The Recession of 2008 precipitated an unprecedented financial squeeze on public school districts. Federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) offered schools only a temporary reprieve. In the ensuing years school districts have been forced to cut programs and personnel to balance their books. These financial issues, combined with the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and mandatory testing, as well as divisive political rhetoric created a decidedly turbulent environment surrounding Public Education. As a result, we have witnessed growing frustration in teachers, administrators, board members, parents and students. In the face of these difficulties, it is imperative to seek opportunity – an opportunity to affirm our values as educators and embrace new means of empowering our students.
On January 15th, NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a list of 90 school districts experiencing financial distress. Given these constraints, this fiscal turmoil is not surprising. As frustration grows, one essential question must be posed: how will districts be able to survive if none of the financial variables are changed? An answer may be found through communication with neighboring districts that are experiencing the same issues. In what ways can we promote innovative and collaborative thinking rather than operating in isolation?
Pockets of innovative sharing and collaboration have emerged in the greater Capital Region resulting from conversations among District Superintendents, Superintendents and Board of Education. Regional Transportation networks have emerged in the Herkimer-Fulton- Montgomery BOCES. PTech grants have crossed district lines. Seven rural districts in Washington County have formed a Collaborative sharing ideas, programs, and personnel. Conversations, such as these, will establish trust among all stakeholders to move educational innovation forward.
In the past several years through Race to the Top (RTTP) funding, the State Education Department has provided opportunities for school districts and consortiums to develop the power of teacher leadership. Through the Strengthening Teacher Leader Effectiveness (STLE) grants, school districts have empowered their teachers and principals to work collaboratively in the ever changing educational environment. This network of motivated educators has worked across district lines to find new solutions to facing many schools. . In doing so they have created a spirit of collectivity and collaboration that is essential if educators are to continue to provide students with a quality education.
Connecting with each other through the use of technology has allowed us to become more collaborative. Some educators are creative in their use of Computers, iPads, and smartphones, transforming their classroom into incubators of innovation. Many of us receive our news and communicate primarily through these devices. Parents, whose children are now in school, are extremely savvy in their use of social media. However, technology in school systems is still not being maximized. As educators, we must remember that technology is not an end in itself, but rather a tool to enhance learning. The concept of “anywhere, anytime, any device,” is changing how we learn. Online learning and distance learning is beginning to have a real impact on the courses available to our students. As educators, we need to understand and harness this potential for the benefit of all students. The distance learning network served by the Northeast Regional Information Center exemplifies this. This network enables students to take classes offered at neighboring districts such as Marine Biology and Engineering, providing them with access to opportunities for discovery that were previously impossible.
Educators and school systems must no longer work in isolation. Great things are happening in our school districts because of creative thinking and collaboration. School Districts are the greatest asset to all of our communities. Now is the time to begin thinking differently about how we approach these challenges. By beginning a conversation with administrators, board members, teachers, students, parents and members of the community, creative ideas and opportunities will emerge and the future will be bright for our students.
On March 31, 2015, CASDA is sponsoring a conference on Innovations in Collaboration. The conference will focus on the concepts of sharing and collaborating; empowering teacher and principal leaders, and the potential use of technology. CASDA invites you and a team from your district to join the conversation and see the potential of sharing ideas. For more information, click go to the link below: