In October 2019, leaders from five Florida school districts gathered in Pasco County for the exciting opportunity to participate in Impact Florida’s first Districts for Impact Learning Walk. Districts for Impact is a new initiative focused on creating a stimulating learning environment to share promising instructional practices that are improving the equity of access to great teaching and learning opportunities for students across Collier, Miami-Dade, Osceola, Palm Beach, and Pasco counties.
Leaders attending the inaugural Learning Walk were able to observe firsthand how Pasco County Schools created and regularly uses its Common Vision of Instructional Excellence to bridge the opportunity gap and improve outcomes for all students across the district. This practice of using a shared vision is one of Impact Florida’s Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching.
Laying the Foundation
During the learning walk, Pasco County school leaders described how their focus on a shared vision grew out of a 2014 TNTP academic diagnostic of the district’s implementation of state standards. The diagnostic revealed the sources of Pasco’s declining student achievement, including the fact that 40% of the county’s schools had stagnated, with state grades no higher than C.
Following that assessment, Pasco County Schools’ leadership acted immediately and decisively to build a shared understanding of excellent instruction across the district.
“We got our leaders together, and they came up with these five statements that unpack our mission of providing a world class education from the student experience and actually drive what we do – and we do it collectively as a district,” said Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning. “The vision is not just for a classroom or a school, but for how we do things as an entire district.”
The response to the diagnostic also led to the development of a theory of action that states: “If we create a unifying vision of instructional excellence for our schools, define the behaviors we believe will lead to success in schools, and provide the necessary supports from our teams, then staff efficacy and student achievement will increase.” Creating the five student learning statements, known now as Pasco’s Common Vision of Instructional Excellence, was central to the theory of action.
Today, district leadership attributes recent gains in achievement by its almost 75,000 students to an unwavering commitment to developing, executing, and measuring the impact of its priorities aligned to its Common Vision for Instructional Excellence.
A Commitment to Excellence
Each summer, Pasco district leaders engage in a revision process in which they reevaluate the success toward their goals and revise these goals for the upcoming year. Each of the essential actions and goals is aligned to one or more tenets of the Common Vision.
Chief Academic Officer Vanessa Hilton told the Walk participants about her experience years ago, shortly after the Common Vision was adopted.
“When our system didn’t look exactly the way we wanted it to yet, we didn’t say ‘let’s abandon it. It must be the wrong strategy,’” she recounted. “We instead took a look at it and said, ‘What is it that we’re missing? What do we need to tweak in order to really bring this to life for every student and every classroom?’”
It is through this process that Pasco leadership came to understand the gaps between priorities in practice and in theory, a recognition that enables them to make practical yet critical adjustments for continuous improvement.
Seeing the Vision in Action
The October 2019 Learning Walk provided cadre members the opportunity not only to deeply engage in learning about Pasco’s ongoing implementation strategies but also to visit classrooms and observe a coaching session. They were then able to provide feedback to Pasco district leaders about how to continue to improve.
“[The Learning Walk is an opportunity] to learn something that we can replicate and take back for our own practice. When we see something working that we’re doing, then it’s very validating that we’re on the right track,” said Scott Fritz, Chief of Staff for the School District of Osceola County and one of the Learning Walk participants. “And if we see something brand new, it’s an area for us to explore and decide how we proceed.”
The next Districts for Impact Learning Walk will take place at Osceola County Schools in December 2019. Learnings from Pasco County will be captured and shared across the state in a “Case for Impact” in the coming months.