Let’s Enjoy a Safe School Year!

Sometimes in the hustle of getting children off to school and yourself off to work or to attend to other matters, we take shortcuts that could place our children in an unsafe situation. The first days of school are an important time to impress upon adults and children that safety to and from school is critical. Here are a number of recommendations and requirements for helping ensure the safety of our kids.

  • Slow down on the roads and put your cellphones down (good tip whether you are driving or walking).
  • Always cross Burton, Godfrey, Burlingame and Chicago Drive at the crosswalks when signaled to cross.
  • Always follow the instructions of the adult crossing guards. granville
  • Allow yourself enough time to patiently drop off your child at school; remember that on the first days of school there is usually a lot more car traffic dropping off students than normal.
  • Do not park in the drop off or traffic lanes and run into school with your child; always park in a designated parking space.
  • Be sure your child understands not to approach a suspicious vehicle or accept a ride from a stranger.
  • Always walk on sidewalks, not in the streets.
  • If riding a bicycle to school, use the sidewalks whenever possible, obey the rules of the road, and wear a helmet; be sure your child has a lock for their bike.
  • Drivers MUST stop for any flashing RED lights on school buses and drive carefully around any schools. flickr-school-bus
  • Drivers should always be looking out for crossing guards before and after school hours.
  • Walk the school route with your child; share this responsibility with neighboring parents who also have children walking to school.
  • If your child is riding the school bus, be sure at least one parent is supervising the bus stop.
  • Children should wear light-colored clothing in the mornings as they walk or ride their bike to school; they should NOT be wearing headphones or earbuds and doing anything that distracts them from paying attention to traffic.
  • Students driving to school are to follow all traffic regulations and park only in designated locations.
  • Parents must ensure your child is riding properly in your vehicle according to Michigan state law:
    • Children younger than age 4 to ride in a car seat in the rear seat if the vehicle has a rear seat. If all available rear seats are occupied by children under 4, then a child under 4 may ride in a car seat in the front seat. A child in a rear-facing car seat may only ride in the front seat if the airbag is turned off.
    • Children are to be properly buckled in a car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old OR 4-feet-9-inches tall. Children must ride in a seat until they reach the age requirement OR the height requirement, whichever comes first.

Remember also that being in school on time every day is very important for the education of your child. Because we are concerned any time a child does not show up for school, be sure that you call the office for any absence and also provide the reason.

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Welcome to a New School Year: Are you connected?

On behalf of the Board of Education and our entire staff, I want to welcome students and parents to a bright new school year. I’ll be writing a number of updates once school gets underway to let you know what’s new in your child’s school and how our district is moving forward to providing him or her with a 21st century education.

Most of you know our district is a leader in using technology tools in the classroom. In particular, all of our students in grades 6 through 12 have access to a digital device that they will use in the classroom throughout the year. Many parents have concerns that their child does not have that same high-speed Internet access at home.  Sometimes that impacts a student’s ability to complete school work or projects on time.

Internet access providers have joined together to offer a variety of low-cost internet access options for families who might not be able to afford it otherwise. If you do not have high-speed, broadband access to the internet at home, take some time to check out what’s available at http://everyoneon.org/.  You begin by typing in our 49509 zip code (or the text code provided) and on the next page, check all of the situations that may apply to your family. There is a tab for a Spanish-language version, as well.

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If you do not have internet access, you may come into the school and ask to use one of our computers to complete this process (let the office know you read this on the Superintendent’s blog).

Our KSSN offices at each school building can also assist you with this, if needed. There should be no reason every family can’t be connected.

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Welcome Back Godfrey-Lee Staff!

I’m hoping this letter finds you and your families in good health and continuing to enjoy what is left of your summer break. Hard to believe that we’re just a few weeks away from getting back together as I know many of you have been around the district on and off since this past year ended. Sometimes it feels as if we just slow down a bit during June-August, but we never really stop. If you’re anything like me you may in fact be glad the summer is speeding by so that we can get all that much closer to ending this current presidential election cycle.

We just completed our first-ever DesignQuest ideation and prototyping challenge, which included two dozen teachers and administrators, as well as a number of other individuals, stakeholders, and students. I’m excited about the potential and will explain more during our all-staff opening session on August 30 (please note this will be in the Lee OAC this year) including the opportunities you can have to participate in this process.

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As we head into this school year, I’d like you to keep the following question in mind: How do we learn most powerfully and deeply in our own lives? I know that if you spent some time pondering this question and reminiscing about the learning experiences you’ve had, you’d come to a realization that a lot of how we structure school, teaching, and learning is not at all similar to those experiences. Deep learning requires that we care about what we are learning, see relevance in our own lives, share a common interest with others, and have the opportunity to learn in a haphazard way, not just a fixed linear path. But most of all, we learn best what we apply in our lives.

