When Timothy Baird joined the Encinitas Union School District as superintendent two years ago, the district looked traditional to him. It had a standard curriculum, benchmark exams, and pacing guides for all of the teachers at its nine schools. But what Baird learned upon closer examination was that teachers were not following any of these standards because of disconnect between these standards and what teachers were doing in the classroom. 

“We decided to have a conversation with them to find out what was driving their instruction,” said Baird. “We sat down with each school and focused on what the essential standards critical for success were at each grade and beyond, and we had articulation between the different grade levels.”

After getting his staff to agree on the essential standards, the next step was developing new benchmarks. Baird said what was created provides more formative assessment. The district is known to be a high-performing one: its academic performance index number from the state of California is 905 out of 1,000. But high test scores are only one piece of the puzzle for Encinitas.

“After my tenure in the district, if all we can point to is that the scores on the state test have gone up, then I have not done enough. High test scores are the basement, not the ceiling,” said Baird. “That is why we are changing the conversation about what metrics for success look like.” 

To facilitate this process, the district has built in time during the day for staff to meet and discuss their ideas for student learning and instruction. This process usually happens once a week while students are at classes like art or gym. Baird said this teacher collaboration is one of the most powerful things he has seen in education. 

“The conversations have been amazing,” he added. “There is much more buy-in to the process. We are trying to put some of that control back in to the hands of the people who do the work. We are focused on building purpose, power, and passion into what they do.”

Automated learning

The district serves 5,500 students coming from the communities of Encinitas and the south section of Carlsbad. Although there are many K-8 districts in California, Encinitas’ K-6 model is unique. Baird sees both opportunities and challenges in a K-6 district. The opportunities come from a more narrow and in-depth focus on elementary education; the challenges come from continuing the same message in grade seven and beyond.  

What is not a challenge at Encinitas is building community support. Parents are active in their child’s education, by serving on committees, volunteering in classrooms, and supporting funding measures. 

The district recently passed a $44 million bond, which will support energy efficiency and technology initiatives. The goal with technology, according to Baird, is to create what he called 21st Century classrooms, providing teachers and students with what the district deems are the necessary technology tools. This includes projectors, speakers, and printers, MacBook Pro laptops for teachers, and possibly even iPads for students.

For the 2011-12 school year, Encinitas will roll out a pilot program, distributing 1,000 iPads to select classes in grades three through six. “We are doing it using one grade-level team at each school because we want to see how it works in the third-grade learning environment compared to the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade environments,” explained Baird.

However, he believes that a 21st Century classroom goes well beyond just acquiring the proper tools. It affects the way a class is configured, challenging the traditional rows of desks facing the front of the room where the teacher stands next to the chalkboard. It also challenges the role of the teacher, which is something Baird is excited to explore. 

As a graduate of the California public school system, Baird has found that not much has changed in terms of expectations from when he was in school. “We keep doing all of the same things as before and just adding more on to it. At the end of the day, there is not enough time for a teacher to get in the entire core curriculum and prepare students for the future. We have to do something different than what we are currently doing,” he said. 

Baird’s suggestion: automation. Just like other industries now use automation to eliminate basic, logical, and sequentially repeated steps that can be done faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than a human, Baird would like to see the educational field adopt this mentality.

“If technology does rote learning better than we do, then it should be used. That frees up the teacher to spend more time on design and implementation,” said Baird. 

“I am not saying we do not need teachers, we need teachers more than ever. But the role of the teacher has to change. They are no longer the only giver of information in this world because with technology, information is everywhere. That is a paradigm shift we are going to have to make,” he continued. “The teacher’s role is to show students what to do with that information, how to make it into something useful.” 

The district has a group made up of principals and teachers to study this issue further. However, some teachers have already gotten on board with this idea and implemented it in their classroom. 

One teacher put together an automation homework folder. Students were expected to master all of the material in the folder, but at their own pace over an extended period of time. The teacher did check in with students to see how they were progressing and helped those in need, but by doing it this way, she was able to free up instructional time during the school day. 

“We have seen some models that work and we are trying to put a tool kit together of these models for other teachers to use,” said Baird. “What I love about our teachers is that they are willing to take on these new challenges.”

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