Personalized Learning Continues to Grow at Pennsylvania’s North Penn Schools

(Lead To Learn, Personalized Learning) Permanent link

Personalized Learning Continues to Grow at Pennsylvania’s North Penn Schools

July 18, 2019, by Richard Mextorf

The AASA Personalized Learning Cohort, comprised of school leaders from across the country, gathered earlier this year at North Penn School District, located in Montgomery County, Pa., to learn about the district’s approach to personalized learning.

Cohort members experienced a variety of events and activities during our visit. We saw firsthand how learners (students) own their learning and demonstrate their understanding through multiple pathways. At the secondary school level, learners demonstrated performance-based assessment through video production, which was written, directed, produced and performed by the learners. Literature students created multi-genre projects to create compelling narratives. Additionally, learners created engaging animations to demonstrate mastery. 

Personalized Learning Richard Mextorf

Elementary learners used Flipgrid to understand the significance of each Apollo mission and demonstrated their understanding by writing thank you notes to the Apollo team members for their unique contributions to each mission. Learners became authors, writing books that are stored in the school library to be checked out by anyone in the school community. 

Cohort members saw examples of active learning spaces and the impact they have on engagement, and how they support a personalized approach in the classroom. 

Teachers from area school districts served on panels to share with cohort members how embracing personalized learning has transformed their classrooms. Middle level learners also served on a panel to share their experiences with personalized learning and their perspectives on how it has impacted them as learners. Guided by the cohort leadership, members worked in groups designed to challenge our thinking and question our assumptions.  Additionally, representatives from The Franklin Institute facilitated several activities to help cohort members better understand how the brain functions and the impact of instructional design on the brain.

The breadth of knowledge and experience from leaders across the country, combined with the intimate examples within the context of a single district, made this experience broad and deep in vision, and rich in context.

Richard Mextorf is the superintendent of the Hamburg Area School District in Hamburg, Pa. He is also a member of the AASA Personalized Learning Cohort.

AASA Digital Consortium Visits Ephrata Area (PA) Schools

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AASA Digital Consortium Visits Ephrata Area (PA) Schools

Ready! Better yet, be Life Ready like students in the Ephrata Area (Pa.) School District. Educational leaders from across the country recently gathered there to participate in the AASA Digital Consortium’s first meeting of the year. 

The future of public education was on display as Superintendent Brian Troop showcased the transformational work taking place in his district. During our time together, we focused on personalization, flexible experiences for students, Maker Learning, a Life Ready Graduate and community partnerships.

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Take a moment to visit the Ephrata Area School District website and checkout the Life Ready Graduate community and district model. The integration of the technology is a model we need to highlight across this country. However, the reflection I want to share in this blog entry is the leadership growth I gained by participating in the AASA Digital Consortium and learning from Dr. Troop.

We can all agree we are passionate about improving how we operate as leaders for the sake of our students. This experience was especially rewarding for me because Kee Edwards, principal at Miller Ridge Elementary in Middletown City School District, attended the conference with me. We are two instructional leaders hungry for knowledge and growth around the goals set in our district.

The AASA Digital Consortium provided me the opportunity to offer authentic professional learning for a leader in my district. During building visits, Mr. Edwards and I discussed how we can better engage our community, empower students in their learning, inspire educators in our district to embrace transformation efforts, and find approaches to integrate technology effectively.

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We could have accomplished this by sitting in his office easily, but imagine the depth of our conversations as we observed Dr. Troop and his Ephrata leadership team highlighting the revolutionary work taking place in their schools. The value add in this example is the access to other digital thought leaders from across the country. For example, during the visit to the Franklin Institute, Mr. Edwards engaged in deep dialogue around Understanding Brain Theory and Learning with Nick Polyak and Brian Troop. (Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden High School District 212 in Illinois, serves as chair of the Digital Consortium.)

What do you do when a leader looks at you and says, “I want to grow more in these areas.” Would you stand by him or her? If we truly value supporting the growth of our leaders, I encourage my peers to stand, quite literally, side by side those we are challenging to grow. This cannot be done by sending someone to a conference. I’m talking about attending the professional learning opportunity with your growing leader and having deep dialogue and challenging thoughts about their approach to being an elite leader.

The AASA Digital Consortium encourages participants to bring members from our districts to attend consortium meetings. How could you take advantage of that in your district? Think about it.

In Ephrata Area School District, the community values and endorses the Life Ready areas set as priorities for all students. Mr. Edwards and I left inspired in our leadership growth together. I’m staying committed to my belief to provide the leaders in my district with personalized professional learning as best I can.

