Embracing the Opportunity to Innovate
I have seen many changes in West Fargo Public Schools (WFPS) through the 26 years of my tenure. Increased enrollment, the addition of 12 schools, and exponential growth in technology immediately come to mind, but all pale in comparison to the changes I have seen since our schools closed to students in mid-March. The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to our physical and mental health, our economy, and our overall sense of security. As the superintendent and someone who has the responsibility to make bold decisions and loves a challenge in most instances, being unable to provide the in-person opportunities that so many of our students look forward to each spring has been devastating.
With all that said, I am choosing to write this article with optimism and hope for the future. History has proven that innovations are born out of necessity, and often in the time of crisis. It makes me think of the old saying, “don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” and WFPS has certainly not been wasting this time apart from our students!
We were in year two of the North Dakota Deptartment of Public Instruction’s pilot to provide personalized, competency-based instruction for all students. Prior to COVID-19, we were making great gains, but the work has been slow because it’s more than a structural change; it’s a major shift in thinking and it goes against much of how we have traditionally thought about learning, and how our parents and grandparents learned. Then COVID-19 arrived, and we had to change and change fast! Because we did not have the luxury of time to fight or question the new, we put all our energy into building it. What I anticipated would take years, was created and implemented in two weeks. We are providing 11,498 students with personalized learning! Students now have flexible schedules and opportunities to meet one-on-one with teachers, at times that work for them. Students have voice and choice in their learning and can show their proficiency of a standard in unique ways. Families are more engaged in their children’s education than ever before. These are all improvements that will be carried into the buildings when we return, and will enhance the face-to-face instruction and relationship building that happens when students come together to collaboratively learn with their teachers.
As part of this pilot, we also rolled out the Profile of a Graduate, which outlined the dispositions we expected every student to demonstrate prior to graduation. Until COVID-19, we had no idea how critical those dispositions would be! We have seen both staff and students demonstrate skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, compassion, reflection, resilience, and responsibility throughout this crisis. Our students are resilient and have adapted to the new online format. Our compassionate bus drivers who delivered students are now delivering meals and art supplies. Our paraprofessionals who monitored lunchrooms are now providing one-on-one support to students online. Our creative teachers who stood in front of the classroom are recording their lessons using their shower walls as a white board! The district no longer works in silos and has collaborative ownership of all operations and responsibilities that support our mission: Educating today’s learners for tomorrow’s world. Tomorrow is here, and we are embracing this opportunity to innovate!
Some day in the future, there will be a vaccine. There will be a treatment for those that fall ill. We will hug our friends and family members, young and old. And yes, we will return to school, but we will not be the same. We will be better. We will be stronger. We will be more efficient with our time and resources. We will treat each other with more grace. And yes, we will continue to be the district of choice because we embrace challenges with optimism, innovation, and hope for the future.