing for problem-solving, communication and critical thinking. The actual methods this takes are varied; blended learning can be as diverse as our students. The fun comes from designing learning experiences for students based on their needs.



Why blended learning? Our students come to us with varied needs. Blended learning allows teachers to meet those needs and cater to students’ unique interests. Outcomes of blended learning include: •

More interactions with students

Increased flexibility

• More data teachers can use for instructional decision-making •

Increased student efficacy

Increased student engagement

Five tips for getting started To get started with creating a blended learning model, here are five tips for success. 1. Start with standards When you start with your standards, you can determine the model that will warrant the best outcomes for learners. The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation has recently updated its classification of blended learning models that are currently in use. Rotation models Station rotation. In this model, students rotate through a variety of learning stations: teacher, online and hands-on tasks.

A la carte model. Due to course load, students can opt to take online courses to supplement their graduation requirements. Enriched virtual model. Students spend most of their time online with occasional face-to-face time with a teacher. When deciding which blended learning model you will use, there are two important questions to ask. What will the learner outcomes be? And what could be done differently in the classroom to get students actively involved in their learning? 2. Classroom culture and building community We all value the importance of developing relationships with our students. Fostering a culture within the classroom where students support and trust one another is just as important. Teach students how to graciously give and receive feedback, learn from mistakes, work collaboratively and communicate with clarity and purpose. Many of the blended learning models require students to work in small groups with the teacher and collaboratively with peers. The work may be project-based or even an independent study. Thus, it’s important to create an environment where students respect one another’s work to increase students’ capacity to persevere when things get challenging. 3. Set students up to succeed by providing future-ready skills Many of our students, especially at the secondary level, are accustomed to a traditional model with the teacher

Lab rotation. This model is similar to the station rotation with the exception that the online time is spent in a different location such as a computer lab. Flipped classroom. Students access teacher-created videos and lessons from home so that the introduction to the content takes place prior to class. Individual dotation. This is a fixed rotation. Students rotate on a customized schedule through content-specific skills. At least one of the stations is online. Flex model. The Flex model allows students to pick and choose choice stations based on their needs as a learner.

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disseminating the information. With the blended learning model, there is a shift in control of the learning. This approach requires students to be more independent learners. We can’t expect our students to immediately embrace the change, so we must articulate the why. If we want students to own the learning, we must create systems and structures to help them succeed. Create clear guidelines and deadlines and establish classroom norms and expectations for participation. Help students create goals. Students need to learn how to organize and prioritize the work. Provide a checklist or an agenda to help them stay on track. As part of the checklists, add a reflection portion for students. This is a great way for teachers to check in and have some powerful conversations with students. Putting these items in place doesn’t guarantee success. What does guarantee success is consistency, open dialogue, and truly knowing your students. 4. Inform parents Communication is key. Just as with students, we must communicate the why behind the shift in the learning approach with parents. With anything new and different, there are bound to be questions, concerns and misconceptions. The most common misconception is the use of video in a blended learning environment. Whether it is teachercreated or from an online platform, video is seen as students teaching themselves. The message needs to be that videos are meant as a resource to supplement class discussions and small group instruction. The other benefit in using video is so students can rewatch the content when needed for additional reinforcement. A concern that comes up is the amount of screen time. Mobile devices, when used for creation and not just consumption, have the potential to transform learning. We need to clearly articulate how the digital tools are enhancing the learning and that they are not just used for playing games. It’s all about how to effectively use the devices we have in our classroom.

Each district or campus must make sure to convey the why behind this shift in the classroom approach and that the digital piece is just one component to the blended learning model. Parents should be assured that the true power in the blended learning model remains the face-to-face interaction with our students. 5. Reflect and refine It’s important to occasionally reflect on the model in place. The following three questions are intended to help guide in the reflection: 1. Am I meeting the needs of all my students? 2. Are students owning the learning? 3. Do students have some control over at least one of these four factors: time, place, path or pace?

Most importantly: Get feedback from students. They are your true indicators of success.

