Moving from merely treating symptoms to focusing on the problem: HCD21 Update

It’s human nature that we spend a good deal of time and other resources trying to treat the symptoms of something we deem is a problem. We rarely expend the energy getting to the root cause.

Education reform is notorious for attacking the symptoms instead of banding together to uncover and cure the real problem. We created school choice and charters as a way of avoiding any of the dirty work involved in coming together as a community and addressing the real reform efforts needed in our neighborhood schools. We attacked teachers and principals weakening tenure and collective bargaining, while at the same time installing questionable evaluation systems that have yet to be proven they do anything to improve student learning.  We piled on more high-stakes tests as if weighing the cow will make it fatter, and then instead of refocusing classroom instruction on the 21st century skills children need to be life-long learners and contribute positively to the world they will inherit, we simply ratcheted up our mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum and created more extensive testing.

We’re experts at finding and attacking symptoms; we have yet to discover and cure the problem.

This is why our district is moving forward with the help of our Steelcase Foundation and NewNorth Center partners in a two-year, human-centered design process of rooting out the real problems and redesigning our 19th Century K-12 system to meet the needs of today’s children and tomorrow’s adults.  Our project is dubbed “GLPS HCD21” and our core leadership team consists of teacher, administrator and support staff volunteers who will be spending a great deal of time together in the coming months.

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The team has just completed it’s third work session, which at this point in time is focused on drilling down through all the visible and perceived symptoms of an out-dated educational model to find a consensus on what we believe to be the root problem(s).  In an effort to get to that point, the team has gone through a number of critical-thinking activities led by our NewNorth Center partners designed to ferret out the problem but not solely from our point of view, rather what we believe would come from the primary end-users of our schools: parents, teachers and kids. The statements below were refined from over forty and are helping us to visualize what the end-results should “feel like” once we have determined the root problem(s) and iterated solutions:

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The statements above reflect what we might hope students (1), teachers (2), and parents (3) would be thinking as a result of redesigning our outdated educational system.

Identifying the problem and framing the challenge of redesigning our K-12 system is absolutely critical to our success in creating a learning system that meets the needs of everyone of our students, their parents and our community at-large. These early weeks of the project will help us to organize how we think about the solution (instead of simply treating symptoms as education reform does now), and despite moments of ambiguity will clarify where we should push our redesign. Right now, we’re focused more on the art rather than the science of pinpointing the problem as we search for the inspiration we need to make substantial change, but from here we’ll strive to validate our findings as we move into the research and interview stage.

There’s no better way to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you’re designing for than by talking with them directly. ~ The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design,

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Our core leadership team for “GLPS HCD21” is representative of all of our schools and district administration. Following the interview phase, we will be asking several parents and older students to join us. The team currently includes:

David Britten, superintendent
Dr. Carol Lautenbach, assistant superintendent
Jody Hankis-Snyder, high school teacher
Vlad Borza, middle school teacher
Diedre Stasiak, early childhood teacher
Jason Cochran, alternative education teacher
Kathryn Curry, secondary principal
Sarah Dewey, elementary reading coach
Susana Chapa, district translator
Peter Geerling, early childhood principal
Andy Steketee, elementary principal
Gabe Snyder, high school teacher
Christi Gilbert, elementary English language teacher

David Koetje, retired Christian Schools International executive serves as our leadership coach. Seth Starner and Jason Kehrer team together from NewNorth Center to facilitate our human-centered design process.

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Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our kids for the innovation era

Updated: The district is working on scheduling a school bus from Lee High School to the theater and back. Signup information will be available soon. Only those registered for the public showing will be admitted. Register at the link in the flyer below.

I would like to extend an invitation to our parents, community members, staff and even students to attend a free screening of the award-winning documentary, Most Likely to Succeed.  Details are in the graphic below including a link to signup to attend.  Following the 90-minute video, I have the privilege of representing our district on a panel to discuss the key points presented by the film’s producers.  You can visit the website to learn more and view the trailer (preview) at  I hope you can set aside time for this important event.

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The 21st century is going to be all about building, creating, and innovating. This remarkable film shows a path of how we can empower all of our children to do that.

—Sal Khan, Khan Academy

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And So We Begin…

For the past year, we have been preparing for a journey that finally got underway last evening. A year ago, I stood before our staff during the annual all-staff opening meeting and made it clear that the 124-year old system of schooling in this country no longer served the needs of kids. It was a system designed for the industrial revolution and a time when millions of minimally-educated workers were needed for a  growing number of factories and other businesses. But the world has changed dramatically in the past fifty years, and even more so over the previous two decades. So at this year’s opening meeting, I reminded our staff that this district can lead the change that’s sorely needed by redesigning our K-12 system to provide all of our students with learning opportunities that no longer meet the needs of our past, but instead prepares them for their future.