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When you think about it, learning is not rocket science; we’re all learners and we know what it means to learn. But the traditional structure of school is disconnected from this natural day-to-day learning process. Why is it that we (society as a whole) tend to ignore what we know about learning when we step through the school doors? This is why we as a district need to continue building a culture of design thinking that builds a learning community based on at least three simple questions:

  • How might we change our current concept of “school” to take the focus off of efficiency and standardization and place it rightfully on deep, powerful learning experiences?
  • How might we move away from an 1894 model of creating content “knowers” and replacing it with a model that provides experiences that encourage and develop “learners?”
  • How might we build a culture and climate that promotes and supports risk taking, and learning from our failures, that’s centered on the principle of the “freedom to teach and learn?”

Think about it over the coming weeks and I’ll revisit these ideals in my opening comments on August 30.

Our back-to-school schedule is as follows:

Monday, August 8 – School administrators return; 1st Annual College Boot Camp for the Class of 2016 (12-3 pm); fall sports seasons begin this week; Regular Board of Education meeting at 7:00 pm

Monday, August 15 – Building office staff return and school offices re-open

Week of August 22 – Student orientations scheduled

Tuesday – 7th/8th Grades, 9-12 noon

Tuesday – 6th Grade, 6-8 pm

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

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

Week of August 29 – Staff preparations

Monday – New Teacher Orientation, 8 am – 2 pm, District Admin Bldg

Tuesday – All-Staff Opening Day (Note: Opening meeting in the Lee OAC)

7:00-7:50 am Optional Hot Breakfast, Lee OAC

8:00-8:30 am Welcome, Introductions, General Information

8:30-9:45 am Opening Keynote Session – How might we…?

10:00-11:00 am Association Meetings

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

12:00-3:00 pm Building Opening Meetings & Preparation; Support Staff                                      Professional Development at the ECC

Wednesday – “Rebel U” Administrator & Teacher Staff Development, 8 am-3 pm

Thursday – Teacher Planning and Preparation Day, 8 am-3 pm

All support staff not normally scheduled to work before students return are expected to attend the opening all-staff keynote session on Tuesday, August 29, and may submit a time sheet for 8:00-11:00 am (3 hours maximum plus the afternoon professional development session). If you have questions, feel free to contact Mark Provost or Teresa Neeb for clarification.

Rebel U for ALL administrators and teachers will be held this year at the Crossroads Conference Center just north of 68th Street on Clay Avenue in Cutlerville (http://rebelu.godfrey-lee.org/2016/location).

This year, our Tech & Media Team has combined with Teaching, Learning and Accountability to plan an excellent 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 you are doing or would like to do with digital technology, curriculum, and design-thinking tools this year. You can review the complete agenda including session descriptions at http://rebelu.godfrey-lee.org/2016/agenda.

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 to US 131 and 68th Street. Lunch will be provided and you are encouraged to bring a digital device with you. Visit the RebelU website for any more details.

Buildings will be open on Friday, September 2 for anyone desiring to access your classroom and complete any last minute preparations for opening day. Students report Tuesday, September 6th following the traditional Labor Day weekend. Enclosed is a calendar for your convenience in planning the new school year.

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



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Superintendent Search Staff Survey

This past spring, our staff was asked to participate in a survey to help inform the work of the Board of Education as it begins its search for a new superintendent. More than half of the staff participated and the results are posted at the following link:


The Board will be surveying parents as well this fall. A new superintendent will take over on July 1, 2017.

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Part 2 of HCD21 Year 1 Report: Addressing specific expectations

The following represents an addendum to the original grant report. This addendum addresses the specific expectations for the “Student Achievement Improvement through Human-Centered Redesign” project outlined in your letter dated October 6, 2015. Portions of the responses below were taken from the original report and placed in perspective around the identified expectations.

Our primary focus for this first year was to begin the process of building from a student-centered perspective an entirely new process and structure. The first year was structured around the need to understand and frame the problem from a stakeholder point-of-view, question our assumptions about the historical structure of K-12 education, contextualize existing research, challenge our assumptions, build a share understanding of the users of our district’s educational system, identify patterns in our data and draw insights, and begin exploring concepts and potential solutions by evaluating our current methods and innovations, while at the same time beginning to ideate new or substantially revised solutions.

In the responses herein, it is important to understand that some represent process items, some imply tools to gather information, and the others are aspirational. More than a few are veering toward “solution,” something we have been cautioned by IDEO, the d-School, and NewNorth Center against entering into prematurely within the human-centered design process. The overarching guide to our work to date has been to make the “why” of design understandable and actionable not only for our HCD21 leadership team but for all of our district users and stakeholders. Consequently, year one has been an exciting but carefully orchestrated process for creating a very different culture as to how the entire district thinks about the critical work of student learning, through the lens of human-centered design.

