How Baldwin Prepares Students for Their Futures
October 01, 2022
Appears in October 2022: School Administrator.
AASA Learning 2025 Lighthouse System:
Baldwin Union Free School District
Anticipating what students will need to prepare for a rapidly shifting future is a thorny challenge for almost any school district.
“We recognize what we’re doing is preparing our kids for the future,” says Shari L. Camhi, superintendent of the 4,500-student Baldwin Union Free School District in Long Island’s Nassau County. “What will the opportunities be when they’re done with college and high school?”
We recognize what we’re doing is preparing our kids for the future
Camhi and her team have a clear vision of what ingredients should be part of that secret sauce for success, starting from the time students begin school. If that means changing up some basic paradigms of public education, so be it. Baldwin was designated as an AASA Lighthouse System for its efforts to focus on the whole learner and future-driven education. Of particular merit is the district’s work on building students as co-authors on their own learning journey.
“How do you define intelligence?” says Camhi, AASA president in 2022-23. “What does it mean to be ‘smart’? Somehow it came to be test-taking. I don’t think it’s a fair measurement.”
Instead of students fitting into defined schooling options, the instructional programs need to be rigorous and reflect required academic competencies but should be based on student interests or passions. “Everything we need to do is look through the lens of students,” she says. A key component is offering opportunities and access to challenging courses to all students. The district, whose enrollment is 89 percent students of color, has achieved a 97 percent graduation rate with, significantly, no achievement gaps.
Baldwin’s Academic Academies, the district’s distinctive program, provide electives that expose students to careers in education, global business, government and law, medical and health sciences, STEM and new media. These subjects were selected based on local and regional economic trends.
“We’ve created pathways [for future work], including internships and shadow days, and competitions where kids are able to transfer these skills to real-world applications of that skill,” says Camhi.
What might that look like?
Law and Government Academy students recently presented their research at a national gun safety summit and participated in a public service announcement developed by Northwell’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention.
Even younger students get involved in real-world issues.
When there was an opening for an elementary school principal several years ago, some 2nd graders in a writers’ workshop developed a list of skills and qualities the principal would need, memorized and recorded speeches, and presented the recordings to the superintendent. Their wish list? Someone kind, smart, intelligent, friendly and helpful who would “talk to kids.”
To support equity, the district doesn’t track students and it removed barriers to honors and AP courses, leading to a 44 percent increase in enrollment in the higher-level classes over the past seven years. As Anthony Mignella, assistant superintendent for instruction, says, “All of our learners are challenged to take the most rigorous classes.” That means algebra for all 8th graders and an opportunity to take AP Human Geography in 9th grade to “get a taste of AP” coursework, he adds, and to earn credit for college courses.
As Camhi adds, “It’s exactly the kind of learning we want. College-level and dual-credit classes also provide student engagement and equity and opportunity.”
The district has partnerships with several local colleges. Students interested in education, for example, can take classes at Molloy College and ultimately enter the undergraduate college as sophomores.
Encouraging students to try difficult subjects and skills reflects the district’s philosophy of pursuing things they don’t yet know. This approach gives students permission to try something they have not experienced, whether it’s a skill or content area, without feeling pressure to be perfect or an expert.
New learning extends to the professional staff, as well. The district launched the Educator Residency program to encourage groups of educators to do deep learning for a year. Fourteen middle and high school teachers are on special assignment to concentrate on “learning about the world of work and the attributes of a learner,” Mignella says. “It’s looking at the profile of an educator and a profile of a learner.”
One year, 6th-grade teachers worked with scientists and observed how math is applied to problem solving at a local watershed and aquifer system. The idea is that by immersing themselves in a real-world problem, teachers could appreciate how to extend learning beyond the classroom.
Baldwin leaders believe all the pieces contribute to a coherent outcome for students.
“The content may change, the industries may change,” Camhi says. What students need to cultivate is a mindset that develops curiosity and empathy. “It’s how they use the knowledge.”