Throughout the past year, we have been working with the Steelcase Foundation and an organization called NewNorth Center developing a process to define, explore and test a better system for meeting the needs of our kids, their families and the community at large. We decided on using what’s called “human centered design” or HCD for short over the next two years to accomplish this task. The Steelcase Foundation has provided us a generous grant to conduct our work and a leadership team has been formed to begin the journey.’s HCD is a system centered on Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation, providing a set of tools and processes to move us from problem identification to formulating solutions to testing out prototypes to scaling up our new design. Throughout the process, there will be many opportunities for staff, students, parents and other interested community members to participate in and provide feedback at various intervals. It’s our intent to begin testing a few ideas during the spring trimester and even during our summer extended year programs.

Our first session last evening gave us an opportunity to get acquainted, contribute our individual perceptions of what we would like students, teachers, parents and administrators to be able to say when we achieve our redesign goal, and some of the barriers we know will have to be part of our design, planning, testing and scaling efforts. This photo outlines some of the key words and phrases that were contributed by the team members:

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We also took time to diagram and discuss the design process that we’ll be working with over the course of the next two years, particularly how ideas will incubate and work their way through the thought-process towards reality.

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Only about a third of our team has prior training in the HCD process, so in some reflective thinking the next morning, it was decided that a short HCD bootcamp may be needed to get everyone on the same plane as far as understanding the process and the various tools at each interval.

While the structure and timeline of our work will evolve throughout the process, our goal during the first year is to produce the following deliverables based on a timeline recommended by NewNorth Center:

1. Frame the Problem (Sep 16 – 30, 2015): our objective in this stage is to create a shared problem statement that will serve as guidance for the balance of the project.

2. Question Assumptions (Oct 7 – 21, 2015): this is an early critical stage since many assumptions are what have kept our educational institutions from changing over the last 124 years. We’ll be producing a document that outlines our underlying assumptions and biases using both quantitative and qualitative input and existing research.

3. Know People and Know Context (November – December 2015): this stage will require an extensive time period that will include a variety of interviews with stakeholders resulting in an ethnographic research document that provides the district with a collective shared understanding of system users’ and beneficiaries’ insights, beliefs, dreams and goals of what a school system should be.

4. Pattern Finding (By January 31, 2016): based on the outcomes of the first three stages, we’ll uncover patterns and implications that lead to need statements, making sense of the learning from the point-of-view of the students, families, staff and community.

5. Explore Concepts and Create Solutions (By February 29, 2016): from our insight statements, we’ll explore hunches and develop how-might-we statements and solution frameworks whereby we can prioritize concepts that we can begin to test in a variety of ways. We anticipate arriving at this juncture by spring 2016 allowing for some live model testing and prototyping during the current school year and throughout summer programs. We expect during this process to also explore necessary waivers to governmental restrictions and seek additional partnerships to support prototypes and pilots.

6. Live Model Test(s) and Scaling (March through June 2016; continuing July 2016 through June 2017): it is our intent to reach this point with the capability of iterating and testing some prototypes during spring-summer 2016. This will help provide momentum that will carry us over into 2016-17 where more robust prototyping and larger-scale piloting of redesign measures can be tested as we continue to more specifically define outcomes, measure success, and iterate modifications and new ideas, as well as staffing and funding for sustainment of change.

I’ll be keeping you up to date through this blog as we journey along this transformational process. I’ll also occasionally provide links to short surveys as we continuously seek your input and ideas.

To close this post, the very first paragraph of The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design sums up the mindset we must all adopt to successfully re-imagine and re-design our system to benefit our kids:

Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones…, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer. Human-centered design offers problem solvers of any stripe a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs.

See also:

Project Re-Imagine: District Embarks on Transforming Education – Grant Will Help With Ambitious School Redesign

School district awarded $250K grant from Steelcase Foundation to transform

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Welcome Back Administrators, Teachers and Staff!

Dear Rebel Team:

I certainly hope this letter finds you and your families in good health and continuing to enjoy your summer break. Hard to believe that we’re only several weeks away from getting back together in that final push to open school for our kids, especially since it sometimes feels like “we never close” with all of the great summer programs that have been going on in our buildings and on our athletic fields the past seven weeks.

To be honest, June and July afforded me some great opportunities for reflection on where we’ve come over the past decade and where I feel we need to head in the very near future. We just received final notice from the Steelcase Foundation that we have been awarded $250,000 for a two-year instructional and learning redesign project I alluded to last August, and I’m excited about the possibilities this will provide for our students as well as our district as a whole. I’ll explain more during our all-staff opening session on September 1 including the opportunities you will have to participate in this process.

