APA Ames School Board Forum: Answers to Question 3

On September 5, 2017, the Ames Progressive Alliance held an Ames School Board Forum at the Ames Public Library.  Each candidate was given three questions to answer via email.  Below are the answers from the candidate’s to question 3.  The answers to the questions are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Question 3: The Bluestem Institute was a Project Based Learning class at Ames High School in 2016. Project based learning utilizes long-term projects to develop many of the soft skills necessary of team members in the workplace today. The Bluestem Institute was cut from the Ames High Curriculum. For innovative programs, which take years to design and implement, what processes would you envision to implement them, determine the value and finally to choose whether or not to continue such programs.

Monic Behnken: What you are describing here shouldn’t happen.  Program design and implementation should include a mechanism to ensure sustainability.  This is part of best practices and part of the work that I do with state and local entities when I help then design intervention programs for complex systems.  Staffing changes, budget fluctuations, and enrollment changes are all components that should be considered before any program is implemented in the school district.  Sustainability considerations at the planning stage are part of the effective use of resources; both personal and financial.  Getting a program up and running takes time, effort, and money. We shouldn’t start programs unless we are able to plan for their sustainability for a specific period of time. Generally, programs should have a specific relation to the district’s overarching mission and goals.  As a board member, setting the expectation that programs align with the district’s overall mission would be an appropriate expression of the duties entrusted to us by our fellow citizens.  However, I wouldn’t view my role on the board as that of a micro-manager.  Any implementation process and judgement about effectiveness must be a collaborative, ongoing dialogue with the stakeholders in these programs.  Their success should be determined by frequent assessment of their role in accomplishing the program’s individual goals and it’s relationship to the board’s overall goals for the district.

Jamet Colton: The Bluestem Initiative was the work of committed teachers willing to engage in a partnership to push themselves and students to a broader approach in education. This sort of innovation and creativity not only builds stronger students, but inspires and fulfills the expectations of resourceful teachers.  Our district should always go out of our way to encourage teachers who are willing to challenge themselves to do so.  Having that support builds a stronger bond, a better relationship between students and teachers, and a broader community perspective overall.  More importantly, it keeps our district up to date on the latest research and techniques.  We can propose a new High School with collaboration rooms and the newest technology, but without engaging and supporting our teachers and their innovations, none of this matters.

Time and support for a program to be fully implemented is crucial.  Huge successes often start small.  Once a program is approved, after an initial proposal submission, it must continue to be supported for a minimum time period.  I’m not sure what that would be, but I would expect it to be measured at a minimum of two years, dependent on the program.

I was impressed being by the presentation to the Board on the AHS Entrepreneurial Program.  It demonstrated a partnership between students and local businesses to give our kids practical tools for their futures.  This was a presentation after the fact.  As a Board member, I would like to see the innovations currently taking place, and hear about the challenges being faced as they’re being faced.  I think this would serve to help better guide my decisions as well as inform on the innovations currently being explored.

Gina Perez: Soft skills are vital in any workplace.  Good communication within a team can make a huge difference in productivity, regardless of where or what the team is accomplishing.  Even in a STEM career, I use soft skills every day to work on processes, projects, and facilitation within the organization.

Before implementing or developing any programs, I would like to interview other school districts and find out about the programs they have already implemented on soft skills.  Also, there may be vendors who have programs already developed.  If we then decide to develop our own program from scratch, or even by using another program as a guide, we need to build metrics for success into the program itself.  Those metrics can be used for determining success rate of the program.

Along with metrics being built into the program, we need to interview the teachers that are using the program.  They have a solid gauge on program effectiveness and student growth.

If a program is determined to be decommissioned or replaced by another program, it is important to also look at what portions of it might be used in new or existing programs.  Processes should be always growing to include new materials or better ways of doing things.

Tim Rasmussen: Bluestem was an interesting project learning program.  Project learning is only going to increase in effectiveness and awareness.  Ultimately, Bluestem was cut because students were telling other students to not take the course.  My kids always got advice from their older friends to take a certain AP course, or try to get a particular instructor.  Bluestem, with consecutive periods of class time, was losing popularity, thus making it less effective.  It was a bold and innovative program and we should be glad we have administrators and teachers that were willing to attempt new strategies.

Our project learning approaches are slightly scaled down now, with teachers finding shorter term projects or some learning opportunities outside the school.  Innovation is still occurring, but like most other initiatives, need to be planned and implemented by great teachers.  The Ames High School Business Collaborative comes to mind and is gaining in popularity and effectiveness with each passing year.  I look forward to seeing the evolution of this important program as students continue to collaborate with Research Park business in real-world educational opportunities.