Tackling technology, partnerships and leadership at the Kentlake Site Council

Joe Potts wants to reorganize a few things at Kentlake High.

During our recent Site Council meeting, Potts, the Kentlake principal, talked about creating a different organizational structure.

He talked about the idea that the current structure, which has curricular leaders for each department, isn’t really working the way it’s supposed to and he wants to empower teachers.

Potts showed us a slide in a power point presentation that illustrated three cogs, two small ones and a large one, with the smaller ones representing the site council and school administration while the large one represents the change in structure.

This large cog is what Potts is tentatively calling the Instructional Leadership Council. Curricular leaders at Kentlake have a limited role and much of it is about managing things such as ordering supplies for the department rather than working with fellow teachers in the collaborative manner Potts envisions.

His description of the Instructional Leadership Council’s role stated that it would “develop assessment calendars, gather and assess benchmark data, determine best practices for classroom instruction and provide guidance for professional development workshops.”

The theory is that as principal Potts should be responsible for the day to day operations of the school but the teachers should be responsible for developing curriculum that makes sense for kids and teachers.

Teachers should be the leaders on this front, Potts said, not the principal because they’re the ones teaching and they know best what kids need.

Makes sense, right?

This concept is still in its formative stages. I hope it allows Kentlake teachers to have a greater say in what goes on in their classrooms because from what I can tell there hasn’t been the kind of collaboration in the past that Potts wants to see. In the fall when I spent time with students they told me that there was definitely significant differences in how the same subject was taught by different teachers and the kids suffered as a result.

Collaboration on a new level is important among teachers at Kentlake but it’s also crucial between teachers at the high school and their counterparts at Cedar Heights Middle School, something I touched on in March when I spoke with Heidi Maurer, the principal there.

So, this reorganization should not only help kids at Kentlake but, with the concept of vertical alignment, which will help students at Cedar Heights who will have a smoother transition to the high school.

It will be interesting to see how this Instructional Leadership Council develops and if it becomes what Potts envisions. Something I’ve observed in the Kent School District relative to the Tahoma School District is how curriculum is developed at the district headquarters.

Granted, Tahoma is smaller with about 7,000 students while Kent has more than 20,000 students so, it’s not a perfect apples to apples comparison. I do think, however, that when you’re talking about best practices there’s nothing wrong with looking to your neighbors especially when they’re doing something well.

What I’ve seen in Tahoma is a different approach to developing curriculum. It’s not perfect, but, there are fewer layers of bureaucracy, better collaboration between the district’s administrators and its teachers as well as greater buy in from educators.

I don’t say this to knock the Kent School District but rather to identify the many factors that impact the decisions Potts has to make in his mission to get Kentlake on track. He needs to help teachers get kids to meet standard. That’s the cold, hard reality.

So, to me, this has to be done at the building level. You have to develop this at Kentlake, at Cedar Heights, and hope the collaboration spreads through the district. Or at the very least among the schools that feed into Kentlake.

Because as Potts has said in the past, the success of students at Kentlake hinges on the experiences and education they get at Cedar Heights, and he’s got some data for that.

In case you haven’t read all of my previous columns on my time with the site council, you may not know this, but I love data. And that’s kind of funny because I don’t like math. But, data, even if it isn’t perfect, will tell you things you may not get from classroom observation.

For example, 50 percent or more of students at Kentlake didn’t pass the math assessment in seventh or eighth grade.

“I’m stunned by the number of kids who come in (to Kentlake) below standard,” Potts said. “If we come face to face with it, we can own (the problems).”

In the meantime there is good news and more changes on the horizon.

This fall, Falcon freshmen will all be issued laptops, Potts said. The technology committee is working on developing a roll out strategy that will make the transition easy for kids and teachers. Before we discussed that topic he showed a video that reminded of that movie “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise had all these cool touch screen displays that could be manipulated with swipes and gestures. It also reminded me a bit of a TV show I loved in high school, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

There were flexible screens and phones the size of business cards that you could pull apart and put back together, a newspaper you could hold in your hand but with a touch screen that allowed you to manipulate the content, and so on.

What’s interesting is that much of this technology is in our hands today but in a less advanced form. And Potts explained that all the technology in the video is being tested or used today.

Being a technology geek, particularly a follower of mobile gadgets, this all looked pretty familiar but I could tell for others in the room that it seemed more like something out of a science fiction movie.

This stuff, Potts noted, is what kids will be seeing when they get out into the working world.

Technology is important and integrating it into the school day is a great way to prepare kids for jobs that will be in high demand around the time today’s eighth graders are preparing to graduate from college in the health sciences such as biochemistry, bioengineering, biomedicine and many others.

But, that doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging, hence the existence of a technology committee at Kentlake. Kids these days are digital natives, technology comes naturally to them, but for teachers it may not plus there’s the idea of helping students use technology as a tool rather than a distraction.

One of the upsides of the laptops is that all major core area textbooks will be available in a digital format by the time school starts in the fall.

Parents and kids will be happy to know backpacks will have a five pound laptop rather than 25 pounds of school books.

Another new feature this fall that will go hand in hand with the expansion of the UW in the High School program will be a lecture series sponsored by the Kent and Covington Rotary clubs in partnership with the University of Washington. Each month an expert will speak at the high school.

And speaking of partnerships, Kentlake is working with MultiCare to develop a number of opportunities for students to explore the jobs previously mentioned in the health sciences industry, Potts explained.

Students will have the opportunity to take classes with some being offered at the hospital under construction in Covington as well as internships, apprenticeships and job shadows through MultiCare.

In addition, there is a possibility that the partnership will lead to a health sciences academy at Kentlake, while there is also an effort underway to work with Green River Community College to bring back the CNA program.

But, this is part of the process, a long process to transform Kentlake. I’ve thought since the beginning that Potts had a daunting task ahead of him. Kentlake will be reorganized this fall so Potts can shift leadership to teachers. Just another step in the process but it’s a big one, a very big one, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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