Pandemic Innovation at Piper Schools

Key Points

  • Dr. Jessica Dain took the helm at Piper School District 18 months ago in the middle of a health crisis.

  • Dr. Dain’s leadership demonstrates how a small school district can come together–even in the middle of a health crisis–and innovate for equity.

Piper Schools

Dr. Jessica Dain took the helm at Piper School District 18 months ago in the middle of a health crisis. She met her new community (often virtually) while zooming in and out of meetings about health precautions and remote academic delivery.

She learned that when schools reopened in the historic northwest Kansas City suburb, they’d be crowded and dated. She learned that the growing community was becoming more diverse and that the schools needed a strategy relevant to their new demographics as well as the new economy.

Inspired by the innovation and equity agenda of Future Ready Schools, the Piper team developed a strategic plan to ensure that all Piper students are #FutureReady.

Portrait of a Piper Graduate

Shifting to virtual engagement strategies, the Piper leadership team asked their community,

“What do we want our incoming kindergarten students to know and be able to do when they graduate from high school in the year 2033?”

Using a variety of engagement strategies, district leaders and an advisory group collected and compiled community aspirations into a portrait of a graduate focused on six competencies:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Initiative and self direction
  • Resilience and social and emotional wellbeing
  • Social, global and cross cultural skills
  • Communication
  • Creativity and innovation

Grade span rubrics describe developmental progressions in each of the competencies and help bring the portrait of a graduate to life in the culture and curriculum of Piper schools.

Inspired by the innovation and equity agenda of Future Ready Schools, the Piper team developed a strategic plan to ensure that all Piper students are #FutureReady.

Tom Vander Ark

Future Ready Success for All

The first goal of the new strategy is “future ready success for all” and it includes three priority outcomes:

  • Competency-Based Learning Instruction: Provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum to ensure all students are on or above grade level and are proficient in academic and portrait of a graduate competencies to ensure post-secondary success.
  • Student-Centered Classrooms: Empower all students in their learning through a wide variety of authentic learning experiences, student-centered instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the district learning needs, passions, and cultural backgrounds of individual students.
  • Culture of Professional Learning: Establish and invest in a growth-oriented and collaborative culture of professional learning that holds the value of collective responsibility for the development of all of our learners.

Other strategies guide development of a connected culture, strong talent base, and operations that are fiscal responsibility. Progress on these new strategic priorities will be tracked on a balanced scorecard.

Real World Learning

With 30 other school systems in metropolitan Kansas City, Piper is seeking ways to infuse more real world learning including internships, community connected projects, and entrepreneurial experiences.

High school faculty and business partners developed plans for six career academies that will ensure that all Piper learners engage in real world learning:

  • Design, Production & Aviation
  • Business, Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • Arts & Media
  • Human Services
  • Health & Life Science
  • Public Services

Career awareness education in 8th grade will support informed academy enrollments in 9th grade.

Facilities Plans

The Piper school board commissioned a facilities audit and community committee to study options for the growing district. In September, the board approved a January vote on a $64 million bond which will address deferred maintenance. A second bond for additional space will be considered in a few years.

Student Empowerment

Recognizing the need to empower diverse voices at Piper High, Jillian Collier, president of Black Leaders of America, wanted to create an event for Black students at Piper High School modeled on the annual Amplify conference for educators of color. After many conversations with her peers, the idea took shape as a half-day conference focusing on intersectionality, mental health, entrepreneurship, and scholarship essay writing. The conference, Accelerate: Empowering Students of Color for Success, took place October 1 at the Kauffman Conference Center. About 60 students from four high schools attended.

Dr. Dain’s leadership demonstrates how a small school district can come together–even in the middle of a health crisis–and innovate for equity.

Tom - Speaking Engagements

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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