Reinventing the Urban Education Experience

When is the last time you were allowed compelled to dream about your highest aspirations for student learning?  In Austin ISD, I am living that dream every day.  Here, we must reinvent the urban education experience.  Not just because our strategic plan calls for it, but because on any given day 84,000 kids depend on it.  We simply cannot continue on the same path we have been on.  Austin is changing before our eyes.  We often talk about the “doughnut” because we are experiencing rapid growth around the edge of the district and declining growth in the very center.  We even envision sprinkles on top of this demographic pastry, representing the diversity and opportunity in our district.  Gentrification plays a big role as neighborhoods are restored, sans kiddos.  With schools averaging 60+ years of age, can you guess where those schools are and aren’t?  We cannot keep teaching in the same ways in the same places.

Solid Support

We are blessed with the profound resources of a community anchored with technology businesses, startups, universities, and Austin is a robust capital city.  The expectations of our community are necessarily high, but they are also much different than they were 10, 20, 50, or 100+ years ago.  Our community wants their kids to shape the future, live healthy and happy lives, contribute as global citizens, and be well-prepared for careers that haven’t even been defined yet.  I know this because I asked members of our District Advisory Committee last week and this is what they shared.  Not one parent mentioned that they aspired to high standardized test scores for their kids.  We cannot keep teaching in the same ways in the same places.

Reinventing Schools

So, we reinvent.  We do it because we should, and because we must.  We also can.  We show it every day in our schools that are beginning to model transformation through an entrepreneurship program that runs through an entire K-12 vertical team.  We are driving a Creative Learning initiative that provides high quality learning environments by weaving academics and fine arts together.  We help kids from all over the world, who speak more than 100 different languages, to thrive.  We create solutions through flexible scheduling and remote learning that allows flexibility in time, place, and pace for students with profound attendance challenges.  Today, we cut the ribbon on a brand new, state-of the-industry, Applied Technology Center at one high school that creates opportunity for all of our high school students.  We are delivering a digital ecosystem in the form of mobile computers and a Learning Positioning System to accelerate learning and allow it to be personal.  We are teaching in different ways and in different places.

Transformation in Action

This is why I say that we are compelled to reinvent the urban education experience.  To solve for this problem requires our best creative and courageous thinking.  It also requires our technology team to adapt and become a catalyst for the transformation.  We are investing in 18 additional technology coaches and leadership positions.  We are engaging our technology industry partners to build a district-wide learning environment worthy of our aspirations.  We are challenging the status quo.  We are transforming how and where kids learn.  Do you want to help make the dream a reality?  When we do this, will you wish you had been a part of it?  Don’t just think outside the the hypercube.

Kevin Schwartz serves as the Technology Officer for Learning and Systems for Austin ISD, a district of 83,000 students. He brings a CETL certification and 20+ years of experience in K-12 to the district’s challenge to, “Reinvent the Urban Education Experience.” Beyond Austin ISD, he invests his professional energy in CoSN and the TX K-12 CTO Council. Currently, he is the Past Chair of the Council and actively serves on the CoSN SEND and SmartIT committees. Kevin has been named as Winner of the TEAM Award in 2013 and the Grace Hopper Award as the Outstanding CTO in Texas in 2016. Kevin is a frequent presenter and a consultant to school districts that seek transformational changes in learning through technology.  He serves on multiple industry CIO Advisory Panels. Kevin can also be found on Twitter at @AISD_Reinvent 

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