KCSOS partners with Harvard to offer Continuous Improvement Consortium pilot for local educators
Teams of educators were pushed beyond their comfort zone and asked to take a good, hard look at the obstacles keeping their students from meeting success during a first-of-its-kind Continuous Improvement Consortium (CIC) in Kern County.
The pilot project is an adaptation of Harvard’s Public Education Leadership Program (PELP), which incorporates a unique framework that helps school districts focus on a problem that is preventing improvement and innovation. The program teaches a systematic approach around system-level problem identification, analysis and building a strategy toward a solution.
KCSOS’s Learning Network — the team that oversees professional development and collaborative learning around continuous improvement and district LCAPs — is testing the concept to see if it makes sense for their future work.
The pilot cohort participated in the Strategic Problem-Solving Institute held at KCSOS’s downtown headquarters in December. Teams of district stakeholders from Lost Hills, Maple and Pond came prepared with a specific challenge that they had pre identified.
Over three days, the teams were immersed in learning through collective workshops and then broke out into their teams to tackle the problem they were wrestling with. Share out sessions were held several times so teams could report on progress and get feedback from their peers from the other districts.
Michael Figueroa, special assistant to the chief academic officer at KCSOS, and organizer of the pilot, said the CIC was designed to build a robust, cross-district learning network and that receiving perspective from colleagues from other districts is a valuable part of the learning process.
“Defining a problem is the most important, and often the most challenging, part of the problem solving,” said Kathryn Short, one of the Harvard doctoral students who facilitated the workshop.
This notion proved true as district teams grappled with adequately articulating what their problem was during the workshop’s first day. The team from Maple originally identified its problem as a lack of data to track student achievement.
“Data is a means, not a problem,” Short challenged. “So, what is the true problem?”
That type of pushback was part of the framework and meant to provoke a productive struggle to engage participants in deeper thinking, facilitators said.
“A problem is good when it makes you feel uncomfortable,” Short added.
Maple School District Superintendent Julie Boesch said her team’s initial problem was actually identified as their solution over the course of the process. Rather than a lack of good data, the underlying problem, they found, was the district did not consistently use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of students based on an identification of their unique needs.
Customizing instruction can be achieved by gathering and analyzing data and creating rubrics to improve current practices, the team from Maple learned.
Once the problem had been refined, facilitators helped teams analyze their problems so that the root causes were clear. Teams then developed a theory of action — or a plan mission statement — and identified strategies that they would implement to solve the problem.
“As we moved through the process the team was able to quickly identify resources and potential areas of growth to move forward in our district,” Boesch said. “It was also a great time to begin to develop a plan for a strategically created system of improvement.”
Participants returned to their schools with the knowledge, tools and confidence to begin operationalizing what they learned. Follow-up site visits, observations and additional feedback by the other teams and technical support from KCSOS will round out the pilot program.
In post Institute surveys, participants praised the program as being very beneficial, noting that “it’s mind changing” and “the program is rigorous and so very much worth it.”
In fact, 95 percent of participants said they would recommend the program to other districts.
“Based on our learning, we hope to make adjustments to the program, so the CIC can eventually become a hallmark of the Learning Network,” Figueroa said.