Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Facebook Founder Donates Billions to Education

By Kim Ehrhardt
Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan pledged to donate 99 percent of their company shares—currently valued at $45 billion—to support efforts to improve public health, education, and communities. 

A portion of that money will go toward backing the popular goal of promoting personalized learning opportunities for students. Zuckerberg and Chan announced their intentions in a Facebook entry titled, “A letter to our daughter,” newborn Max. 

The new parents said their broad ambition is to help their daughter’s generation accomplish two main goals:  “advancing human potential and promoting equity.” One component of achieving these goals, they said, rests partly with the question “can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today?”

The couple described a vision for bringing personalized learning that would provide “more equal opportunity to anyone with an internet connection,” creating the potential to customize lessons to meet students’ academic strengths, weaknesses,  and interests. 

The Facebook executive and his wife said their donation to education, health, and other areas would be channeled through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which will be set up as a limited liability company.  Zuckerberg said he plans to continue to serve as Facebooks’ CEO for “many, many years to come,” and that the distribution of money from the couple’s Facebook shares would occur over the course of their lives. 

In the School District of Janesville, personalized learning pilots are in place at Lincoln, Van Buren, and Harrison Elementary Schools and at Franklin Middle School.  Plans are underway to expand the initiative next year to Edison and Marshall Middle Schools. Personalized learning is designed to increase individual student voice and choice resulting in an overall increase in engaged learning.  Coincidentally, last week Lincoln Elementary School (under the progressive leadership of Principal Shawn Galvin) made six different presentations at the annual S.L.A.T.E. (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) Conference.  The presentations were well received and the content detailed Lincoln School’s journey in implementing personalized learning experiences for their students. 

We know that the future is now, and as public educators, we are called to the challenge of responding to the rapidly changing world. Like Mark Zuckerberg, it is critical to embrace and support those strategies and tactics that bring learning into the twenty-first century. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Every Student Achieves Act

Yesterday, President Obama signed the new “Every Student Achieves Act”.  He stated, “This bill upholds the core value that animated the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson [April 11, 1965], the value that says education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right.”

What does this mean for the School District of Janesville?  In the short-term, the School District of Janesville will remain in a holding pattern with regards to curriculum, testing and other aspects of education until the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction can assess and determine new roles and responsibilities. In the long run, aspects of this new act will filter to local districts and we will weigh in on the logistics that will impact our own students and begin to create our own plan for implementation that corresponds with our Excellence in Education.

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment is pleased that the new legislation has been passed. He states, “We know that under the new law, the U.S. Department of Education will exercise a much-diminished role and no longer be able to sanction underperforming schools.  Instead, states will be responsible for working with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and accountability plans.  Hopefully, the new law will be supportive of the School District of Janesville’s efforts to move forward its quality agenda to ensure that teaching, learning, curriculum and instruction are rigorous, relevant and engaging for all students without out the complicated reporting requirements that have previously existed--and were expanding. Specific details of how things will really look (under the new law) are yet to be determined. I would expect that Department of Public Instruction to start to roll out some of the changes this spring. Until then, we are in a holding pattern.” 

Many are interested in how this new law impacts testing. Legislation will continue required testing in math and reading for all students in grades three to eight and one year in high school, however, the amount of time associated with this testing will decrease.

Positive impact on education in the School District of Janesville and across the country include, but are not limited to, some of the following:

  • The act encourages innovative ways to engage students in learning with an emphasis on STEM;
  • Provides accountability measures that connect to college and career readiness;
  • Gives flexibility to state education agencies to dedicate more resources for training and professional development;
  • Allows 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funds to be used for specific “afterschool-like” activities;
  • Strengthens school-community partnerships to include sharing of data and resources and leverage relationships for intentional alignment with the school day;
  • Non-academic indicators will now be considered in local accountability systems offering a more comprehensive picture of school success through state and district report cards shedding light on schools’ progress toward educational equity.

Parents and guardians can be assured that student success and achievement will remain a top priority as we navigate and look forward to this new horizon for education.  I've included a link to our State Superintendent's response to this new act here: http://dpi.wi.gov/news/releases/2015/evers-statement-esea-reauthorization

Monday, December 7, 2015

National Computer Science Week - Code.org Part III

by Guest Blogger, Amanda Werner 
Madison Elementary 5th Grade Challenge Program Teacher and Code.org Affiliate

Opening Doors of Opportunity Part III of a 3-part series

Code.org in Partnership with SDJ

We are proud to announce that the School District of Janesville is now an official partner of Code.org. We are the smallest district among approximately 75 districts across the nation affiliated with Code.org and the only district in the state of Wisconsin. As progressive as this alliance may be, administration recognizes how foreign this concept is to most K through 8 teachers. Our administration is committed to implementing the full Code.org curriculum in a way that is comfortable for all. 

