How Successful Executive Leadership Enables Access, Leadership and Innovation

By Steven Webb (@SuptVPS), superintendent, Vancouver Public Schools, Wash.

Future Ready Leaders are enablers—in a good way. Successful executive leadership enables access, leadership and innovation within a school district in a variety of ways.

In Vancouver Public Schools (VPS), local, regional and national partnerships are enabling similar Future Ready Leadership.

Enabling access

  • Fast is not enough. As our district continues to expand access to 1:1 devices, we see an ongoing need for enhancement of our core network infrastructure. While each device challenges our capacity, digital content and services are getting bigger and more network-intensive. Cloud computing requires reliable and speedy access to move data from cloud to the device. eRate funding enables our district to upgrade already-nimble networks to create capacity for growth.
  • Deploying devices from a position of equity. Similar to many districts across the U.S., VPS confronts the daunting challenges of poverty and gaps in opportunity. Our levy-funded weLearn 1:1 initiative aims not only to bridge the digital divide, but also to create opportunities for all students to succeed. In our U.S Department of Education video, we highlight the ways in which adaptive tools were among the first to be deployed to meet the unique needs of individual students. Our district continues to expand access to devices and digital content not as entitlement, but as a 21st century right.
  • 24/7 means 24/7. As we scale our vision for digital transformation, it is increasingly clear that we must attend to broadband access at home. Digital content, learning management systems, and on-line learning collaborations require 24/7-access for our students. VPS is closing the homework gap with Wi-Fi on wheels, hotspot checkouts, and community-based Wi-Fi kiosks.

Enabling leadership

  • Ubiquitous leadership. As an early (founding) Future Ready district, we recognize the “need for collaborative leadership and the cycle of transformation where districts vision, plan, implement, and assess continually.” This central tenet of the Future Ready Framework emphasizes leadership throughout the educational organization. Our district already is recognized for enabling the leadership of teacher librarians. Mark Ray, chief digital officer for VPS, is working with Future Ready and the Alliance for Excellent Education to connect librarians and libraries explicitly in support of Future Ready schools.
  • Future Ready principals. For a decade, VPS has partnered with Synectics LLC, a leadership development consultancy, to develop learning-focused facilitation skills for our entire district leadership team, including school-level administrators and teacher leaders. This year, VPS is launching a program strand to develop principal capacity to enable school transformation. Our theory of action is straightforward: if we build the capacity of our principals to be future ready administrators, then we will build the capacity of our learning communities to produce future ready graduates. Principals are the fulcrums of sustainable and transformational change.

Enabling innovation

  • Play more. Make more. Learn more. Thanks to partnerships with the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, VPS recently learned from peer districts South Fayette, Avonworth and Elizabeth Forward In Pittsburgh how coding, making and project-based learning can be integrated effectively throughout the K-12 curriculum. A district team traveled to Pittsburgh as part of an Innovation Ride Share sponsored by Digital Promise. The team returned with plans already underway. This year, “weMake VPS” will expand pilots to explore how coding, making and project-based learning can be integrated across grades and subjects to increase engagement and build workforce readiness from the ground up.
  • Investing in teachers. As part of the district’s “weLearn 1:1” initiative, professional development and support have been core investments alongside devices and digital content. One of the central concepts in the White House ConnectED initiative is training teachers to leverage digital tools effectively in the classroom. In VPS, Instructional Technology Facilitators work alongside curriculum, mentor and special education teams to lead, teach and support innovation.
  • Share. Learn. Ignite. VPS has a long history of connecting and collaborating with forward thinking school systems. More than two decades ago, our district was a founding member of the Western States Benchmarking Consortium. The WSBC serves as a professional learning network for district leaders, enabling us to collaborate on current challenges and opportunities common to our school systems. We share best practices; gain insights from one another; and apply solutions that benefit our students, families, and communities. As a member of the AASA Digital Consortium, we envision scaling similar practices focused on digital transformations and personalized learning across the nation. PLN’s can ignite creativity and inspire innovation. They can cultivate hope and opportunity and build agency for lasting change in our schools.