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Nationwide Spotlight on Lindsay Unified
$10 million Race to the Top award attracting attention
LINDSAY — Ever since the Lindsay Unified School District won a $10 million Race to the Top education award, the small rural school district has been in a national spotlight — with dozens of education administrators, reporters, and vendors calling and visiting the district to learn more about its successful Performance Based Education System.
“Most of the attention has been from outside of California,” said Lindsay Unified School Superintendent Tom Rooney. “Now we’re starting to get local interest. The amount of national interest has quadrupled. A lot of our recognition has been from the outside. We’ve gotten the attention of at least 100 vendors, so we’re guarding against it.”
The notoriety has been intense — with some vendors going as far as attempting to sneak onto the schools, Rooney said, forcing the district to limit program visits and tours to a few scheduled times a year.
But no matter how much recognition the district receives, he said, one thing will never change — the full focus will always remain on the students — or learners, as the district refers to them.
“We have not been distracted. The focus remains on Lindsay schools. It’s all about Lindsay kids and not about everybody else,” Rooney said. “Some really do have the students’ best interest in mind, but others are just trying to sell their wares and programs. We’ve made it clear. This is about Lindsay’s vision for learning as outlined by the Lindsay Unified School Board and the community of Lindsay. As superintendent of the district, I’ll guard the vision against any partners or vendors claiming to help us with the next level. It’s not about them.”
In the meantime, Lindsay is serving as an example for state and local schools throughout the country working on transforming their schools.
“Many of the folks are where we were four years ago — just starting to think about these things,” Rooney said. “We have lots of work to do ahead but we’ve also done a lot. We are where we are because of what our teachers and leaders are doing at their schools.”
The performance-based system kicked off in the fall of 2009 after two years of dreaming of what was possible, Rooney said. There was no model to follow and everything the district did was based on the principals of learning. Rooney also said, that if the district did not win the award, it would continue doing what it is doing — putting learners first and continuing with the Performance Based Education System.
The $10 million and what the district is doing with it
Though originally set to be distributed over a four-year time frame, the full amount of funding — $10 million — was released all at once, Rooney said, and will go far in accomplishing goals.
While the district continues its innovative teaching method, it is also working on detailing time lines and budgets which are due April 8. The district has been working intensely six to 10 hours a week, Rooney said, including aligning the Common Core Standards to assessments, placing requests for proposals and negotiating with the school’s union for a higher number of facility staff work days.
“We’ve added 12 extra days next year, eight the following year and five the next year, of staff-development days — all related to developing leadership capacity and learning facilitators capacity,” Rooney said. “We are also working with perspective partners, explaining where we are going and how the focus is on Lindsay learners.”
In addition, the district has been advertising for multiple positions, including specialists who will work with the teaching staff to build ‘Level 4’ units. Level 3 units, he said, are standard.
“With Race to the Top, we are building Level 4 knowledge they can apply to life,” he said. “We are going to give our kids real life experience at a level that enables them to be more successful in a global system.”
The plan involves restructuring individual instruction to guarantee learners don’t fall through the system.
“We’re also interviewing for a blended-learning specialist — a direct instructor with computer technology — who can train staff development,” Rooney said.
Another exciting aspect is that the district is capturing every step of the process on digital film.
“We’re hiring a digital-media arts specialist who will capture all we are doing — assessments, training, instruction, growth — digitally,” Rooney said. “In the end, it will be a digital platform to show another district how to do what we’ve done. What took us eight to 10 years to build, will take them just a couple of years. They can skip all mistakes.”
At a recent Race to the Top convention in Washington D.C., all award recipients spoke.
“Once we told our story, they all said they had to see Lindsay. We’re further along than all the others. We’re shaping and reinforcing and empowering learners with a choice,” Rooney said. “It was exciting. I was proud to be there representing this community — sharing Lindsay’s story and promoting what is happening for kids and parents. The torch has caught on.”
The Race to the Top award is a federal grant award won by schools leading the way with ambitious, yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling and comprehensive education reform.
Lindsay Unified School District is the recipient of $10 million for it’s innovative implementation of a performance-based learning system.
In all, approximately 400 applications were submitted for a chance to win a portion of the $400 million pie.
The money was divided — with awards ranging from $10 million to $40 million — between 16 winners representing 55 school districts across 11 states and the District of Columbia.
Three of the winners, including Lindsay, are from California.
Lindsay Unified, a district with a 4,000 student enrollment, ranked 16th in the race with a score of 196.33, just ahead of two applicants with scores of 195.33.
The Race to the Top winners will serve as examples for state and local school districts throughout the country working on transforming their schools.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.