If you hadn’t yet heard, Andy Steketee joins our administrative team taking over the principal leadership role at Godfrey Elementary. We also have a few other staff changes that will be announced during the opening session. Our back-to-school schedule is as follows:

Monday, August 10 – School administrators return; fall sports seasons begin this week; Regular Board of Education meeting at 7 pm

Monday, August 17 – Building office staff return and school offices re-open

Week of August 24 – Student orientations scheduled

Tuesday – 7th/8th Grades 9-11 am

Tuesday – 6th Grade 6-8 pm

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – East Lee Campus 10 am – 2 pm

Wednesday – LHS 10th, 11th & 12th Grades 9-11 am

Saturday – LHS Freshman Camp 12:00 noon – 10 pm

Week of August 31 – Staff preparations

Monday – New Teacher Orientation, 8:00 am – 3:00 pm

Tuesday – All-Staff Opening Day

7:00-7:50 am Optional Hot Breakfast, ECC Multi-Purpose Room

8:00-10:00 am Opening Keynote Session – Free to Learn

10:00-11:00 am Association Meetings

11:00-11:50 am Lunch (on your own)

12:00-3:00 pm Building Opening Meetings

Wednesday – “Rebel U” Administrator & Teacher Staff Development, 8:00 am-  3:00 pm, Kent ISD Educational Service Center (

Wednesday evening, 5:30 – 7 pm, open house/meet the teacher at Godfrey Elementary and the Early Childhood Center

Thursday – Teacher Planning and Preparation Day, 8:00 am-3:00 pm; opening home varsity football game vs. White Cloud, 7:00 pm

All support staff not normally scheduled to work before students return are expected to attend the opening all-staff keynote session on Tuesday, September 1, and may submit a time sheet for 8:00-11:00 am (3 hours maximum). If you have questions, feel free to contact Emily Truax for clarification.

Rebel U for all administrators and teachers will once again be held out at Kent ISD. As in the past, our Tech & Media Team has organized a great agenda filled with opportunities to learn new skills or sharpen old ones throughout the day. It’s also a great time to connect district-wide and share what your are doing or would like to do with digital technology and curriculum tools this year. You can review the complete agenda including session descriptions at

Sign-in for Rebel U begins at 7:30 am and as always you should plan ahead for any potential traffic problems trying to get out to the ISD. Lunch will be provided and you are asked to bring a digital device with you.

Buildings will be open on Friday, September 4, for anyone desiring to access your classroom and complete any last minute preparations for opening day. Students report Tuesday, September 8 following the traditional Labor Day weekend.

I look forward to seeing all of you soon but in the meantime, enjoy the remaining weeks of summer.



Links to Connect With

District Website (new):

District Facebook Page:

District Twitter:

GLPS Teaching & Learning Facebook Group:

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Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Leadership Team to Participate in Future Ready Regional Summit

The Godfrey-Lee district is sending a team of school district leaders to Prairie Trail School in Wadsworth, Illinois to participate in the next of thirteen Future Ready Regional Summits, on June 15-16, designed to help district leaders improve teaching and learning through the effective use of technology.  President Obama announced the regional summits at the ConnectED to the Future Convening, hosted at the White House Nov. 19, 2014.  Superintendent David Britten was one of two Michigan participants in that White House summit last fall.  This regional summit is being hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Superintendent Britten and our district leadership team are furthering Godfrey-Lee’s commitment to becoming future ready by engaging in a series of workshops that offer expert support to create or build upon an existing digital learning plan that aligns with instructional best practices, is implemented by highly trained teachers, and leads to personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities. Joining him for the regional summit are Board of Education President Eric Mockerman and Director of Technology and Media Services Daniel Townsend.

“We gathered during the school year and conducted a complete assessment of our technology initiatives to provide a more clear vision of where we want to go as a district, and what our next steps are,” Britten remarked. “We’ve been a leader in West Michigan in the integration of technology into our teaching and learning, and for the benefit of our students, we want to be sure our district remains on the cutting edge.”

“Superintendents provide critical leadership to ensure that every child in their district benefits from what we know matters and what we know works for kids,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The Future Ready Regional Summits will be a forum where local leaders can share knowledge with their peers, engage leaders from outside their region and better equip themselves with skills and tools necessary to provide students with what they need to be successful in life.”

The summits are an important step toward realizing the goals of the ConnectED Initiative announced by President Obama in 2013 to connect 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet and empower teachers with the technology they need to transform teaching and learning. The regional summits are expected to engage more than 1,800 district leaders nationwide.

“Future ready is about helping district leaders leverage technology to empower teachers, engage students, and close persistent equity gaps by creating a learning environment where all students have access to the tools and expertise they need to be prepared for the future,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology (OET).