Conclusion As you’re making changes to your learning environment, it’s important to be mindful that your blended learning classroom doesn’t become just a digitized traditional classroom environment. The focus must be a student-centered approach that reaches the whole child. Is blended learning the magic solution? Maybe. Maybe not. But, as with the “grow a lima bean” experiment, it does allow educators to change variables when designing learning experiences that nurture and provide the conditions to empower our students to be autonomous and curious problem solvers. n

Charlotte Dolat is an instructional coach in Alamo Heights ISD and the convention chair elect of TCEA.

References “Job Outlook 2016: The Attributes Employers Want to See on New College Graduates’ Resumes.” Prepare for the Fair: Eight Best Practices for Career Fair Success, “Blended Learning.” Christensen Institute, Clayton Christensen Institute.



TSPRA VOICE From news to PR: building positive relationships with the media By Courtney Sanguinetti

The media can be a powerful tool in helping to spread the great things happening within your school district.

“Public relations and journalism have had a difficult relationship for years, characterized by mutual dependence. The internet, especially social media, has made the relationship a little more tricky, but it has also given schools, governments and public figures communication channels of their own. Building a positive relationship with your local media is one of the best things you can do in public relations. The media can be a powerful tool in helping to spread the great things happening within your school district. I now serve as Lindale ISD’s director of communications, but I came from the news world myself. I worked for an East Texas news station, KLTV, an ABC affiliate in Tyler, for four years before transitioning to school public relations. Knowing the mindset of reporters has helped me in the career that I’m in now. Often I get the question, “How does your school get so much media coverage?” Schools often overlook the fact that getting coverage of events and accomplishments can be as easy as letting local newspapers, radio stations and TV stations know what’s going on. “Working with a director of communications who has been on both sides of the fence has really helped make my job easy,” said Lexie Hudson, CBS 19 reporter. “Each day I am dealing with a new deadline and a fast-paced environment, which Courtney has understood.” You should also get to know people in the media. Stop in and say hi. Take an editor to lunch. Learn what makes interesting photos and news stories. Create a list with the names and numbers of key media contacts in your community. Remember to include behind-the-scenes people, such as assignment editors and producers as well as reporters. Get to know the people on this list and become familiar with their specific duties and what information would be useful to them. To help better organize, I have created a LISD Newsroom, a place where all press releases, Eagle Spotlight videos, social media archives and pictures are located. I am constantly searching LISD’s six campuses looking for positive story ideas and achievements. LISD Superintendent Stan Surratt and I make it our mission to do at least one Eagle Spotlight video a week, highlighting student, teacher or staff achievements. “I believe there are so many positive things happening in public schools today, but it is hard to showcase or communicate these successes with the general public,” said Surratt. “With our Eagle Spotlight, we have been able to highlight and celebrate so many wonderful things that our students and staff members are achieving. These videos are easy to share on social media and with our local media. We receive many great compliments from parents, students and teachers on our Eagle Spotlight program.”

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The videos have a wide range in variety. We have done an Eagle Spotlight on a sixth-grade student winning a national motocross title, a third-grader donating his birthday money to a local charity, high school students winning state championships, dads volunteering their time at their children’s schools, etc. The videos are formatted in a similar way as news stories. I interview a few people and let them narrate the general story. I then capture b-roll (video of what is being discussed) and show that throughout the Eagle Spotlight video itself. These videos are posted on the LISD website and social media for all to see. “I love how these special students and teachers are being recognized, said Elaine Richardson, LISD parent. “I am crying! These teachers are awesome and these are beautiful videos. This totally captures the why of what teachers do.” Almost every time a video is posted, a local TV station will either share it onto their social media pages or will contact me, asking to cover the story themselves. The production of the videos is simple. Depending on the urgency, I will either use my video camera with a lavalier microphone or simply use my cell phone to capture the story. The video is then edited in Adobe Premiere Pro or iMovie. These videos really tell the story of the individual student, teacher or staff member who is achieving great things at LISD. They also help the community and surrounding communities



visually see and hear what is going on. Not only that, it makes local media’s job easier, as they have video easily accessible to them so they can market your school district. Public schools have so many positive things happening that need to be out there for all to see. With the public school system sometimes under attack and in competition with private schools, it’s the duty of a director of communications and the district as a whole to show off what you’ve got. Use the resources you have to promote the amazing success of your district. Even if you are a one-person department with a small budget, there are so many free tools out there to help you get the job done. You may be surprised at how building a relationship with the media can completely build or rebuild your district’s brand and show just how great of a school district you have. n

Courtney Sanguinetti is the director of communications at Lindale ISD and the executive director of the LISD Education Foundation. She also serves as the vice president of marketing and events for the 1in3 Foundation, a nonprofit based in Tyler. She has been a member of TSPRA for one year.