Given we were in Philadelphia, now would be a perfect time to reference a line from Robert Tepper’s song “No Easy Way Out” where he writes “some things are worth fighting for.” Let’s make growing leaders in education worth fighting for in our districts.

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On behalf of Middletown City School District, I want to thank AASA for providing ongoing opportunities for leaders across the country to come together to grow, ultimately benefiting all students. A special thank you to the students, community, and staff of Ephrata Area School District for showcasing the wonderful possibilities in public education. As a member of the AASA Digital Consortium, I was honored to have the opportunity to celebrate what you are doing for students. Go Mounts!


Marlon Styles, Jr. is the superintendent of Middletown City (Ohio) School District.

Lead with Passion,Energy, Focus and Partnership

(Lead To Learn, Digital Consortium) Permanent link

by Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent, Deerfield Public Schools, Ill., and Nick Polyak, superintendent, Leyden High School District 212, Ill.

polyak digital consortium fall 17The purpose of the AASA Digital Consortium is to support school district administrators as they scale successful models in support of engaging, effective learning experiences using digital media in order to be the leading national voice for digital innovation in our nation’s public schools.

We have often written about the power and value of professional associations. We are grateful to the coaching, guidance, mentorship, feedback and opportunities that these associations afford leaders in the practice of education.

As co-directors of the AASA Digital Consortium we have the honor of gathering with 40-50 superintendents and educational leaders from around the nation in support of leading digital innovation in our nation’s schools. Since 2014, the consortium has visited exemplar school districts from coast to coast (Maryland, California, North Carolina, Illinois and Washington, and our next visit in April 2018 will be to Missouri).

Typically, we engage with a team of superintendents and school leaders for two days of intense leading, learning, fellowship and calls to action. Key to the influence and success of the Digital Consortium are friends like Horace Mann, Discovery Education, Google, Google Chicago, Education Reimagined, McGraw Hill, Fuel Education, Rethink Education and other leaders in the edtech space.

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We work through exercises and planning under the powerful frameworks for leadership and change like the one found in Education Reimagined. We have worked with thought leaders from around North America as we support one another on the journey toward change management and maximized impact of digital transformation.

During our visits, tweets are shared under the #AASA_DigitalConsortium. Our challenge and charge as a group of leaders is to continue to lead with passion, energy, focus and partnership. As critical friends, we affirm that which is good and best, and we constructively critique that which can be made better.

AASA will feature blog posts from the various leadership consortia as part of its ongoing outreach and support of leadership and education. In addition, through partnerships with the Center for Digital Education and Discovery Education, for example, a number of case studies and white papers have been written by or about Digital Consortium leaders.

Mike Lubelfeld is the superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools in Deerfield, Ill. Nick Polyak is the superintendent of Leyden High School District 212 in Franklin Park, Ill. Lubelfeld and Polyak serve as co-chairs of AASA’s Digital Consortium and co-moderate  #Suptchat, a monthly, hour-long conversation via Twitter that engages superintendents and other school system leaders worldwide about the most critical issues in education. The program occurs on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning at 8 p.m. (ET). 

AASA & Transformational Leadership – What is It About?

(Lead To Learn, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

AASA & Transformational Leadership – What is It About?

By: Dr. Dana T. Bedden


dana bedden headshotHave you ever been part of a group where someone provides a clear vision of the goals and make everyone feel enthusiastic and energized? Then you were in luck because you worked with a transformational leader.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to facilitate workshops with colleagues on behalf of AASA related to transformational leadership. Within the two groups, the West Virginia New/Aspiring Superintendents Academy and AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy are current and future leaders engaged in critical thinking to improve not only their skills but the future of education for our students and problem solving to develop a stronger pipeline of new school leaders. One significant benefit for me serving as a facilitator is the exchange of knowledge - not only what I am able to share, but also what I receive from the community of professionals participating in the academies. As part of the learning process, I begin to reflect on my own leadership style and understanding of transformational leadership. Because of this experience, I decided to not only review the information we are using as part of the workshops, but also other sources of information to continue to grow my own leadership capacity. Education Reimagined provides a publication entitled, A Transformational Vision for Education in the U.S. As part of the introduction of who the organization is and what they believe, the following is stated:

"SIMPLY PUT, the current system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society. Our economy, society, and polity are increasingly at risk from an educational system that does not consistently prepare all children to succeed as adults and is least effective for the children facing the greatest social and economic challenges."

