SMC Education Leadership Institute Offers Hope and Advice for Challenging Times

Gordon JacksonAfter years of budget cutbacks and shrinking class sizes, educators are hard-pressed these days to find a glimmer of hope for their profession, but they received a dose of optimism and inspiration at the Summer Leadership Institute on Thursday, June 23, sponsored by Saint Mary's Kalmanovitz School of Education.

Gordon Jackson, assistant superintendent of the California Department of Education (at left in photo), acknowledged that the budget battle in Sacramento was creating hardships and uncertainty, but he told the crowd of about 130 teachers and education leaders, "Under Jerry Brown and Tom Torlakson, I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm pretty certain it's not a train."

In an interview after his talk, he said he was encouraged by the leadership of Governor Brown and Torlakson, who was elected as the state education superintendent last year. "Governor Brown has been a friend, and he has had a presence that his predecessor didn't have" on issues relating to education, Jackson said. Still, he emphasized that it was important for teachers and voters to communicate "how dire this will be" if K-12 education is cut even further. "It threatens the security of the state by hindering the education of our children," he added.

In a nod to the problems faced by educators this year, the theme of the conference was "Transforming Ourselves and Our Schools: Achieving Results in Difficult Times."

T.C. Roekle (at left), author of "Designing Thriving Schools: Using Proven Strategies and Technologies to Accelerate Learning," delivered one of two keynote speeches and told the attendees to "teach less and learn more" – about the students, their families and how children learn. She also urged them to adopt new technologies in order to move their teaching into fast-forward mode and make the most of their time with students. But she cautioned that upgrading technology wasn't enough. "You have to upgrade people, too," she said, through "just-in-time training."

As Roekle spoke, Nadine Rosenzweig, principal of Live Oak Elementary School in San Ramon, made notes in her new iPad 2. Her school is very technology-driven, and she uses the iPads in reading and writing workshops. "I was a tech dinosaur," she admitted, but added, "I've really embraced it. I see the power of it with children."

Audience members interested in technology had an opportunity to learn about some new applications during the lunch break, as KQED Education and Media Learning presented sessions on Creating Thematic Playlists in iTunes, Mapping with Google, and Using Flip video and Audio for Assessment.

In the second keynote speech, Darrell "Coach D" Andrews (at right in top photo), author of several books, including "Believing The HYPE: Seven Keys To Motivating Students of Color," inspired the audience with ideas for translating their passion into performance in the classroom.

"This is a challenging time for a lot of people," he said. "There are budget cuts galore. In Philadelphia, where I'm from, they laid off 3,000 teachers." But he warned the audience not to get so caught up in the challenges that they fail to see the potential. "Passionate leadership produces environments that support student dreams," he said, inviting the participants to take on the new title of "dream builder."

He emphasized the importance of building strong bonds between students and caring adults, citing a successful program in Boston that assigned every student an adult mentor. "Kids are not committed to programs; kids are committed to people," he said.

He also advised the educators to set the bar high for their students and not accept the standard definition of underserved populations, saying "Nobody rises to low expectations." As an example, he told the story of Jimmy Le, a student he took under his wing. "Le was a leader – true, it was a gang leader, but still a leader." Andrews said. So he appointed the troubled young man "director of computing" for one of his projects. Le was dumbstruck, but he took on the challenge and now, Andrews said, he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in computer science.

In several hands-on exercises, Prof. Doug Paxton of Saint Mary's M.A. in Leadership Program, led audience members in exercises to discover their individual passions and leadership potential . The conference also featured a preview of "Race to Nowhere," an independent film about "the dark side of America's achievement culture."

Laura Garcia-Cannon '91In the afternoon, KNTV anchor (SMC '91, at left) moderated a panel composed of:

Abe Doctolero, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Pittsburg Unified School District
Debbra Lindo (SMC Ed.D. '10), director of secondary education for the Palo Alto Unified School District
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Level Playing Field Institute, and
Professor Suzy Thomas of the KSOE School Counseling Program at KSOE

"There is a serious crisis in education today," Lindo warned. "There are serious disparities between highly literate and underperforming student populations. Our call to action is going to require great courage."

Denise Kretzinger and Brenda Gundell, who have been fast friends since sixth grade, were inspired by the speakers. Both attended Saint Mary's Master of Arts in Teaching Leadership program together, graduating in 2007, and now teach in San Ramon Valley schools. They came to the conference, they said, "to remind ourselves that we are teacher-leaders."

View a slide show of the event on Facebook.

View the Summer Leadership Institute panel discussion "Transforming Ourselves & Our Schools."