LEGAL INSIGHT TEA publishes final T-STEM Blueprint by Ramiro Canales

Background T-STEM academies provide economically disadvantaged and at-risk students with opportunities to develop marketable skills to obtain jobs that will allow them to make notable contributions to society.

On Feb. 15, 2018, Lily Laux, executive director for School Programs at TEA, sent a letter to all school administrators seeking comments on the revised draft of the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (T-STEM) Blueprint. Public comments on the draft were accepted until Feb. 28. According to the letter, the “revisions are part of TEA’s work to revise and unify all College and Career Readiness Models, including ECHS, T-STEM, Industry Cluster Innovative Academies (ICIAs) and Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-Techs).” The letter further noted that the “revised draft aligns with changes made to the Early College High School (ECHS) Blueprint, which streamlines required design elements to give local education agencies more flexibility to meet student outcomes.” Importantly, the letter also stated that the implementation of the final T-STEM Blueprint would prevent designating new T-STEM academies for the 2018-19 school year. The final T-STEM Blueprint, which is 17 pages long, provides detailed design elements to address six benchmarks: school design, target population, strategic alliances, curriculum and instruction, workbased learning and student support.

Benchmarks School design To comply with this benchmark, the “T-STEM academy must provide a STEM-focused program serving students in grades six through 12 or grades nine through 12 with an active relationship with the feeder middle schools(s).” T-STEM academies must implement and meet nine requirements, which relate to the academy’s location, the composition of the staff, the establishment of a leadership team to address certain topics, the composition of the leadership team, development and implementation of an annual professional development plan for teachers and staff, peer observations for T-STEM teachers and collaboration opportunities, offering students inclusive STEM activities, placing T-STEM students in cohorts into core classes, and offering the academy’s services for free to all students. A T-STEM academy is required to publish on its website and make available upon request to TEA the annual training and professional development calendar and plan for teachers, the mentor/induction program plans and the T-STEM leadership meetings and agenda notes. The calendars, plans and notes must be retained in accordance with local policy. Target population Under this benchmark, a T-STEM academy “shall serve, or include plans to scale up to serve, students in grades six through 12 or nine through 12, and shall target and enroll students who are at risk of dropping out of school as defined by the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) and who might not otherwise go to college.” Five requirements must be implemented, including identifying, recruiting and enrolling the subpopulations of at-risk students identified by



PEIMS, clearly documenting recruitment and enrollment practices, and ensuring that recruitment and enrollment processes include input from key stakeholders.

level that respond to student interest and regional employer needs contributing to students earning STEM-focused industry certifications and credentials.”

A T-STEM academy is required to publish on its website and make available to TEA upon request the admission policy and application, recruitment plan, brochures and marketing efforts in English, Spanish or other languages, and a written communication plan. The aforementioned products must be retained by the academy.

Four requirements must be met, including working with the local workforce development board to identify the needs of local employers. Students must also understand how their work-based learning and academics are connected.

Strategic alliances A T-STEM academy is required to establish strategic partnerships with businesses and institutions of higher education (IHE). The academy is required to meet three detailed requirements, including developing, signing and executing memoranda of understanding with institutions of higher education and business partners and establishing an advisory board. An annual review of the memoranda of understanding must be conducted. The memoranda of understanding, the list of strategic partners, and meeting agendas and minutes must be posted on the academy’s website. The academy must provide the information posted on the website to TEA, if the agency requests it. All posted information must be retained in accordance with local policy. Curriculum, instruction and assessment Each T-STEM academy is required to provide a “rigorous course of study that enables students to receive a high school diploma and complete industry certifications, work-based learning experiences, and/or early college credit during grades 9-12.” Seven detailed requirements must be met to comply, including working with the local workforce development board to create a list of high-demand occupations establishing one or more STEM pathways and providing Texas Success Initiative (TSI) assessments to all students. The TSI is not a prerequisite for admissions to the academy. The following products must be posted on the academy’s website, retained in accordance with local policy and provided to TEA upon request: four-year crosswalk document, master schedule, curriculum alignment documents, testing calendar and schedule for TSI, ACT and SAT, and documents that outline student pathways. Work-based learning Providing students with opportunities to work in STEMfocused industries is the key focus of this benchmark. A “T-STEM academy must offer students a variety of relevant, high-skill work-based learning experiences at every grade

