Innovation Summit expands to include safety
Educators from seven states gather to discuss modernization of education and school security
LONE TREE – More than sixty people participated in the 2016 Douglas County Innovation and Safety Summit, a chance to discuss pioneering and sustainable practices in not only instruction but also school security.
Safety was added to the agenda of the second annual event, encouraging school districts across Colorado and the nation to collaborate on this important topic.
“Safety is our number one priority and a big focus in the Douglas County School District,” explained Douglas County School District (DCSD) Director of Safety, Security and Emergency Management Rich Payne. “It was only natural to add it to the Summit.”
Payne and his team brought in law enforcement partners to share lessons learned in previous tragedies.
“It was pretty impressive to see the Secret Service, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), state and local law enforcement in a room with school administrators, construction people and psychologists, and really see that cross training and that investment in doing the right thing,” said Susan Payne, the executive director of Safe 2 Tell, who spoke to the group about the anonymous reporting system, which is overseen by the Colorado Office of the Attorney General.
“We were able to present the importance on threat assessments, school safety and retrofitting schools, with the goal of making schools safer,” Rich Payne said.
Some of the discussions, especially about previous school shootings, were sobering – reminding participants of the importance of taking action.
“I think we are living in an age where we can’t just put our heads in the sand. It is really important as parents, schools officials and law enforcement that we all understand the issues that face young people in today’s world,” Susan Payne said. “It is really inspiring to see the deliberate investment in training from a federal, state and local level involving the experts—and really focusing on not only the physical safety, but also the emotional and psychological safety of our children. We want to make sure that we are doing the best we can to keep young people and schools safe."
Districts share innovative practices
Across the hall at the Denver Marriott South at Park Meadows, other educators were collaborating on the modernization of education. They had their choice of a dozen sessions about guaranteed and viable curriculums, balanced assessment, new practices in professional development and how to lead change.
“We brought a team here from Connecticut, because we really wanted to see what was happening in Douglas County, especially with personalized learning,” explained Pam Vogel, an assistant superintendent at a school district in northwest Connecticut.
“It has been a fantastic learning experience,” said Tabby Rabenberg, Principal of Horizon Middle School in Bismarck, North Dakota. “I think the greatest part for us is the fact that we get to collaborate with our peers, but then also get to collaborate with other districts on things that really matter for our schools, like upping the rigor and making sure that our standards have the highest level of verbs [in Bloom’s Taxonomy], so our kids can get the best learning possible.”
While DCSD leaders and staff lead the sessions, sharing practices used here, again, the goal is collaboration.
“We are all wanting to go down the same road together,” explained DCSD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Dana Johnson-Strother. “Some of us are further ahead than others and that is okay.”
“We are taking the best practices from them, and they’re taking them from us,” added Professional Development Coordinator Jeff Mlsna. “It has really been beneficial to have the opportunity to really sit down and have those conversations.”
“It was wonderful to meet people, not only from Douglas County, but also from Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts and be able to collaborate with those folks, knowing that we’re all in the same boat, doing the same work and that we can help each other out,” Rabenberg added.
“It is great to hear the different perspectives and challenges and then looking at how we can incorporate all of that to make it better for our kids,” said Mijana Lockard with the Office of Acceleration and Innovation in Polk County, Florida.
Being a pioneer is not always easy and the participants say they appreciate knowing others are doing similar work elsewhere.
“When you’re at the edge like we are and you’re trying new things and you’re really trying to move the whole process forward; to be able to talk to other people who are doing this same thing, it is very validating to hear their missteps, their successes and to then be able to learn from the process,” Mlsna said.
“We always do things better, when we do them together,” said Vogel. “I believe this collaboration is essential. We get our best ideas when we learn together and that is what is happening. Educators want to share ideas with each other. We want to find out what has worked, what hasn’t worked.”
Throughout the sessions, DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen and staff not only shared the successes, but also the challenges.
“You all were so transparent,” said Candy Amato, with the Office of Acceleration and Innovation in Polk County, Florida. “You mentioned the struggles and maybe some of the avenues you went down and maybe you kind of were like, ‘Oops, that didn’t work. Let’s back up and try again. Let’s try it a different way.’ You were very honest and up front that it is, yes, doable, but it came with some ups and downs along the way.”
“It was just very refreshing to hear people be really honest and say, it wasn’t perfect here, we had our struggles here too in Douglas County,” added Vogel.
Additionally, the educators had a chance to see how the innovative practices are being applied in actual classrooms.
“Being able to actually be in a classroom and be with a practitioner and ask the kids the impact that some of these teaching methods are having on their learning are like nothing that we’ve been able to do at a conference before. It is really fabulous,” said Lisa Carter, Principal of Salisbury Central School in Lakeville, Connecticut.
“I appreciated the authentic learning that was happening within the classrooms,” added Rabenberg. “There were things that kids could really relate to and they were actually building things and solving real world problems.”
As the summit wrapped up on Wednesday, the educators were excited to return home with many new ideas, as well as new contacts.
“I’m sad we’ll be leaving everyone today, but I also look forward to working with the people we met, moving forward because I feel like it is the beginning of a really exciting new network,” Carter said.
Johnson-Strother says she is excited for the continued collaboration, because it makes DCSD and our nation better.
“It benefits us; it benefits our kids, because if we are all working on this together, we are all creating a different world that doesn’t currently exist. These kids will go out into the world and create and invent things that will make the world a better place,” Johnson-Strother said.