All of our actions will hinge on a district-wide strategic (re)design over the next three to five years, so the development and embedding of the HCD21 process has been one of the major outcomes of the grant work itself. Design, in the end, will not rely on a few willing participants. It will be what characterizes the district and makes us unique within the public education system.

This summer’s DesignQuest and development of a Learner Profile (planned for the week of August 1-5) will be pivotal in transitioning from conceptualization towards more tangible results from testing and piloting new teaching, learning and structural designs in the reporting of outcomes. These will be the first tangible steps towards district-wide redesign.

Examine all current educational structures to determine, from a learner’s point of view, which are valid.  A valid examination of all current structures happens in the context of understanding students’ preferred learning patterns, learning aspirations, individual strengths and what we know about good pedagogy.  During our first year significant attention has been given to understanding needs and aspiration of both parents and staff.  It wasn’t until closer to the middle of the year that we began gathering helpful data from students.  That data gathering will continue early into the second year of this grant.  Specifically data and perspective collection from students is being accomplished as follows:

  • Feedback from a day of shadowing elementary, middle school and high school students by members of our entire district administrative team.
  • Results of interviews with high school students after viewing the award-winning documentary, Most Likely to Succeed.
  • This summer we will work with over 100 our students throughout the district using a “Buy a Feature” experience in order to gather student data on preferred areas of interest as well as learning methodologies.
  • Interviews with and additional shadowing of students will continue into the first part of the coming school year.

Because the process elements of our work are continually overlapping, the prototyping of new learning structures and environments will take place this fall following our August DesignQuest challenge while student interviews continue.  Both of these are key elements of the very culture moving forward that will describe how we think about and conduct our work.   The language fostering examination of all structures will be included as goals in our Board of Education’s strategic vision/design.

As an example, our HCD21 pattern finding activity has already moved our professional staff towards seeing digital technology as a learning accelerator, connector, relevance-producing engine, and more critically a creation and curation catalyst, instead of the traditional use of classroom technology as a consumption device. As a result, this hunger for student engagement has nudged the district towards adding Performance and Creation as measures of student achievement growth.

Our first year’s work has moved Godfrey-Lee Public Schools into a small but growing subset of design thinking educators.  Through these new interactions we are intentionally gaining multiple perspectives from what others both inside and outside the educational world see when they look at school.  There is now an expectancy that all constructs which tend to divide and separate learning (i.e., age grouping, silo-like content areas, building and classroom structures, time, and traditional assessment of content consumption versus actual learning), will be challenged and new flexible constructs that emerge will be supported by a culture of district-wide, continual ideation and prototyping.

Analyze the natural-born learning preferences, tendencies and practices of children to determine which can be replicated to scale within and around the schoolhouse.   Our human-centered design work has allowed us to begin to imagine what this might be:

  • Observations of students in an outdoor learning environment to determine patterns of engagement.
  • Piloting of non-traditional learning experiences through the Cardboard Challenge, Digital Learning Day, and our unique Senior Capstone Exhibition.
  • Summer “Buy a Feature” experience to gather student data.
  • Our own work to develop a Learner Profile focused on the understanding of “learning” as what takes place, through experiences, to enable humans to create meaning and then build a rubric around that learning profile.
  • We can only imagine that our DesignQuest this summer, where we begin the actual practice of human-centered design prototyping with over two dozen volunteer teachers and administrators, will expand throughout the district.

Examine the art of teaching with a keener focus on improving the understanding of the all-important teacher-student relationship and its impact on learning. This will become more evident as we move through the ideation and prototyping phase but in our first year’s work, particularly in gaining empathy with the primary users of our educational system, nothing stood out stronger than the need to examine and remove many of the barriers and constraints added over the past 124 years which impede the most important element in learning: the teacher-student relationship. Because of its importance, our work will continue in year two through these and other activities:

  • Additional administrator/teacher/student shadowing to gain personal perspective from points of view of the key users.
  • Add as a specific goal in the Board of Education strategic design (plan).
  • Design and conduct regular, frequent, and effective team-building experiences planned and led by students, teachers and administrators.
  • Focus on relationship building as a key component of teacher and administrator observation and professional growth, designing a teacher-centered rubric to help identify a personalized growth trajectory.
  • Summer institutes for staff to explore the art and science of learning
  • Take steps at the district and building level to identify the barriers and constraints that limit the teacher-student learning relationship and develop strategic processes to minimize or completely eliminate them.

Study and pilot test ways in which schools use time, space and technology more flexibly to design a competency-based learning structure to address the diverse needs of students. Our HCD21 leadership team identified and explored a substantial amount of research and models regarding the personalization of learning.

