An hour drive through farm country southeast of Fresno is the small town of Lindsay. It’s the unlikely home to one of the most innovative school districts in America.

Lindsay Unified School District (@Lindsay_USD) has a student population of 4,100. Nearly half of the learners are new to English and over eight in 10 live in or near poverty.

Known for personalized learning, Lindsay educators are building a competency-based system where they know exactly where students are in their academic journey and how they are progressing.

After making the most of a federal Race to the Top grant, Lindsay innovations have attracted additional federal support to continue to attract and develop teachers and leaders. CZI and the Gates Foundation are helping Lindsay share what they are creating and learning.

Empowering and Motivating

Behind the success and national recognition is a thoughtful homegrown leadership team. Tom Rooney (@TomTrooney) has been superintendent since 2012 and has been a leader in the district for 17 years. Deputy Superintendent Lana Brown has been a Lindsay leader for 14 years.

The Lindsay mission is about empowering and motivating learners. Their work is guided by 10 core values including some you’d expect–integrity, excellence, and accountability–and some that summarize the strategy: courage, risk taking, and improvement.

The work in Lindsay is grounded in 10 guiding principles of learning science including the value of mistakes and the importance of real life experiences and performance feedback.  

Lindsay promotes lifelong self-directed learning with the goal of being compassionate and civic-minded, a quality producer, and culturally aware (their graduate profile is pictured below).   

Lindsay Unified SD Graduate Profile

Monitoring Progress in K-8

There are six P-8 schools in Lindsay. The transition to P-8 schools improved middle grade behavior according to deputy superintendent Brown.

In describing the student progress model, Brown said grades K-2 are pretty self contained but there are many grade 2-3 and 3-4 combinations and students move frequently within and between classrooms to receive the appropriate level of academic challenge and support.

At Washington Elementary, double classrooms facilitate easy movement between learning stations. Brown sees more collaboration and peer accountability in the team taught multi-age groups.

Lindsay students in a 3-4 classroom

Lindsay learners set goals every day. The learners in a grade 3-4 classroom (above) shared their daily math goals.  

Progress monitoring charts are prominent in every classroom. This level of transparency can feel oppressive in some environments (see conclusions from a study of this practice). But in Lindsay, said Brown, the charts reflect a culture of high expectations, support and collaboration.  

The Lindsay performance-based system allows learners to own and manage their learning while Learning Facilitators (teachers) provide guidance and interventions.  

Lindsay High School has implemented a competency-based education model that focuses on advancing student mastery and student agency. The current focus is on lifelong learning targets and a diploma that signifies career ready, lifelong learners. (See a CompetencyWorks case study.)

Lindsay learners are equipped with take home technology and community wide Wi-Fi.

Building and Sharing Systems

Lindsay is working ahead of what most edtech tools provide. They have a productive relationship with Empower Learning, a platform used by several leading competency-based districts and backed by author Robert Marzano. Empower is expanding its ability to track comprehensive learner records including life and career skills. Empower is adding human resource management features to the platform this fall.

Brown said they’ll keep pushing for more engaging high school learning with fewer schedule restrictions and more thematic units that apply to relevant 21st century issues or real world application. She envisions a transcript that reflects observed competencies from projects. Brown would like to see a seal on diploma proclaiming “lifelong learner.”

Lindsay is working with the innovative CZI-backed Summit Public Schools on several projects including an educator development system. The goal is to codify best practices and share them with the sector.

Like Facebook and LinkedIn (founded around the same time momentum was building in Lindsay) there has been mission-driven leadership with remarkable continuity sustained over 15 years combining improvements and incremental innovations. The compounding effect is remarkably aligned schools, a powerful culture, and a system beginning to extend its impact nationally.  

For more see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.


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