Supt. John C. Carver: Future Ready
Superintendent John C. Carver (@JohnCCarver) leads the Howard-Winneshiek Community Schools in Northeast Iowa (Cresco). He has never been stranded on an education island, or shied away from speaking his education mind. He is already out of the Future Ready starting blocks. Carver understands rural, as well as urban education problems, and sees the differences, but also the many similarities. Whenever I’ve spoken with him, he’s always made it a point to share what his students, and staff are doing in order to be 21st Century global citizens. When I caught up with John this time, he was excited about a plan to network other smaller districts, and to get other school leaders to work more closely together—regardless of district size. Carver is uncomfortable that so many school leaders have not gotten beyond that comfortable last century place. He embraces new technologies and sees the future of learning in the equitable use of broadband and devices that can take his students and staff beyond the fields of Iowa. Our discussion was vast, but seemed always to sneak back to being Future Ready.
Superintendent John C. Carver, in his own words
I was out in D. C. last November—at the White House—as part of the Connected Superintendents group, and for the President’s Future Ready initiative. I was in the room with ninety-nine other superintendents from across the United States, and it seemed to me, that no one has it figured out. Still, I have not lost my enthusiasm, because it does put us at a new starting place, and possibly a new, and changed system may happen. Everything has a beginning, middle, and an end—everything goes in cycles. For the last one hundred years, the factory, industrial model school system has served us. We need to evolve into something else. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Unfortunately some of the school systems doing well right now are still in the 20th Century model, and they’re comfortable—they can’t even conceive that their practices are not good for today’s students. Sort of like telling the emperor he isn’t wearing clothes!
I don’t know if we’ve gotten to the critical mass necessary, but there are many teachers frustrated at where we are, and they’re in search of new ways to get there, and new places to practice what they’re saying. If you follow the social media EdChats you hear it from all over the country. And you have people in the education reform movement, and I’m one, saying all these new things are good, but how do you implement them with fidelity? How do you educate folks to do it?
We are redefining relationships. Redefining those relationships between districts, higher education, as well as with businesses. Learning can be an individual effort, but it is also a social experience, too. A synchronicity and synergy needs to happen, and getting there, can be somewhat painful. We have to get better at figuring out what students’ passions are, and connecting that passion possibly with a profession. It is a conversation we have in my district. Discovering that passion is important. If a student’s passion leads to a profession—great—but if not, we need to find that profession that allows students to meet their passion. Waiting until high school to do that, is too late. In my system, technology is seamlessly embedded throughout. Fourth graders are writing code and programming robots. The days where we send students off to college to find themselves should be over! How do you fix it? You fix it by networking; you fix it by using a new script.
The Future Ready trip to D. C. was an adventure. I went with two other superintendents from Iowa, as representatives. While there, I met with the Alliance for Excellence in Education as part of the study groups. I talked with superintendents from California, Texas, and New Jersey—all over. I’m still trying to process it. You have folks, at the highest level wanting change, and talking about change and innovation—and I get that. But to get it from there to the leaders and educators, there’s a lot of layers of bureaucracy blocking what needs to be done.
My take-away is that everyone is trying to change the system within his or her system, and what I’ve learned is that you can’t do that. A sock turned inside out is still a sock. The problem is that every school district is like a kingdom, or a country, so the move to change tends to be within systems, rather than outside and collaborative. There are no 21st Century system designs in self-containment, a 20th Century model, so there won’t be change. There’s no networking, timely decision-making, or sharing of resources in that last century model.
For me, a digital device in the hands of a learner, adult or student, can be a game changer. When that happens, you can get outside of the kingdom. Your instruction is not limited, no matter where you are, districts small and large, rural or urban. For that you need robust and reliable broadband. Those things, together, will remodel the system. It may, in the long term, modify our concept, and importance of districts, as we know them. Most likely that networking will happen first, out of necessity, with the rural districts, and the urban schools following in time.
In the Future Ready Pledge schools need to look internally, help families, re-educate teachers, provide broadband/Internet access to all, offer digital content, and mentor other districts to help transition them to digital learning. That last part can be a conundrum. A district has to be willing to ask for help, and that is difficult for a superintendent in a district to ask. For a school leader to say we don’t understand, and ask for help, isn’t easy. That’s a challenge. These things need to be done to begin to be Future Ready.
It really gets back to redefining community, and finding those community partners, who will help. Working with community colleges is a start. I’m a proponent of schools and districts working closely with community colleges. We’re lucky enough to have a community college building on our campus. We have students seamlessly going back and forth, and many of them graduate with a year or two of college credits. The point is that students need more, and better ways to demonstrate proficiency. We have students developing, designing, redesigning, and 3D printing their ideas. Those are STEM values, and career valuable skills as well. It’s a move from transcripts to portfolios demonstrating student work accomplishments. In this way, students are accessing knowledge, using it to create, and then to demonstrate. Students, who do that, don’t hate school.
About the Interviewer
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.