Federal policy makers visit PUSD

“We should want this for every kid in America” — those were the words of Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, with the U.S. Department of Education when she visited Monache High School on Thursday for a first-hand look at Linked Learning — a process that transforms a traditional high school experience by integrating rigorous academics with career-based classroom learning and real-world workplace experiences. She was one of numerous representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Congress visiting the Porterville Unified School District.

“It’s not just about getting kids to graduation but of what is behind that piece of paper,” Delisle said about the graduation diplomas.

She envisions, she said, what she has seen at PUSD, as something every student in America should have.

The day begin with a welcome by MHS Environmental Science Academy senior Madison Meredith, and a few words by PUSD Superintendent John Snavely.

Snavely shared the vision the district had 10 years ago of transforming a blue-collar community into a community where all students could be adequately prepared for college and career.

Snavely talked about building Harmony Magnet Academy — a wall-to-wall Pathway school which is home to the Academy of Engineering and Academy of Performing Arts — and of the journey it took to get to where they are today with the help of the James Irvine Foundation, Connect Ed, Linked Learning, and other partners.

PUSD now has 10 open charter pathways at five high schools that are open to all students, Snavely said, stressing the commitment of the district’s governing board to every student.

“It doesn’t matter their background, it doesn’t matter their ethnicity, it doesn’t matter the challenges, we will get students to the pathway of their choice,” Snavely said and offered a few numbers.

During the 2013-2014 school year, 65 percent of the freshman class went into one of nine pathways. Next year it will be 10, he said.

The pathway program is selected by each student, not the district.

Snavely praised the district’s high school exit results, recently released.

“It’s just another example Linked Learning is working. It’s a powerful, educational process of how students can be taught,” Snavely said.

Also speaking Thursday morning were Anne Stanton, youth program director of the James Irvine Foundation; Bob Wise, president of Alliance for Excellent Education; Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd; Hilary McLean, deputy director of Linked Learning Alliance; MHS principal Richard Smithey; and Amanda Driver, lead teacher of the Environmental Science Academy.

Porterville is not easy to get to, but worth coming to, Wise said, in reference to an earlier opening comment from Snavely.

“You have the data, you have the results, you have the activities and you’re dealing with a diverse student population. You have challenges and opportunities. It’s exactly what we need,” Wise said about PUSD.

Wise also said he was struck Linked Learning is not a program but a process.

Hoachlander talked of career and technical education, of Linked Learning components, and of Linked Learning and the Common Core.

“Linked Learning and Common Core are joined at the hip. Common Core is the what, Linked Learning is the how. They reinforce and supplement each other. It’s very powerful,” Hoachlander said. “It’s about building the community infrastructure.

Following the speakers, the day continued with classroom tours of Monache’s Environmental Science Academy and Multimedia Technology Academy, and a project-based demonstration in the MHS library, before the group moved on to Harmony Magnet Academy for lunch, additional presentations, and a panel-discussion.

Contact Reporter Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.

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