  • Our DesignQuest ideation and prototyping will provide for some focus on the concept of student choice that was identified during our first year’s work on the project.
  • Our district works with the edLeader21 “4Cs” rubric to develop measures of the end (lasting competencies) rather than the means (content) of learning; our research has demonstrated that employers want these types of skills and we’ll be exploring new methods of integrating them into the learning process.
  • We’ll be participating in Michigan’s Alternative Schools, Alternative Assessment pilot throughout 2016-17.
  • The expansion of our design thinking throughout the professional staff has already seeded the concept and learning benefits of frequently scheduled, student-designed curriculum and learning activities such as the Cardboard Challenge, Day of Play, Digital Learning Day, and our Senior Capstone Exhibition. We look forward to prototyping and piloting additional learning events such as the Global Day of Design and Week of Making during the spring of 2017.
  • Our technology team is establishing and supporting a student-led SWAT (Students with Aptitude in Technology) team to guide and support technology use; this is an offset of our teacher professional learning day this past year in which students addressed how they view technology and the ways they like to use it in learning.
  • We are attending a Personalized Learning Summit this summer hosted by one of the national leading districts in personalized and competency-based learning, Taylor County Schools in Kentucky.
  • Ideating, prototyping and testing competency-based learning through the removal of artificial barriers such as age-based progression and assessment will be part of our Board of Education 3-5 year strategic design.

Determine the most effective ways to incorporate learning design, maker spaces, STEM, the arts, health and technology to address the diverse dreams of students. As a result of much of our design thinking work this year, our staff have a number of initiatives now underway at various levels of progress to include:

  • Establishing a Media Center design team including students and staff to explore how our three media centers should better utilize space and resources to become the hub of learning for the schools as well as our community.
  • Establishing an interdisciplinary instructional design team to ideate and prototype learning structures that remove the barriers between the core content areas so that it will become structured similar to real-world learning and problem solving.
  • Establishing a student design team as part of ideating new ways to increase student voice at all levels of learning.
  • Prototyping and experimenting with methods for linking all experiences and learning to the “6Cs” (communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, creating, and caring) to include a more holistic approach to assessing learning through active demonstration versus inauthentic static assessment.
  • Designing a system of summer camps around the concept of designing and making based on learning that takes personal interests, strengths, and real world problem solving into consideration.
  • Including this expectation as a goal in the Board of Education’s 3-5 year strategic design (plan).

Incorporate challenging learning throughout the curriculum. The early stages of our HCD21 work has demonstrated a strong need beyond the removal of barriers and constraints to incentivize adult risk-taking and innovation throughout the entire district. We have begun to move in that direction as teachers and school administrators have identified and designed non-traditional learning activities, many of which have already been mentioned in this report. Our outdoor learning space is a good example. In the past, teachers felt constrained by their classroom walls and the time limits of a learning day, week, or term. The district, with the support of local groups and property owners, has provided an outdoor learning space with the expectation that teachers and students design the various types of learning that can occur there. Consequently, everything from a traditional environmental science lab to a more non-traditional creative design of what learning outdoors might require have begun taking place in this space. Teachers are giving students opportunities to design their own activities, incorporating unstructured play, and designing critical thinking activities that are used for future learning. In our high-percentage of ELL students, the language skills alone that are being honed during these learning events are significant. In addition, we have incorporated the ideas of adults in the community as to how best to use and maintain this space.

Spinoffs of this type of learning by doing that have been prototyped and piloted this year by our teachers include:

  • Spanish Market Day designed by students to provide an authentic Latino market experience from countries representing Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Spain. Our middle and high school Spanish Club members celebrated the countries their families are from by selling authentic cuisines, beverages, jewelry and offering face painting. Students from all grade levels in the district had an opportunity to visit the market and experience learning by doing.
  • Botany students designed a project to learn how to grow healthy foods and support their community at the same time. The class of ninth- through 12th-graders has been growing tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and other herbs and vegetables in the school’s raised-bed gardens and in the schoolyard greenhouse as part of the Deep Roots project, a name that not only implies growing healthy foods but also developing deep roots in the community to promote healthy living. The impact on student learning has already proven substantial: Sophomore Roy Duran said he’s started growing vegetable plants at home. “It’s kind of complicated, but at the same time it’s pretty easy. I’m growing tomatoes and peppers for my family. The main reason why is because of this.” He said he’s interested in seeing the impact the project will have. “We are basically growing our own good food, and we are going to make the community healthier and better.”
  • Several other examples, some of which have been previously mentioned in this report can be found at http://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org/districts/godfrey-lee.

