Engaging, Educating and Empowering Students in Ithaca City Schools

By Luvelle Brown (@luvelleb), superintendent, Ithaca City School District, N.Y.

I have the honor and pleasure of serving as Superintendent of Schools in a community committed to excellence. My six-year tenure as the Ithaca community’s learning leader has been a journey that has resulted in unprecedented levels of student achievement and the establishment of a culture that will make our successes sustainable for future generations. While successful, the school community and I have maintained a sense of urgency to meet the evolving needs of our young people.

Currently, I am challenging my school community to enhance structures and programs that are truly student-centered.  Our student-centered school district will focus on 3 key levers:

  1. Teaching and Learning Innovations
  2. Inclusion
  3. Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

Teaching and Learning Innovations

Our school district’s mission is: Engage, Educate, Empower. This mission is contributing to transformations with regards to the teaching and learning happening in our classrooms. For example, our interdisciplinary curriculum development is an engaging approach to teaching and learning that has inspired young people to develop needed literacy, math, science and other skills as they solve complex problems that are relevant to their lives. Along with interdisciplinary curriculum development, a balanced assessment model now includes diagnostic tools and performance tasks that require a range of academic and thinking skills to mastery successfully.

Technology tools have accelerated teaching and learning innovations in the Ithaca City School District. Our mobile device initiative has resulted in each student K-2 having access to an iPad and all students grades 3-12 having a Chromebook. Game-based learning tools such as Imagine Learning and Google Apps for Education have been utilized to enhance learning experiences.

Inclusion

Our school district is in the midst of a journey that will result in an inclusive educational community where each child is empowered to learn, achieve and realize his or her potential. We embrace and respect the diversity of all students, have high expectations of all students, maximize opportunities for students to participate in all aspects of the school and greater community, and strive to maintain a safe learning environment. My team of instructional leaders and I have spent the last two years facilitating courageous conversations intended to shift educators and community mindsets. We’ve engaged stakeholders in reflections, observations, professional development, and other experiences that reveal how truly inclusive environments benefit ALL students.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

The demographic makeup of my school district is changing.  The student population is becoming increasingly more diverse and their cultural backgrounds are present in our learning spaces.  Ithaca educators are challenged to be responsive to their cultural backgrounds and use their skills to design learning experiences that embrace students’ cultural uniqueness.  Support is provided for Ithaca educators’ development through facilitated text -based study groups, multiple trainings and workshops, and the establishment of an Inclusive and Culturally Responsive Council.  This Council consists of community leaders, educators, and others.  This active group will provide guidance and ongoing feedback about district initiatives with respect to culturally responsive practices.

The Ithaca City School District’s vision is to create thinkers. Students are exceptionally prepared for life after high school when they feel empowered and possess metacognition skills. I am committed to fostering an environment that embraces a laser like focus on the structures and programs that embrace a personalized approach to future-ready skill development.