The academy must post on its website work-based learning experiences that are available to students at grade levels six through 12, a regional list of STEM occupations in demand and writing and presentations of students. All posted information must be retained and made available to TEA. Student support Support from various stakeholders is essential to ensuring a student’s success. This final benchmark requires a T-STEM academy to “provide wrap-around strategies and services involving multiple stakeholders (parents, teachers, counselors, community members, etc.) to strengthen both the academic and technical skills necessary for high school and college readiness, as well as provide academic, technical and individual support for students to be successful in rigorous academic and work-based learning experiences.” Three key requirements must be met, including “personalizing the learning environment,” providing social and emotional support and providing extra-curricular activities. The academy must post tutoring, intervention/remediation schedules, a calendar of outreach events and counseling/ advisory events on its website and make it available to TEA. The information posted on the website must be retained in accordance with local policy. T-STEM academies provide economically disadvantaged and at-risk students with opportunities to develop marketable skills to obtain jobs that will allow them to make notable contributions to society. During the 86th Texas Legislature, lawmakers will consider changes to the education system. The purpose and effect of T-STEM academies will likely be discussed and changes may be made in law to improve their effectiveness. n

Ramiro Canales is an attorney and former TASA staff member. Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice.

FALL 2018


BOOK REVIEW What Texas school administrators are reading A Syfr Learing Book Review by Richard Erdmann with Christine Drew


by Geoffrey West “Scale,” by Geoffrey West, presents an alternative view of science — one that is theoretical rather than experimental. The book integrates science, technology, engineering and math with the humanities and has quite a bit to say about learning if you pay attention. Stretch out your arms for a moment. Stretch your fingers and wiggle them. Imagine what it takes to deliver oxygen from a breath of fresh air to a single cell at the end of your fingertips. Now imagine removing the waste from this cell and pushing it back to your lungs so you can exhale the waste. Now visualize a tree and what it takes to carry nourishment from the earth to the tip of the furthest most twig in the tree. Now, one last visualization. Visualize a water pipe, 20 feet in diameter, shrinking to a one-half-inch pipe attached to your kitchen faucet to deliver clean, drinkable water and then back to a sewage system to return the water at least as clean as it started. Do you see any parallels in these three systems? West does, and he asks a simple question: Do these parallels represent underlying principles for all three entities? Could cities, forests and humans share fundamental principles that might predict life expectancy? Given the wide diversity of living and non-living things and, even more, the questionable categorization of cities as living entities, it seems unlikely that they might all govern by a common set of rules, yet this author suggests that they do. West, a theoretical physicist, was president of the Santa Fe Institute (an organization well known for its work on complexity theory) from 2005 to 2009 and was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He begins the book “Scale” with four simple graphs that help him illustrate parallels and then launches us into his thinking with a series of questions and definitions. He asks: Why can humans live up to 120 years but probably not much longer? How long can cities live and why? What about corporations? Why do we stop growing? Do cities stop growing? Is there a maximum size? Does the size of a city influence its creativity? The author answers these questions using complexity theory, which, in simple terms, suggests that the whole is different than the sum of its parts. The relationship of the whole to the parts is not additive. A simple set of uniform principles often leads to a wide variety of and often unpredictable results. Why should this be of interest to educators? One, because he sets up the book as an inquiry. Second, he tells a story of discovery — his own story. Third, in a world of STEM versus STEAM conversations, he ties the to two together when he applies principles of biology and the interventions of technology to cities and corporations. Finally, learning is a complex adaptive system and that is the main topic of “Scale.” n 30


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