I ran across an Outward Bound patrol practicing rock climbing years ago at the old 10th Mountain Division camp near Leadville. I asked them what they were up to. “We’re learning how to tie knots,” one student answered. “Nu uh,” said another, “we’re learning how to climb mountains.” “Actually,” said a third, “we’re learning how to face any challenge life sends our way.”
Last fall, Roaring Fork schools conducted a series of community visioning meetings asking the participants — more than 1,000 parents, students, staff and community members — what goals they have for their students and what attributes they want to see in their schools. Basically, we heard the same answer that those Outward Bound students told me years ago: We want our children of today to be prepared for whatever challenges might come their way in the changing world of tomorrow. As to what and how our schools should be teaching, we didn’t hear much about basic skills — knot tying, as it were — but instead our communities told us they want schools full of intellectual rigor and challenge, experiential learning and real-world application, and support for the development of noncognitive skills such as resilience, determination, self-confidence and collaboration. They want us to invest in the best teachers and leaders, to ensure that our schools are inclusive, responsive and safe, and to provide enough different kinds of support for all students to succeed. We summarized the findings from all of those conversations in a report which you can read on our website.
In response to those many voices and high aspirations expressed by our community, the district leadership and board of education have affirmed a new mission: Roaring Fork schools will ensure that every student develops the enduring knowledge, skills and character to thrive in a changing world. We have also crafted a set of commitments that we intend to uphold in the future.
Our challenge, now, is to take the well-articulated community vision, mission and commitments for our students and schools and make them a reality. We need a plan. Over the next several months, we hope to engage you in the same kind of backwards planning as that third Outward Bound student was expressing: If we want our students to be ready to face any challenge, what mountains do they have to climb, what cliffs do they have to be prepared to scale, and what knots must they know how to tie?
First, we’ll work on a clearly articulated series of results or outcomes we want for our students. This poses a series of technical, important and interesting challenges. For example, what specific knowledge, skills and character do we want our students to exhibit as graduates of our schools, and how will we measure that they have attained them? We know that college and career readiness are important, so we can measure them, in part, with things like graduation rates and tests of academic knowledge and skill. But what about the soft skills that we know are at least as important for future success? How do we define them? How do we measure them? And how do we report to students, parents and the community about progress along the way?
By mid-May, we will have developed a strategic plan that specifies not only the results, but the roadmap for getting there, both in terms of the progress we want to help our students make from preschool through high school, and the progress we need to make as educators in developing our own talents, revising our methods and changing the value proposition for our students. We have plenty of data and stories that tell us what we are currently doing may be working fairly well for many of our students, but not for all of our students or for all of the challenges they will face in their futures.
We are going to need the help of our community once again, so we are inviting you all back to a series of community meetings from March 11-13 to check our progress and ask, again, if our plans address your hopes and needs. Beyond that, the strategic plan will include a community-designed process to maintain an ongoing dialogue. In the end, and along the way, we want to work with, and be accountable to, our community for the best results for our children.
When all is said and done, we’re still going to be teaching and testing knot tying — those basic and prerequisite skills that build toward bigger and broader challenges — but we need to make sure our students will be ready to apply those skills by climbing whatever mountains come their way.
To review the mission statement and commitments on the district website visit www.rfsd.k12.co.us/about-us/district-vision.html.
— Rob Stein is chief academic officer for the Roaring Fork School District.