Transformational leadership is a type of leadership that inspires positive changes to those who follow. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic, passionate, and energetic. They are not just concerned about completing the task but also focused on helping all members of the group to become successful.

What is Transformational Leadership?

James MacGregor Burns is often credited with introducing the concept of transformational leadership. He was a presidential biographer and leadership expert. According to him, you can see transformational leadership at work when followers and leaders help each other to achieve higher levels of motivation and morale.

Transformational leaders can inspire their followers to change perceptions, motivations, and expectations to achieve common goals. They earn the respect, admiration, and trust from their followers.

Elements of Transformational Leadership

Let’s consider four elements of transitional leadership. These are intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration, and idealized influence.

Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational leaders encourage followers to be more creative and think outside the box. The leader allows followers to find innovative ways of doing tasks, and explore new avenues of learning.

Inspirational Motivation – Transformational leaders have a clear vision of how to achieve a goal, and can express it to their followers in an articulate manner. They try their best to help their followers get the same motivation and passion to achieve the goals of the group.

Individualized Consideration – Leaders provide personalized encouragement and support to individual members of the team. They will keep communication lines open so that team members can share ideas to them. In doing so, transformational leaders provide direct recognition of the individual contributions of each member.

Idealized Influence – Lastly, transformational leaders serve as the role model of their team members. Members will try to copy the example of their leader because they truly respect and trust the person.

Positive Effects of Transformational Leadership

Studies have shown that transformational leadership has a positive effect on the team. When led by a transformational leader, the group achieves higher levels of satisfaction and performance compared to one with another leadership type.

Transformational leaders believe in their members and know they can perform their best in any given task. In turn, members of the group feel empowered and inspired. To become a transformational leader, you need to be optimistic and have a strong vision of the future. You should believe in that vision, and inspire others to do the same.

Some of the traits of a transformational leader include but are not limited to being supportive, trustworthy, passionate, and genuine. These characteristics can motivate members of the team to support your goals because members know their leader has the best interests of the group in mind all the time.

Transformational leadership is an effective type of leadership. However, there are instances where it might not be the right choice. There are cases in which an autocratic or managerial style can provide better direction, especially if some of the followers require more supervision. What separates a great leader from a good one is that the former knows the type of leadership style required by certain situations.



Leaders as Learners

(Lead To Learn, Equality, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

Leaders as Learners

By Dr. Gail Pletnick

gail-pletnick-nce17From ink wells, to pencils, to typewriters, to keyboards, the resources and tools in education continue changing, just as the concepts and skills needed to prepare our students iterates. The world has moved from the industrial era of old, to the information age of today, and is rapidly transitioning to the innovation age of tomorrow. This evolution dictates that our schools must change and transform to prepare our students for their future. Ink wells can’t be used with iPads. Change is a challenge, but the best way to meet a challenge is to drive the change.

So how do we do that as educational leaders? The answer is simple; as leaders, we must continue to be learners. Leaders must be equipped to tackle the challenging questions associated with the necessary changes in the educational landscape. How should we redefine the profile of a graduate who is future ready? How do we redesign our teaching and learning environments to ensure each student gains the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to be successful?  How do we re-imagine our educational systems for the information and innovation eras? The skills and dispositions our students must be armed with to take on the challenges and opportunities before them, are the same skills and dispositions we, as educational leaders, need to learn and apply as we drive change. We cannot all be experts in everything, but we can be leaders in those things we are passionate about. Professional development for leaders must be personalized to meet the individual needs and passions of the leader. It must be a system that drives growth, a system that enriches the individual and is built on a foundation that creates structures to support change. That personalized approach not only creates the best learning environment for each of our students, but is what best meets the professional needs of the adult learners in our systems.

In my district, Dysart Unified School District, we are committed to personalizing learning for our students. We recognize for that vision to become a reality, we must support the growth of our educators. That growth of leaders as learners can be supported through a variety of personalized professional development options. Dysart District is working to expand leadership learning and capacity through personalized staff development options such as, our  Your CALL initiative,  Dysart U, Menu Mondays and other internal efforts. Additionally, we encourage our leaders to work collaboratively with educators from across this country who are innovating and driving the transformation we must see in our schools. AASA’s Personalized Learning Cohort and Digital Consortium are two examples of opportunities for leaders to work collaboratively, on critical problems of practice utilizing creative and supportive approaches. It is valuable to learn from people who have a similar focus and challenge, but bring unique perspective and ideas on implementing their vision. The AASA supported cohorts provide opportunities for personalized professional development that inspires the leader as a learner.   