Increase college-and-career readiness leading up to, during and after high school by developing a parallel partnership with parents that gives them the tools and techniques to help their children. One of the significant challenges facing all school districts is defining what it means for a child to be college-and-career ready. There is no agreed-upon standard for this although politicians often refer inaccurately to test results such as the ACT or SAT. Many colleges themselves are moving away from that measure and none have adequately decided on what career readiness means.

It’s our goal through the HCD21 project to define in a more holistic manner what it really means for a member of the Godfrey-Lee community to be college and career ready. In our discussions and interviews with families, we see this as needing to be defined on a personalized level for each student given their strengths and dreams for their respective futures. Of course, we also see the need for some standards defined by the community at large which is why we are following the work of Talent2025 and exploring more meaningful learning experiences embedded with the 6Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, creating and caring. Our ideation, prototyping and live model testing this year will ensure that learning and assessment embedded in the models incorporate these “soft” skills.

Contract with NewNorth Center to facilitate the design process phase, including prototype development, testing and analysis. This was accomplished and will continue through the second year of the project. NewNorth Center and the district collaborated on a series of process steps and framework for the project. The Center has exceeded our expectations and is providing valuable facilitation of our work.

Contract with  a leadership coach who will provide weekly guidance and accountability throughout the first phase of the project. The district opted to engage Mr. David Koetje, former CEO of Christian Schools International, instead of I.E.E. After discussions with Mr. Koetje as well as others who know of his past work, particularly in the area of instructional and change leadership, we felt he was a perfect fit for the work we needed in helping to keep the momentum going and providing valuable leadership coaching. Mr. Koetje has gone beyond the work of the HCD21 leadership team to provide small workshops for other teachers in the district on design thinking and innovation in learning. We plan to continue this relationship with Mr. Koetje through the second year.

Overcome the barriers identified in recent sessions with NewNorth Center.  This requires teachers and administrators to meet at times that require substitutes for the classroom or substantial time spent in evenings and summers outcomes of regular contracts. As expected, this continued to be a struggle and slowed down the design process of our HCD21 leadership team. Unlike corporate design teams that are often provided with a dedicated window of time which supports a more aggressive approach to human-centered design, every member of our staff has a full-time job necessitating spreading out the work of the design team over longer periods of time, and delaying some of the processes that could parallel others, such as rapid prototyping even while some of the work of understanding people and context is occurring. Part of our work in the second year must be to ideate and prototype systems that can be embedded into our K-12 educational culture for carrying on the work of design thinking even beyond the scope of this grant. This will likely include:

  • Incorporating design dialogue and thinking into all of our systems as well as the Board of Education’s strategic design (plan) so that it becomes embedded in all of our conversations, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • Scheduling more frequent, regular meetings between NewNorth Center, Mr. David Koetje, and the executive members of our HCD21 team to keep momentum flowing, ideate new systems or structures for refining and possibly speeding up the work of the leadership team, and plan out the sustainment of our work beyond the initial Steelcase Foundation grant.
  • Explore the possibility of offering half-year sabbaticals to iterate ideas that arise from our ideation, prototyping and live model testing.

Provide childcare for all meetings that involve parents. The work in our first year did not require this support since our teams visited and interviewed the families in their homes, including the children. However, we are planning in September to hold a community-wide viewing and discussion of the film, Most Likely to Succeed which now has Spanish subtitles to facilitate wider involvement of parents and community members. This will require child care options and we are working with our district community engagement specialist, our school community liaisons, and older student groups such as our elementary student council, middle school service learning team, National Honor Society and senior class to design and host child care activities during this event. We will be able to iterate this design for other HCD21 activities in which parent involvement will be critical throughout the year.

As indicated in your letter dated October 6, 2015, there are several project outcomes that were included in the original proposal. I close this addendum by addressing the progress to date on these.

A new design for the pre-K – 12th grade education system based on input from all stakeholders that successfully addresses:

