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#TheirFuture

logo for TheirFuture initiativeWhat is #TheirFuture?

The Warwick Valley Central School District has begun a new initiative, called #TheirFuture, which will involve students, staff, administrators and members of the Warwick community.

#TheirFuture is an 18-month-long project that will help determine the direction of our district for the future.

By gauging how the Warwick community defines great learning, and how those ideas can best be implemented within our community’s vision, values and resources, the #TheirFuture project aims to reach consensus among the community and the school district on how to provide the best education for our students.

Why now?

There is no doubt the world is changing at a dramatic rate and the challenges our students will face in their lifetimes are very different than those faced by past generations. Yet, our system of k-12 education has remained fundamentally unchanged over the last 50-100 years.

In fact, there are many elements of k-12 education that do not enhance learning in ways that are meaningful for students. We need to match what and how students learn and the skills they acquire with what they will need to be successful in the future – a future that is increasingly dynamic, fluid and more ambiguous than ever before.

What will the process look like?

We are adopting an approach to change that is grounded in expansive thinking, inclusion, collaboration, participation and transparency.

photo of middle school studentsThe design-based approach to #TheirFuture began in November, 2015, when the entire faculties of all of our schools met for a day and contributed their ideas by answering questions like: “What are the conditions of great learning?” “What if you could change something fundamental within our system of learning?” and “What one word would you like a student of visitor to leave your school with at the end of the day?”

Students, parents and members of the community will all have opportunities to provide their insights to similar questions, such as:

• “What does great learning look like to you?”
• “What are the hopes and dreams you have for your children?”
• “What skills and knowledge are critical for our students in terms of leading successful and happy lives?”

We will use this input to construct an all-district “North Star” vision statement that will guide the district over the foreseeable future in terms of designing and implementing changes to the practice of education.

Teams of educators will work together to research, design, prototype, pilot and assess new practices and programs that align with this all-district North Star vision.

What is the timeline for #TheirFuture?

In the near term, we are in the process of gathering feedback and insight from the community of stakeholders. By June 2016 we will have distilled that knowledge into our all-district North Star vision statement, which will guide long-term innovation in our schools.

photo of high school band studentsBy September 2016, we will begin piloting a relatively small number of innovative practices that the faculty and staff feel align with the evolving North Star and that require few changes to the resources we have available to us.

Over the remainder of 2016-17, inter-school design teams will be reaching out to other schools and districts to find out how they are accomplishing similar goals; learning about evolving best practices; and designing longer-range changes that meet the all-district North Star vision.

Ultimately, we believe this process will be ongoing. We will build and nurture a school culture that has increasing comfort and capacity for ongoing innovation for change.

How might the learning experience in Warwick change for students?

There is no predetermined outcome. Through this process, we will be challenging what we do and measuring what we’re currently doing against our collective vision of what our students are capable of achieving when they are deeply engaged in the learning process. We will constantly strive to provide THAT learning experience.

We know that “one-size-fits-all” learning does not meet the needs of many students. We know students learn better and more deeply when they are consciously involved in the learning process. Over time we anticipate that learning will become more student-centric, less formulaic and more of a collaboration among students and teachers. We anticipate that teachers and students will be encouraged to follow their interests and passions as ways to develop a deeper understanding of the required material. Students will gain the knowledge they need to succeed in our schools, in college, in the workforce, and in their future lives.

Will we still adhere to New York State standards and mandates for K-12 education?

Of course! Our district meets all state standards for public education, and will continue to do so. We believe those standards are a baseline, and we want to ensure that our teachers and students have the freedom, resources and encouragement to extend themselves well above those baselines. We believe the standards are a “bar over which we will leap.”

Are other schools and districts undergoing this kind of thinking about school innovation?

elementary students participating in activity in gymThere is a growing national and international recognition that the traditional methods of K-12 education do not meet the needs of our children in a rapidly changing world. The recent change in federal education legislation recognizes this major shift by giving more control over the implementation of standards to state and local governance.

We recognize that, while it is important that schools be held to standards, “teaching to the test” takes away from authentic and deeper learning.

Warwick Valley Central School District wants to be among those schools and districts that recognize the value of these changes in education; we want to be a proactive leader in preparing our students for #TheirFuture.

What do colleges think about a move toward more innovative school programs?

As in K-12 education, colleges and universities recognize that our system of education is in need of alignment with the 21st century. While colleges and universities struggle with what those innovations might mean to them, they understand that just doing well on standardized exams is not an effective predictor of how well a student will do in college.

Most colleges rely on a combination of admission criteria. And most colleges suggest they are looking for applicants who demonstrate interests, passions and evidence of creativity, as well as grades and scores.

There is every reason to believe today’s college admissions counselors are open to a wider, not narrower, view of what qualifies a student for admission. Schools that have undergone similar program innovation, while staying focused on academically rigorous practices, have seen no downgrade in their college matriculation profiles.

Who gets to participate in #TheirFuture, and who gets to decide what direction learning will take in our district?

high school students run an activity fair at the school#TheirFuture is based on inclusion, collaboration and transparency. There will be ongoing opportunities for all stakeholders/users—teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members—to contribute their ideas, talents and knowledge in the process of ongoing program design.

Ultimately, the elected district Board of Education and the professional educators, who are tasked with the precious duty of education our children, will make final decisions.

How can I be involved?

There will be many opportunities for district stakeholders to be involved. In both face-to-face and online venues, we will be asking parents, students and community members for their ideas and input. We have an online #TheirFuture bulletin board where ideas and comments will be posted.

We will keep our parents and the community abreast of the project through social and traditional media, on our website, and by direct communication with parents and students. We urge you to “talk it up” with your own network of friends and neighbors.

As we develop collaborative teams to take on the tasks of creative design of programs and practices that align to our all-district North Star, we welcome community members to participate where they have interest and expertise.