A culture of innovation

Silicon Valley is a global center for successful innovation. I've spent over a decade working in some of the most innovative organizations in our community: Google, Netflix, and Stanford. What I've learned is that keeping up with the pace of change requires that we:

  • Commit to best practices and continuous innovation,google_search.png
  • Connect to sources of great ideas both inside and outside the organization, and
  • Use data and metrics to find opportunities and assess experiments.

In an increasingly competitive and globalized economy, we need to innovate in order to maintain the quality of our schools relative to other districts locally, nationally, and globally. As a school board member I will bring a focus on enabling PAUSD to become a learning organization where we make continuous improvements in education.

A commitment to best practices is a key to successfully innovating and to keeping up with competitors. Our schools have struggled to find a balance between local autonomy -- what is often called in PAUSD "site-based control" -- and making sure that all students benefit from good ideas.

A good example is Schoology, a web-based tool that allows students and parents to see assignments and grades. The district has purchased licenses for all of our students to have access to Schoology. Schoology is a great idea: research shows that close coordination between parents and school lifts achievement and supports kid. Yet we are relying on individual school sites and teachers to decide to adopt Schoology. Having decided that Schoology is the best solution to the communication problem, the district should take the next step and ensure that all sites and teachers use it, and that teachers are supported through training and through adapation of the system to meet their needs. (For one thing, halfway adoption wastes money, as we are paying for software licenses for all students even if teachers aren't using the system).

yeh.jpg"I support Ken's efforts to improve the social and emotional well-being of our youth. As a former Gunn student, I particularly appreciate his work to improve counseling for our high school students." -- Yiaway Yeh, Mayor of Palo Alto

Another example is counseling in our high schools. We have a teacher advisory counseling model at Paly, and a traditional guidance model at Gunn. As the school board has recognized (based on data that I helped to bring forward), that has led to Gunn students receiving less effective guidance services than Paly students, despite the fact that we have equally excellent teachers and counselors at both schools. There is currently a process ongoing at Gunn involving parents, staff members, and students to close this gap. As a school board member, I will support Gunn in moving towards more effective counseling services for Gunn students, and I will press for adoption of best practices across the district to benefit all kids.

As Schoology shows, progress and innovation come from connecting to great ideas even if they come from outside the district. For example, our Palo Alto schools are literally on the front doorstep of one of the greatest hubs of innovation in the world: Stanford University. The Stanford School of Education is a world-class center for research and innovation in teaching and learning. Our schools can be the place where cutting-edge research is deployed to accelerate the learning of all of our students, through pilot programs, student teaching, and teacher professional development. Bringing student teachers from Stanford back into our high schools would itself be a huge step forward. And beyond the School of Education, Stanford has world-class faculty and graduate students in engineering, computer science, medicine, and a host of other disciplines that can help prepare our students for college and beyond. As a school board member, I will help build bridges to the tremendous centers of innovation and expertise in our community, from Stanford to local tech firms.

Finally, data and metrics are an often unrecognized part of successful innovation. Innovation isn't just having a good idea, it's being able to measure its impact and either adopt widely or roll back based on results. For example, the Elementary Math Task Force demonstrated that elementary school teachers are across the district are using a wide variety of methods to supplement our everyday math curriculum to meet the diverse needs of students. What we don't know, though, is which of those methods is working best. If we systematically track innovative teaching methods and measure their impact, we'll take great ideas out of individual classrooms and turn them into district-wide improvements. And conversely, we'll be able to spot approaches that aren't working as well, and help move to more effective practices.

Moving to a culture of best practices, openness to ideas from outside the organization, and data-driven innovation and decision-making takes knowledge, commitment, and time -- but it will pay enormous dividends for our students. As a school board board member, I'll use my own experience in the most innovative organizations in our Silicon Valley community to help PAUSD develop that culture.

 

 

 

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