  • Learning gaps at the time of enrollment regardless of the age or grade level.
    • This will be a critical element of our future design efforts to personalize learning and create a competency-based approach to progression.
    • The Board of Education will include this desired outcome in its strategic design (plan).
    • The district will ideate and create a design plan that:
      • Affirms the strengths of each student through personal interview, StrengthsFinder or other analysis, home visits, and observation.
      • Assesses learning gaps and strengths at entry regardless of the time of year.
      • Provides multi-age extended day and year for experiential learning linked to student interest.
      • Design an overall learning structure focused on individual needs rather than group averages.
  • Persistent achievement gaps as students progress through grade levels.  Substantially contributing external factors include poverty, transiency and limited English proficiency.
    • Expansion and iteration of our Kent School Services Network to focus design of services and support on those specific factors that create barriers and constraints for individual student learning, as well as parent support for learning.
    • Participation in an effort to develop teacher leadership, thanks to a partnership with the DeVos Foundations.
    • Design a transiency profile using existing data to better understand what transiency in our district looks like and how it impacts student learning.
    • Design components to the curriculum that could address the problems associated with transiency, and perhaps the trauma that may accompany it.
    • Ideate and design prototype Saturday classes such as Heritage Language.
    • Develop more robust hiring and mentoring programs for all new hires, using objective assessments as well as interviews to determine candidates who will take risks, develop relationships, and design learning based on experiences and doing.
  • A growing need for a greater percentage of students of color, especially those mired in family poverty, to achieve a higher level of learning outcomes beyond simply the current poorly-defined “college and career readiness” levels.
    • Increase adult understanding of “learning by doing,” experiential learning, following the child, inquiry-based instruction, etc.
    • Emphasize the “why” and “who” of learning rather than the traditional focus simply on the “what.”
    • Redesign all learning spaces using student-led design processes.
    • Reframe learning through the 6Cs using content as a means to these ends; this would include a more holistic approach to assessing learning through exhibitions, making, creating and doing.
    • Create a vision and resulting expectations that affirms how each member of the Godfrey-Lee community will be on a quest to inquire, discover, experience, and act together to create meaning that brings positive growth to self, to community, and to the world.
    • Support all as they nurture learning with energy, imagination and intelligence.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity to share the work of our district and our partners in this human-centered design project. We took this on knowing full well that it will require a lot of work, staying power, imagination, and a willingness on the part of our staff and community to take risks. The benefits are obvious even though the path continues to be somewhat vague. This first year has taught us to trust the design process and use the tools to help move us through the various phases, while keeping in mind our goal is achieve better outcomes for our students, design an educational process that is fulfills the needs of our users, and finally break the mold originally designed in 1894 that does not work in today’s world.

We’re excited about the work ahead of us this summer and look forward to accelerating our progress as we ideate, prototype and design concrete solutions that positively impact our children.

HCD21: Year 1 report on redesigning our educational system

HCD21 Project Update, Godfrey-Lee Board of Education, June 20, 2016


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HCD21: Year 1 report on redesigning our educational system

I am writing to provide an overview report on our activities and outcomes for the first year of the two-year, $250,000 Steelcase Foundation grant supporting our “Student Achievement Improvement through Human-Centered Redesign” (HCD21) project.

Our project actually began prior to their generous grant award when a handful of teachers and administrators participated in a Fall 2014 online human-centered design course offered through IDEO. It was a hands-on, project-based course that provided a good understanding of the design process. That winter, we expanded the group by adding some “original thinkers” from our staff and engaged with Seth Starner and Jason Kehrer of NewNorth Center in a day-long workshop to further connect with real problems facing our young learners and the barriers that often get in the way of change.

This initial work led to the grant application, which the Foundation board approved on July 13, 2015. Dr. Carol Lautenbach and I subsequently met with Seth and Jason in a day-long visioning and planning session where we developed a first-year process that took into consideration that our HCD team members had limited time available due to their daily responsibilities as teachers and school administrators. Following my opening keynote presentation to our full staff prior to the start of the school year that focused on our need to redesign schools structures, teaching, and the learning process, we recruited an initial group of thirteen teachers, administrators and support staff to serve as our “HCD21 leadership team.” This team provided the core effort of our human-centered design work and several more teachers joined the team in late winter.

We contracted with NewNorth Center to serve as partners and facilitators for the HCD21 work sessions and to provide some additional support during a planned, all-staff viewing and discussion of the video, Most Likely to Succeed, produced by Ted Dintersmith. We also partnered with Dave Koetje (SIM COM, LLC.), former CEO for Christian Schools International, to serve as leadership coach with a primary role of helping maintain momentum in our work, provide feedback on the process, give an objective point-of-view as an “outsider” to our HCD21 team, and conduct parallel briefings and design-thinking work sessions with a larger group of teachers across the district as well as our Board of Education.

Our first year was divided up into phases:

August: Introduction of our HCD21 project and need in the back-to-school letter for staff and keynote presentation during the all-staff opening session; planning sessions with NewNorth Center; identification of volunteers to serve on the leadership team.

September – November: Organization of the leadership team; review of the Steelcase Foundation grant expectations and timeline; overview of the Basecamp application for posting and communications throughout the project; introduction and review of the human-centered design process using NewNorth Center and IDEO models; identification and framing of the initial problem statement; developing trust in the process as well as building cohesion within the leadership team; bringing other staff and Board members along through blog postings and face-to-face updates; collection of secondary research regarding the design thinking process, need for redesign of schools, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning to improve student achievement.