Computer Science Education Week (Dec 7 - Dec 13)

To kick-off the partnership between SDJ and Code.org, every elementary and middle school student in the district are participating in the largest educational event in history: An Hour of Code. This week, during Computer Science Education Week (December 7 - December 13), our children will be among nearly 200 million worldwide spending one hour learning the basics. An Hour of Code is Code.org’s one-hour computer programming event simply designed to build excitement and show both teachers and students that anyone can code. Neither training nor teacher or student accounts are necessary to participate in this 1-hour event.

To further celebrate our commitment to exposing students to computer science, Craig and Parker Robotics and AP Computer Science students are visiting many classrooms to promote and help with An Hour of Code. Be on the lookout for Board members, Cabinet members and ESC Coordinators in your buildings taking part in Hour of Code week. For more information, view this 2 minute Hour of Code promotional video:

The second stage of the eventual roll-out process will be to provide training to all K-8 classroom teachers. As the district’s official Code.org Affiliate, I will offer professional development courses throughout the year. Classes are available for sign-up on My Learning Plan. The next workshop will be offered on Saturday, January 16. Please join me and be among the first in our district to see why this workshop has an average 4.92 / 5 rating among the 14,000 teachers that have already been trained by Code.org affiliates throughout the country. You do not need to be a digital native or computer science graduate to successfully implement the Code.org curriculum in your K-8 classroom. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Director of Administrative and Human Services Announces Retirement

Dr. Stephen Sperry, Director of Administrative and Human Services has announced his retirement at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Dr. Sperry has been employed with the School District of Janesville for the last 30 years.  Stephen Sperry received a B.S. Degree in Industrial Education from UW-Stout in 1981; a Degree in Special Education-Emotional Disturbance from UW-Whitewater in 1994; an M.S. Degree in Educational Administration from UW-Madison in 1999.  Dr. Sperry received his Doctorate in Educational Administration from Edgewood College in 2006.
Prior to working for the School District of Janesville, Dr. Sperry worked as an Industrial Education teacher for four years (1981-1985) at the Wisconsin School for the Visually Impaired.  Steve was hired at Parker High School in 1985 and worked in the following positions:  Industrial Education Teacher (1985 – 1989); Special Education Teacher (1989 – 1999) and Assistant Principal (1999 – 2004).  He was hired as the Principal of Edison Middle School and served in that position from 2004 to 2009.  In 2009, he was hired as the Director of Administrative and Human Services where he serves until his retirement in June, 2016.
Dr. Sperry commented, “What I have been afforded over 35 years as a public educator has gone far beyond my imagination.  I have been able to work with individuals of the highest caliber on behalf of educating each and every child.  The relationships I have had with employees, students and community members will be carried with me forever.”
Dr. Karen Schulte states, “Steve’s departure will be a tremendous loss to our district.  Steve is a man of immeasurable integrity, honorable character and high standards.  I have enjoyed working with him.  I wish him the best as he pursues a new chapter of his life.” 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SDJ and Code.org Part II

by Guest Blogger, Amanda Werner 
Madison Elementary 5th Grade Challenge Program Teacher and Code.org Affiliate

Why We Need Computer Programming in Elementary School

As classroom teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students master grade-level standards. However, we also understand that our grade level is just one rung on a ladder that ultimately hoists students to the ranks of college and career readiness. Despite the unknowns of their future, it is wise to plan for a world with technological influence. As curriculum developers, we must begin to better prepare students for careers that involve computer science (CS). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 100,000 of the highest paying American jobs have gone and are projected to go unfilled each year simply because we are not producing enough qualified students to fill them. These jobs span a broad spectrum of educational experience from technical school certifications to four-year college degrees.

The key to encouraging students to pursue careers in CS begins with early and repeated exposure.  When you think about it, we begin to lay the foundations of most jobs in elementary school. We introduce basic biological concepts long before we call it biology. We spark interests in civics, journalism and architecture within the walls of our elementary schools. In my estimation, we do this for three very important reasons: 

to build a foundational knowledge set to grow on
to cultivate interest for continued study
to develop the confidence to persevere

If we do not expose students to computer science instruction in elementary school, we rob them of these essential mindsets, so by the time they can elect to take CS in high school, they have the misconception that it’s too difficult or it won’t be something they’d enjoy. The first compelling reason we need to teach computer programming in elementary school is because early and repeated exposure will ultimately open doors of opportunity for our students. 

The second reason we need to teach computer science and programming in elementary school offers more immediate gains. The skills of programming are transferrable across our curriculum. Each lesson is a model of 21st century learning. Programming and thinking like a computer are exercises in creative approaches to problem solving, critical decision making, persistence, collaboration and crystal clear communication. All activities on Code.org are tied to CCSS in ELA and math, NGSS and CS standards.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment - Code.org in Partnership with SDJ: An Hour of Code is Coming