The summits are open to district leadership teams that have made a commitment to developing the human and technological capacity needed to transform teaching and personalize learning using digital tools, by signing the Future Ready District Pledge. Already, more than 1,800 district superintendents nationwide have taken the pledge.

For more information about the OET, including resources for students, parents and educators, visit  #FutureReady

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Year-End Message to Parents

As I drafted this post a couple of weeks ago, we were in the final stages of preparing for graduation and sending our senior class onto the next stage of their lives. This was the 91st graduating class since Lee High School’s first graduation back in 1925. While times have changed, the dreams of each member of this year’s graduating class remain largely the same. Each has left here with some uncertainty about the next steps but a strong sense of accomplishment, having successful completed the first thirteen years of their life-long education.

The overall goals of K-12 education have changed substantially since the first group of five Lee High School seniors graduated in 1925. In those days, the primary goal was to have as many students as possible complete at least the 8th grade with only about half attending all four years of high school. Those last four years were mainly intended to develop a basic level of knowledge and civic responsibility that ensured these new young adults could successfully gain employment in the many area industries, marry, rent or purchase a home, raise a family, and enjoy a reasonably secure lifestyle. Another handful of high school graduates would go on to college and pursue professional or managerial careers upon earning their degree. A few would serve in the military first.

Schools back then were designed to “sort and select” for the various needs of business and industry, but all that has changed with the onset of the 21st century. Today, our district is engaged in the continuing transformation of ensuring all of our students remain in school through the 12th grade, graduate ready to pursue a college degree or similar post-high school training, and gain successful employment in the new economy of jobs requiring higher skills and knowledge. The entire professional staff at Godfrey-Lee is continuously focused on changing our school structure, classroom teaching and learning processes, and programs designed to be more engaging for our students.

Our hope is that we have been on target in meeting the needs of this year’s graduating class and will have played a major role along with you, the parents, in their future success. We’re just as excited as they are for the next phase of life’s adventure and I wish each all the best.

As for the rest of our students and families, I look forward to your return this fall.

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Message to our Class of 2015

cap01Congratulations to our 2015 graduates. With the extraordinary help of your parents and persistence on the part of your teachers, you have crossed the finish line of the first phase of life’s journey. It’s definitely an exciting time where finally you will be able to live your own life, make decisions for yourself, and at last do exactly what you want.

Well, maybe. The good news is you’re now free to make your own choices, but wait, because the bad news is you’re free to make your own choices. You see, the world is becoming ever more complex and decisions get harder every day. You may make a decision that results in exactly what you want, and you may make one that leads you in a direction you’ll regret. Every decision you confront will ultimately be based on choices and how will you know when you’ve made the best — or right — one?

Therefore, as you walk out the door following graduation, keep in mind that from this day forward you own more than you ever did before, all the choices you will make and the directions you take. Your parents have spent the past eighteen years and your teachers the last thirteen equipping you the best they can to help you move ahead. Now that you’ve mounted that horse, you’ll be responsible for taking the reins and moving out along a path that will take you toward your dreams. Your family and friends will be there to support you (or sometimes lovingly chastise you), but the reality is you have to take control, evaluate your options, make critical decisions, and act on them in the best manner possible.

Although the next phase won’t be easy — whether you’re off to college, a job, technical training, the military, or somewhere else — but it will be full of exciting adventures — as well as pitfalls. I’d be remiss if I let you think it will be rosy from here on out, though, because there will be struggles, and failures, and sometimes pain. I’ve been there. So have your parents and teachers. We’ve each encountered our bogeyman from time to time but have used our abilities to think, communicate, reason, create and develop supportive relationships that help overcome them. Rest assured, so will you.

I often share my favorite movie line that goes something like this: Thomas Wayne says to his son, Bruce (a.k.a., Batman), “Why do we fall?” Bruce is unsure, and his father responds,  “So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” You see, you will make mistakes and you will experience falls. Mostly small ones but some of them will be monumental blunders. The most important thing I personally hope you’ve come to realize these past eighteen years is that you can learn from those mistakes and get past them. Mistakes may be painful but they’re not permanent. If you don’t want them to be.

It’s going to depend on you and how you respond to life’s bumps and bruises. If after falling, you simply choose to sit in the dirt and cry about your lot, you’ll likely get exactly what you have coming — dirty (and maybe stepped on). If you instead choose to think through what are often complex decisions, make better choices, and take the action steps you need to pick yourself up and get ahead, you’ll do just that.

Eventually. Maybe not at first, but patience and persistence will pay off.

So once again congratulations on arriving intact at this milestone. Graduation is a time to celebrate you, as well as a time to thank those around you — your parents, teachers and classmates — who helped you get here. But, it’s also the perfect time to come to grips with the fact that life from this point on is going to change. Oh yes, it will change.

How it changes and how you respond will be largely up to you.

Always Rebels!

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