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During the fall divergent phase, our team had extensive conversations centered on questioning the assumptions we have about our district, schools, families, student and staff. We worked to expose these assumptions and accompanying biases while reviewing the quantitative and qualitative data about our community, mining as much of it as possible for insights. We completed assumptive empathy and journey mapping as bi-products of our work.

December – February: We transitioned into the third phase of our work – knowing people and context through continuing secondary research and ethnographic studies. We divided our overall leadership team into smaller interview teams and identified twenty families representing a cross-section of our community. Jason and Seth conducted a training session for the interviews and organized materials to support the work of the teams. Actual students from East Lee Campus (Alternative High School) volunteered to serve as interview subjects during this training, providing some unexpected initial insights and helping us to modify the interview process for better results. Each of the four teams conducted one interview in December and we met as a whole group afterwards to analyze the results and critique our work. Each team then conducted the remaining interviews during January and February with two whole-group sessions scheduled at intervals to help maintain momentum, debrief each interview, and collect key observations.

We also scheduled and conducted several viewings and discussions of the award-winning documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed. This film, produced by venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith, focuses on the need for redesigning our schools to be more focused on the 21st century learning needs of students.


pic1The first viewing was by our senior class and the discussions following the film were eye-opening to say the least. We gained some very valuable insights into how students viewed school and their future dreams. We shared this information with the entire district. That same week, we held a session for the entire staff and any members of the community who wanted to attend. Dave Koetje moderated the discussions during and following the film. Seth and Jason collected written feedback that was input into a database as part of our research. In late winter, Dave Koetje also moderated a joint viewing and discussion for the Board of Education and Administrative Team. As of this writing, we are planning a community-wide viewing and discussion in September now that the film is available with Spanish subtitles. The film is powerful as a tool for igniting passion and critical discussion. You can find out more about it and watch a short trailer at http://www.mltsfilm.org/.

pic2March: Several lengthy sessions were held as the fourth phase to conduct pattern finding within the extensive interview and secondary research data collected. We grouped these patterns and went through an extensive process of drawing insights from the key observations in each group. From that, need statements from the point-of-view of students, parents, and staff were constructed. The team waded into the beginning of the next phase – exploring concepts and creating solutions – by evaluating group need statements and identifying four overarching themes that will help drive ideation and prototyping beginning this summer.


April-June: Several executive-level meetings were held to plan our summer DesignQuest ideation and prototyping camp as well as reflect on where we have come and what the second year of this project should look like. In addition, Carol and I met with the entire staff of each school building to bring them up to date and recruit their interest in participating in DesignQuest (August 1-3) and learning more about the entire design-thinking process.

Along the way during our journey this year, we have experienced a number of parallel events and activities that were not foreseen as we began the year:

  • A substantial number of staff (The Group of 50) requested special after-school sessions to learning more about the focus of our HCD21 project and the concept of human-centered design as it might be used in their own classrooms. Dave Koetje put together a plan for these sessions and conducted them during the winter months. The response was very encouraging.
  • It was decided to create a short film to document the purpose of our project and what some of our staff members were saying about it as well as design thinking in general. We engaged a professional videographer and produced a five-minute film, sharing it with our community and other interested parties. We are planning to produce a sequel in September that will include the ideation and prototyping activity from this summer.
  • A handful of teachers throughout the district picked up on our design thinking work and explored a variety of new ways of teaching, learning and assessing student learning along the themes contained in the Most Likely to Succeed, including but not limited to the following:
    • pic4Cardboard Challenge – our Early Childhood Center used the principles of maker education with students creating a variety of cardboard creations and holding a community exhibition where they had to demonstrate and explain what they made. In some cases, partner groups from the middle and high school joined 1st grade classes on a weekly basis to help with the construction in a mixed-age learning group.
    • Outdoor Learning – our outdoor learning space along Plaster Creek became a hotbed of environmental, project-based, and maker-space learning for elementary and secondary students throughout the year.
    • Free-Play – elementary teachers explored this learning concept where students were empowered to make decisions about what they wanted to do and where they wanted to do it at; skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity were reinforced throughout the day.
    • pic5Senior Exhibition – a graduation requirement for the past eight years, this assessment of learning took a giant step forward when the senior class and faculty designed a community-wide exhibition the week prior to graduation. It was a tremendous success by all accounts including feedback from parents, students and staff. As a side note, one of the senior class members focused her exhibition on event planning and for her project, she took the leadership role in planning and coordinating the entire event.
    • Spanish Market Day designed by students to provide an authentic Latino market experience from countries representing Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Spain. Our middle and high school Spanish Club members celebrated the countries their families are from by selling authentic cuisines, beverages, jewelry and offering face painting. Students from all grade levels in the district had an opportunity to visit the market and experience learning by doing.
    • Project Deep Roots where Botany students designed a project to learn how to grow healthy foods and support their community at the same time. The class of ninth- through 12th-graders has been growing tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and other herbs and vegetables in the school’s raised-bed gardens and in the schoolyard greenhouse as part of the Deep Roots project, a name that not only implies growing healthy foods but also developing deep roots in the community to promote healthy living. The impact on student learning has already proven substantial: Sophomore Roy Duran said he’s started growing vegetable plants at home. “It’s kind of complicated, but at the same time it’s pretty easy. I’m growing tomatoes and peppers for my family. The main reason why is because of this.” He said he’s interested in seeing the impact the project will have. “We are basically growing our own good food, and we are going to make the community healthier and better.”

