Engagement, Assessment, AMP

As you know, I have only been able to provide periodic updates to this blog.  I have decided that this forum will become the way I will house all of my communications that occur through out the district.  You will see my presentations to the Assembly, Chambers and other entities.  You will see the quarterly updates I provide to the schools and also the weekly updates that are provided to the school board.

I will still conduct periodic updates specifically for the blog when an interesting topic comes up.  The interesting topic I would like to comment on now has to do with assessment and the Alaska Measures of Performance, also called the AMP.  The State is currently working on setting proficiency levels for this test, which is replacing the Standards Based Assessments.  The AMP is the new test that is designed to measure how our students perform on the new Alaska State Standards.  You may or may not be aware of the fact that 2 years ago, the State changed the State Standards for students.  Since then our teachers and administrators have been working to implement the new, much more rigorous standards in our classrooms.  This has been a heavy lift that has required a great deal of time and we still have more to work on.

Last spring the AMP test was administered in an online format.  As with all new assessments implemented across the country that are measuring new standards, the results will be lower than we are used to.  There has been a fundamental shift in the expectations for what students are supposed to know and able to do from the new standards.  In comparison, during the last 14 years through No Child Left Behind, basic skills and procedures were measured.  The new standards measure those skills too, but add additional requirements in reasoning, application, analysis, and communication.  As our teachers, schools and district make this shift to help our students grow their achievement from this initial, baseline assessment, I encourage you to ask the schools what you can do to support student growth.  I am very appreciative of the work our teachers and administrators have put in during this process and am confident that we will make the shift to fully support our students to meet the new standards, especially now that we have the baseline results.

We view this as an opportunity to better support our students as the bar has been raised for them.  The higher expectations are designed to prepare students to better compete and prepare them for their future.

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Beginning again

The start of the new school year is upon us!  School administrators have come back to prepare to open our schools.  Teachers and support staff will soon return to prepare for all of their students too.  In reflecting back on last school year and what could be in store for our district this year, I am thankful that we have been able to smoothly transition between superintendents.  With that being said, we are still in the middle of transitioning our entire instructional program and continue our work to operate more efficiently.

The instructional transition includes more work on standards implementation.  Expectations for students and staff have greatly increased through the new standards.  We are fortunate that we have built in collaborative time for our staff to work on aligning the higher expectations from the standards to the curriculum and everyday practice in the classroom.  With a greater emphasis on critical thinking and application, our students need the opportunity to experience more relevant activities in and out of the classroom.  We are on that path and I am confident, through our commitment to continuous improvement, that more differentiation to meet each students’ needs will occur.

For several years now, our district has been re-examining a variety of internal processes with an eye on eliminating redundancies and improving efficiency.  With the current fiscal climate in the state, we will continue this focus so that we can provide the best possible experience for each of our students with the resources we have available.  The most valuable resource we have is time.  Being efficient and focused in determining student needs creates more time to work with individual students.  This can be done through collaborative teaming where hard questions are systematically asked by peers.  Our staff has been refining their processes and as we get more assessment information in regards to the new standards we will be able to refine the processes, interventions, enrichment opportunities and questions to make progress toward the new targets the state will define for us.  The targets may seem to be difficult to reach, but I am confident our staff is capable of making the necessary adjustments with our students to reach these new, lofty expectations.

It is easy to say that each school year is a new beginning and in many ways it is, but for our district we have been on the road of continuous improvement for years.  We have quality staff that work very hard everyday.  That has not changed and I am thankful that is the case.  While we celebrate the beginning, I also celebrate the long term commitment and focus we all have on preparing all of our students for their future.

I look forward to the new school year and the continued focus we have for all of our students!

Have a great year!

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More with Relevance

Over the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to talk with several of our high school students.  They have provided me some resources through youtube and web articles that have helped me understand that providing a relevant education for them is extremely important.

In speaking with students, they truly want more than to learn process or recite facts.  They want to be challenged and given the opportunity to explore.  Many of them expressed interest in expanded opportunities to serve their communities.  I believe our staff gets this and try to provide much more than a “textbook” education.  Some of my evidence comes from our current group of BP Teachers of Excellence.  Without fail, the nominators of these teachers expressed how the teachers would try to connect course material to the “real world” while making positive personal connections with students.  The nominees themselves talked about personal connections with students being their number 1 priority.

I have mentioned before that I believe in a rigorous curriculum and standards, relevance of the curriculum to a student’s interest, and most importantly, establishing a positive relationship with students.  The saying “Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” is something I truly believe in.  A large part of that caring is getting to know students well enough to know their interests, aspirations and dreams.  Only after that, can curriculum truly be relevant to a student which in turn motivates them to seek greater challenges and become life long learners.

We are about to close out another school year and I look forward to my next post as a reflection of where we are at as a district from my perspective and where I see us going next year.  As you can imagine, I will focus on the 3 R’s (rigor, relevance and relationships) along with a continuous improvement mindset embedded into our culture.

Take care and talk again soon!


