Think Outside the Box for Las Vegas Schools

Working as an educator, in any capacity, is never easy, but leading a school or a district is a really big job. In order to succeed, one has to embrace the community, stretch the budget and lead an on-going design thinking conversation.

The Executive Leadership Academy, created by The Public Education Foundation in Nevada, supports hard-working, courageous and innovative education leaders throughout the state, who are looking for support as they think about innovation in their schools. The group is made up of mostly principals from Clark County, with a few Nevada Assistant Principals, Superintendents and private sector stakeholders. These participants are presented with opportunities to learn and grow together throughout the year.
Because the principal is usually the only one in his or her building, it feels so important that they develop a Personal Learning Network, a supportive community they can participate in to find empathy, collaboration and space to think out loud. Fortunately, The Executive Leadership Academy is building an incredible PLN with their first group of school leaders this year, which will surely go on to mentor others, as the Academy continues to grow. It is impossible to develop as a leader, create positive change within the school and, not only survive the job, but succeed, while staying healthy and happy when you feel isolated and misunderstood. The Leadership Academy has built a great community of smart education leaders, dedicated to finding what is best for the students of Nevada and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.
School Design Workshop. The Getting Smart team spent the better part of 3 days with the Leadership Academy this past weekend. Within these 40 hours, the members of the Academy focused on getting past the gadget mindset in order to develop whole school models that leverage great teaching with technology.
In order to jumpstart everyone’s thinking, the Getting Smart team introduced a series of mini-lessons juxtaposed as smackdowns. Each group in the Academy was given a lunch box, anywhere from Star Wars to Hello Kitty, mixed in with a few superheroes and princesses. These boxes, filled with resources and tools helped the groups form their research and present the pros and cons of many issues facing our current education decision makers, such as: tablets vs laptops, classroom rotation vs lab rotation and comprehensive model vs component model. The Academy members came from very diverse school environments, so, hopefully, hearing the arguments for all sides helped them picture what could work specifically for their school.
Conclusions agreed upon following the mini-lessons:

  • student centers are not just for elementary students, learners of all ages benefit from moving from task to task that focuses on their individual learning needs and styles.

  • community partnerships are very important, to link student learning to the real world and ready them, not only for college, but for careers in their community.

  • All students deserve high access to technology- the learning gap quickly widens when students can’t get their hands, not only on information, but the delivery style they need to understand and succeed.

Following the smackdown, it was a time to roll up the sleeves and dig into to actual design of a school. The team challenged the groups of talented educators with hands-on, interactive activities to break free from the constraints of the education environment status quo. The were asked to look beyond the roadblocks they face everyday and start to think about how technology can solve some of their issues. The goal: to expose these educators to the answers needed in order to improve learning for all students,especially when it comes to use of technology and integrating blended learning into our current learning landscape.
These solutions can not be quick or spontaneous decisions made solely by an administrator, and Tom exercised many measures throughout the workshop in order to ease the decision making process for these individuals as they continually researched to find what would work best for their schools and students.
Fortunately, the principals didn’t have to dig too deep into their imaginations in order to picture those solutions because, throughout the course, the Getting Smart team arranged for direct access to a wide vendors from a wide variety products that have already proven to help schools move into the connected learning age.
Leaving with Answers. These principals had immediate access to representatives from many great learning platforms- all ready to share how they can assist these principals increase their individual student success. Reps from ST Math, i-Ready and other content and platform providers  issues were sitting in the room during the sessions to answer any questions from the Academy students as they dug into the work of designing a brand new school. Also, all the information was provided them so that they could simply pick up the phone or email their questions to platforms like Edmodo, Dreambox, EdElements, Connexus and many more and receive immediate feedback from reps waiting to virtually assist them during the planning process.

There was no need for the principals to make a list of new tools they wanted to look into after the weekend was over. Instead, they had the time and support to get their questions answered on the spot. They could return to work Monday with answers, not a to-do list.

Design New, Not Just Add On. The goal of the three days was to provide these educational leaders with concrete plans to help them face their schools’ issues, in a new light and show how blended learning models allow for all students to succeed. In addition to the vendors, Getting Smart shared examples of other schools that are really breaking out of the “box” and using blended learning to meet student’s needs.

Some of the principals in the room are already using different options. There were great discussions about flipping… flipping the classroom, flipping homework, flipping PD, how to use physical space in new ways, leveraging computer labs and creating awesome outdoor spaces for learning, and on the huge importance of building community partnerships and parent involvement- all essential aspects for a successful school redesign, according to

There is not just one gadget or tool, etc. that will allow principals to add technology into their school and immediately elevate student learning. Blended learning is not just another district initiative. It is a fundamental redesign of instructional models with the goal of accelerating learning toward college and career readiness. It is a large-scale opportunity to develop schools that are more productive for students and teachers by personalizing education to ensure that the right resources and interventions reach the right students at the right time.

Fixing a broken school system is not going to take a bandaid, it is going to need complete reconstructive surgery. This is exactly why this group of educators give the huge amount of effort it takes to get time away from their sometimes overwhelming jobs, cut free time out of their personal lives and meet monthly in order to focus on and work towards finding “the cure” together. This great group of forward thinkers is truly doing great work for Clark County, the state of Nevada and beyond. The Getting Smart team is proud to have had the opportunity to collaborate with The Leadership Institute of Nevada.

The teams accessed a number of resources including the Blended Learning Implementation Guide and the Digital Learning Now! Smart Series.


Disclosures: Digital Learning Now!, MIND Research Institute, Curriculum Associates and Dreambox are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is a partner.


Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is a Media Specialist at The Madeleine School.

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