Critical Friends Come Together in Chicago

(Lead To Learn, Equality, Aspiring Superintendents, Digital Consortium) Permanent link

Critical Friends Come Together in Chicago

By Yelena Minasyan



The AASA Digital Consortium, held July 27-29 in Chicago, brought together dozens of superintendents, assistant superintendents, and school technology directors from across the country to share ideas about using digital media to reimagine ways of teaching and learning to enhance student outcomes.

Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden High School District 212, and Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools District 109, welcomed all educators as their respective districts served as co-hosts of the consortium.

The group visited West Leyden High School on the first day of the meeting to learn about the district’s Tech Support Internship (TSI). Students who enroll in TSI acquire hands-on technology experience, and provide tech support to teachers and students. On the same day, attendees visited the metal lab, which prepares future engineers by building their expertise through machinery.

The second day of the consortium had an early start—the first stop was West Leyden High School where Jaime Casap, education evangelist at Google, served as keynote speaker. Throughout the inspirational speech, he discussed how the future is today. Lubelfeld tweeted, “The future is TODAY education for today. The present is a gift.” Casap also explained how “computer science is in everything we do. STEM jobs are going to increase rapidly within the next couple years and positions are going to be needed to fill them.” He raised the question “How do we prepare kids for their future?”

Everyone was excited to visit Google’s Chicago office later that day. The interior design of the building was very impressive- it was filled with vibrant furniture with a relaxed atmosphere. Many superintendents indicated they would like to see this kind of atmosphere in their schools. Students from Leyden High Schools joined the meeting and were interviewed by group members. The students' responses were consistent across the room; it was apparent they want to have a voice in the way they learn. During the workshop, superintendents were able to prepare for their “ignite sessions” which occurred on the final day of the meeting

On Day No. 3, administrators attended Deerfield School District 109 and observed STEAM labs. Solar panels on the outside of the buildings made the school more energy efficient. Alabama Superintendent Trey Holladay shared images of the lab on twitter, noting "moveable walls, measuring floors, [and] interactive cameras.” The student's voice is critical when making decisions how to reimagine the learning spaces.

During the meeting, superintendents learned new ways about how they can implement these ideas into their school districts. They will share the results in October at the next Digital Consortium, which will take place in San Francisco.



To keep up with the Digital Consortium, access:


Yelena Minasyan, AASA Intern, Student at George Mason University, Global Community Health



Amen's All Around

(Lead To Learn, Urban Superintendents, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

"Amen"s All Around

  By Mollie Sherman


 It’s always a pleasure to hear passion in people’s voices as they speak on something they truly believe in- my week with the West Coast cohort indulged me time and time again as Superintendents from across the country shared their stories. There was a warmth of comradery in the air as peers turned in their seats to listen to each other formulate ideas and hypothesize initiatives to further their district’s learning. They challenged each other to become truly 21st century educators, and each superintendent rose to the occasion with resolve to bring positive and lasting change to the education our children receive in the public school system. Daniel Cox, Superintendent of the Charles City Community School District in Iowa, spoke to the spirit of this resolution during an activity centered around technology integration as he shared his view of the superintendent’s unique role to “engage, empower, and inspire” their districts.

The personal note of experience inflecting each of their shared thoughts touched on the drive to persevere. A handful of superintendents presented their “Leadership Stories” of growth, highlighting the curves in the path of their lives that brought them to this position of leadership that allows them to enact continuous, bettering transformation. Many spoke of their parents or family influencing their belief in the value of education- it was incredible to note how many of the superintendents in the room had parents that had barely completed their college education, and some even high school. Michael Muñoz, Superintendent of Rochester Public Schools in Minnesota, shared with the cohort words from his father that stay with him to this day: “Education is a key.” Muñoz, who earlier spoke on some of his experiences growing up as a person of color, expanded on his father’s words, stating that for him it became obvious that “with an education I have a key to open any door to be whatever I want to be.”

At the session’s end, a resounding ‘amen’ surrounded the re-energizing and affirming nature of these sessions that leave the cohort feeling confident and prepared to better serve their districts’ well-being. As Larry Perondi, program mentor and former Superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District in California vocalized in his closing remarks, the commitment and passion of educational leaders was evident in the room, and I was truly fortunate to have witnessed such a significant meeting of academic collaboration.