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Unfortunately it has been a long time since I have utilized this method of communication.  Since my last post, I have been busy communicating through many different means, but most importantly through face-to-face opportunities.  It has become very clear to me in my short time as superintendent that writing is important, but being available to listen is more important.  As a leader I work hard to deliver a clear message and be as up front as possible with whatever audience I am working with.  I have found that the most valuable time I have with stakeholders is listening to their perspective.  While I am often asked what I think on many different issues, I must always remember to ask the same question back.  We are all partners in this world and in order for us to provide the best possible experience for our students, we must talk with each other, and more importantly, listen to each other.

In this light, I will likely only be able to communicate through this blog on a monthly basis as I am committed to meet and listen to the communities.  What I am especially interested in is what people believe our students should be ready for after they graduate. I have heard that we need to have more life skills (budgeting, first aide, laws, ethics, etc.) taught in the schools.  I have heard we should be focused on college preparation or have students immediately be ready for a job upon graduation.  My perspective is that we should work with business and education leaders to give our students many opportunities to work with mentors and advisers in these areas to get a taste of what is required outside of the classroom.  Relevance is a big concern for our students and with solid community partners we can give students a chance to see how the work they do in the classroom fits with life after KPBSD.

What it will take is communication and follow through on a plan of action.  I look forward to hearing from our communities on how we can work together to provide an even more relevant education for our students.

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With the inevitable turnover of principals in our schools comes reflection on the characteristics of an effective instructional leader.  I am fortunate to work in a school district that offers many examples of great leaders and not all of them are school principals.  I have learned that leadership is not defined by position.  I believe it is defined by character and action.  Within those broad categories I refer to a couple of quotes often:

“Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.” ~ John Holt

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

Both quotes speak deeply to me and the crux of the matter really boils down to service.  My responsibility is to develop leaders in all positions and nurture critical characteristics imperative to lead our school district in the future.  I am looking forward to this challenge!


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Over the last few years the concept of the flipped classroom has come to the forefront.  Technology has allowed many educators to move some aspects of their instruction into homework.  For many this has meant moving lectures online. Ideally this leads to differentiation in the classroom and allows learners to have control over the online resource and review parts that they may have misunderstood.  Critics say that a lecture is passive regardless if it is in person or online.  Good teaching limits passive learning and promotes inquiry, critical thinking and collaboration.  While creating instructional videos can help teachers move low level, procedural concepts outside of class time, it is important to create interactive and reflective opportunities in this media.  Again, a passive transfer of knowledge in any format rarely “sticks” with the recipient.

The best flipped classrooms do not exclusively rely on instructional videos to be viewed outside of class and homework done during class time.  Students are given options.  They are given the opportunity to work together and conduct experiments with a given concept in a synchronous environment.  This is the hook and is much more than working on some problems in a textbook.  The next step is to allow technology to support learning the concepts touched upon by the experiments.  Sometimes this is through the instructional videos and sometimes through direct, small group instruction.  Reflection is a critical component of any classroom and this is where teachers determine what a student knows.  Much of this part of a flipped classroom is done asynchronously.  Students are allowed to be at different places in their learning, but are making progress on understanding.

Finally, students are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned.  Projects are created by the students with the teacher as the guide.  Peers are the audience and offer feedback to individual students.  We are back to a synchronous environment.

I do not believe that a flipped classroom is a new model.  Many teachers have guided their students through very difficult concepts in all disciplines before the internet or online videos existed.  Today’s technology allows for more flexibility, but good teachers maximize opportunities for inquiry, critical thinking and collaboration.  They minimize passive transfers of knowledge.  In essence, the right way to teach is as diverse as the students that are in our classrooms, the key is to know your students and allow them to learn by doing.

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Hello!  I am sure some readers of this blog may have wondered if the new KPBSD superintendent would continue publishing an update.  Now that I have settled in, the answer is yes.  I have come to value the communication posted here and believe it has provided excellent insights relevant to our district’s current status.

With that being said, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Sean Dusek and I am honored to be in the role of superintendent for our district.  I am proud to have over 22 years of experience in this district.   Throughout my journey I have learned a great deal about people and myself.  Through the years, preparing students for their future has become my highest priority.  The world has changed so much since I started my student teaching at Skyview High School in 1991.  While society has always changed, it is the pace of change along with the massive amount of instantaneous information that has amazed me.  What hasn’t changed though, in my opinion, are requisite skills all students can develop for success in the future.  Those skills are critical thinking, effective communication, creativity, and working well with others.

Our schools do a good job developing a foundation of academic skills.  We must not lose sight of developing the “success” skills I reference above.  In order for us to develop these skills we must remain committed to applying academic knowledge to unfamiliar projects, provide creative opportunities in the arts, career/tech, and physical activities, allow students to work together with taught expectations and provide safe outlets for student voice through  meaningful speaking, writing and listening experiences.

My goal is to communicate through this forum weekly on a variety of topics with a focus on student success skills.  I look forward to serving the students, staff and communities of the district.  Thank you for reading!