Several other examples, some of which have been previously mentioned in this report can be found at http://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org/districts/godfrey-lee.

Over the past two years, several staff have enrolled in IDEO online design thinking courses (free and tuition-based) to strengthen our leadership roles and sustain the HCD21 project outcomes.

In summary, we found that much of our HCD21 work and efforts to bring our key district and community stakeholders along has piqued an interest in learning more about design thinking, maker education, flexible learning spaces, and learning by doing through project/problem-based activities and exhibition. We know from this early work that much of the ideation and prototyping will begin in these areas.

The HCD21 team identified through the convergence process four key concepts that will frame our work going forward:

  • Student Choice: How might we provide students with more choice in their learning so that it feels more relevant to them?
  • Socialization in Learning: How might we create more learning environments where students feel free to collaborate with each other, communicate their points of view, and focus on topics that are more engaging and relevant?
  • Create a Culture of Acceptance and Belonging: How might we build on the unique and positive aspects of our community and school culture so that all students feel they belong regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs?
  • School-Parent Communications and Engagement: How might we create a more open, two-way communication link that provides a welcome atmosphere for parents and community members, while engaging more adults from the community in our school culture and academic programs?

Our artifacts from this first year, any of which can be made available to your Board of Directors include:

  • 258 discussion threads on the Basecamp 2 online collaboration platform
  • 170 documents uploaded to support the discussions and the research
  • 164 research articles, posts, and videos uploaded to a data-base in our DropBox online repository
  • 20 family interviews conducted producing several hundred scripted insights uploaded to the DropBox online repository
  • Many dozens of digital photographs detailing our work, activities in schools, and family interviews
  • A dozen 4×8 panel boards documenting the divergence-convergence work of gathering, analyzing and pattern-finding

Feel free to browse the many photos taken during this nine-month journey to date by clicking on https://goo.gl/photos/EzQ8Qd76UFf7UbKJ6 (note, this will open up the album in this window so you will need to use your browser back-up arrow to return).

Part 2 of HCD21 Year 1 Report: Addressing specific expectations This post provides a listing of the project expectations and our progress towards achieving them.

Going Forward

While we continue to work on specific plans and process for the second year of this project (and beyond) our basic expected outcomes for the coming year will be to:

  • Continue throughout the year to make design thinking a powerful teaching and learning structure within our entire school district, employing it not only in the classrooms but also in Board and administrative planning and district redesign efforts.
  • Host two community-wide screenings of the Most Likely to Succeed documentary in early October. This film now Spanish-subtitled which will be a great benefit for bringing more parents and community members along on this journey.
  • Conduct an intensive ideation and prototyping camp (DesignQuest) in August to reinforce the need for moving from conceptualization towards action, and to identify some early ideas that can move towards live testing during the school year.
  • Conduct live model tests, observe, document the learning results, and iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • Take physical steps to overcome barriers and constraints to the extent possible through waivers with the Michigan Department of Education to support live testing and monitoring of results.
  • Organize the process and results of our HCD21 project to create a strategic plan for the district that sustains this change model and the results that are achieved.

We are excited to continue this journey and look forward to year two of our partnership in redesigning K-12 teaching and learning.

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Listing of key web addresses for further examining the work of the HCD21 Team

Google Doc File: http://tinyurl.com/GLPSHCD21

Superintendent’s Notes WordPress blog postings:














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Link to Sep 1, 2016 All-Staff Opening Presentation (slides 36 to 56 are specifically about the Steelcase Foundation grant, HCD process and invitation to join in this journey: https://www.dropbox.com/s/leoy4jc6uxl6wx3/Free%20to%20Learn%20Keynote%20Preso%202015.pdf?dl=0

Mlive article by Monica Scott, Aug 14, 2015: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/08/school_district_awarded_250000.html

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School News Network articles:












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2016-17 School Year Calendar

Below is a graphic of our new school year that will begin on September 6. You can read some of the explanations I provided in a previous post on this site.  Copies of this calendar are available in the district Administration Office on Burton Street.

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