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Last Blog

About a month ago, some of the public on the central peninsula were on edge because a district employee was returning to work after being in Africa. With the Ebola scare in full swing, these folks were concerned that the employee might be infectious with the virus. Today, with few confirmed cases of Ebola in our country and with a better understanding of the virus, such a reaction would probably not happen. I share this to emphasize the importance of good information as a basis for forming an opinion, and to reflect on my blog that was intended to help do just this.

On most Saturday mornings for the past five years, I was in the office writing my blog. While the exercise was at times tedious, overall, it was a great way for me to share thoughts on some of what I read that week or to comment on a pressing issue or interesting district event. My blog’s weekly readership fluctuated from a high of more than 200 to a low of 12 a couple of summers ago. I trust that my thoughts caused the reader to think a little more critically about education and to use the information to be better informed about our schools.

As I close the door on this blog, I want to thank all of the various groups that make our district so special.

  • To the KPBSD staff thank you for your tireless effort to educate our students. The K-12 education roller coaster has never become too steep due to your commitment to our students.
  • To the parents and community members, thank you for your support of our schools and thanks for your willingness to gather all the facts before forming an opinion.
  • To our school board, thanks for supporting me as we navigated the waters of change to offer our students a world class education. I encourage you to stay the course.
  • To the students, I trust that you recognize how good our schools are and that the staff and community support for your education is solid.

I look forward to working with KPBSD in my new position as the Associate Vice President for K-12 Outreach at the University of Alaska. I know that the district’s foundation is solid and that KPBSD will continue to be looked to as a leader in our state.

Steve Atwater


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Traditionalists and Expansionists

I read an interesting article this morning on two different approaches to conserve our wilderness that are being taken in response to climate change. The new conservationists are being proactive by moving species to new ranges and using nonnative species as stand-ins for those that have become extinct. The old conservationists who want to protect, preserve and not interfere, are annoyed at this approach. After reading the article I couldn’t help but be reminded of the similar tension that exists in K-12 education. On the one side are what might be called the expansionists who want to relax the rules to allow such changes as private religious schools receiving public money. On the other side are the traditionalists who view such changes as the beginnings of the dissolution of public education. While I am firmly in the camp of the traditionalists, I view it as a mistake to miss the opportunity to redefine what it means to be in this camp. I strongly believe that attempts to simply throw up a fence and preserve what was in school, is a mistake that will ultimately serve as fodder for the expansionists.

Here at KPBSD we are experiencing some of this tension as we strive to find a balance between the digital world of instruction and the personal side of a teacher in front of students. There is little question that the independent learning that is a part of the digital side is a challenge for many students and that it is a mistake to simply assume that the digital content will be easily learned by all students. I am convinced that personal guidance with digital learning is paramount to our students’ success. We should not however because of this need, dismiss digital learning as a secondary option for students. It is clear that the traditional limitations of attendance and enrollment are loosening with students pursuing “best fit” options. Is it necessary to have 50 minutes of face-to-face class each day? Or can there be a blend where students are required to be with a teacher for three classes per week? With the premise that public education is the foundation of our democracy, as public educators we must do all that we can to adapt to the changing learning styles of our students. An insistence that a student must be in class in front of a teacher all day to get through high school is persevering the old and is the type of thing that those on the expansionist side will pounce on to illustrate the limitations of public education. Our district is full of innovation, let’s continue to recognize the needed changes that will help quell the expansionist’s diatribe on our schools.

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Teaching and learning

During my student teaching in a remote village, I sent videotapes of selected lessons to my university evaluator. I recall that prior to my first taping, in fear that I would appear inept, I advised my students to not pay attention to the camera on the tripod at the back of the room. At the end of the lesson, I felt that things had gone pretty well. But when I reviewed the tape, I was surprised to see that I was only engaging about half of the class. Some of the students were paying attention, while others were not. One boy was bold enough to place his face against the camera while my back was turned. Despite my best intentions to teach the whole class, my review of the tape made it clear that I was not making adjustments to my instruction in response to some of the students not being engaged. In reflection, I was more concerned with teaching for the videotape than I was with the students learning the presented concepts. Since then, I have observed this same scenario in plenty of our classrooms with teachers dutifully following lesson plans but failing to make adjustments when things are not going well.

There are numerous strategies for how to engage all students through effective classroom management. As a young teacher I mistakenly assumed that the stand and deliver approach to attentive, albeit passive students, was the best way to go. I was convinced that I was the keeper of the knowledge and that I had to pass it on to the class. And while there is nothing wrong with a full group lecture, maintaining student engagement for very long during this type of instruction is difficult. Because our students are seamlessly moving in and out of a digital world, my encouragement to teachers is that they take advantage of what the digital learning environment offers. I am convinced that much of the basics and more mundane side of teaching can be left to a digital format while the personal interaction of the teacher with students should be for higher order thinking and a close checking for understanding.   This blended approach helps to facilitate small group instruction and more importantly, helps train students to manage themselves during the learning activity.   Teachers need to give students tools to learn in a variety of ways. Videotaping my classroom discussion on Call of the Wild was revealing; it helped me recognize that it is about the students’ learning and not my teaching. It’s a good thing we were not discussing a Tolstoy story.


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