For The Madera Tribune
W. Richard Smith (shown below), a former Valley educator with a national reputation for being a reformer, speaks to attendees Tuesday during the first of a series of strategic planning sessions Madera Unified School District is holding to improve its teaching performance.
Richard Smith, nationally recognized educator, holds a strategic planning session with Madera teachers and administrators
Madera Unified School District is concerned about the report cards it has been receiving from the State Department of Education, and it is throwing itself wholeheartedly into a drive to deliver quality education for its students. To help make that effort pay off, a series of strategic planning sessions are being conducted, and the district has called on W. Richard Smith to lend a hand.
Smith, a former Valley educator with a national reputation for being a reformer, came to Madera Tuesday to share some of the secrets of his success, especially as it pertains to the power of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and collaboration.
Tuesday’s colloquium was held at Madera South High School, and included 250 administrators and teachers from the district office and every school campus.
Smith was the keynote speaker in a morning session with the entire group. Later, representatives from each school met in individual classrooms to evaluate what they had heard and to explore possibilities for their own classrooms.
At the center of Smith’s vision for curriculum reform is his unfettered belief in something called a Professional Learning Community, and he found a willing audience among Madera educators. PLCs are groups of educators committed to working collaboratively with each other in “ongoing processes of collective inquiry ... to ensure high levels of learning for all students.”
This cycle of inquiry process asks four questions:
1) What do we expect students to learn?
2) How do we know they are learning from it?
3) How do we respond when they do not learn?
4) How do we respond when they have already learned?
In Smith’s morning session, he built a study around four real teachers — but with fictitious names and faces. The Madera educators looked at the teaching methods of Ms. Apple, Mr. Blowhard, Ms. Crabtree, and Ms. Sunnyday and how they differed.
Each fictional teacher had a different strategy, used different materials, had different ways of checking up on student learning, and used different methods to reteach lessons.
In the afternoon session, Smith met with the site level administrators and dealt primarily with determining whether or not learning is taking place in a classroom. Smith insisted that principals should visit every classroom in his/her school at least twice a week.
According to Superintendent Todd Lile, Madera Unified held three Strategic Planning Events prior to Tuesday’s meeting. They are non-work days for teachers, but they are paid. The events are calendared days for the administrators.
Smith is known nationally for his work as deputy superintendent of the Sanger Unified School District. When Smith joined Sanger in 2004, the district had just been named one of the 98 poorest-performing school districts in California. The low student achievement levels resulted in Sanger being named a Program Improvement district (PI) under the “No Child Left Behind Act.” The district served more than 12,000 students, with a large population of minority and high-poverty students. Under Smith’s leadership and guidance, Sanger Unified exited PI status two years later.
During Smith’s tenure with Sanger, the district had consistent positive academic achievement growth for 13 straight years. The district is now considered one of the highest performing in the Central Valley of California and has been recognized nationally for its success with English language learners, special education students, and students who live in poverty.
Smith was named 1998 Crystal Award winner for the Clovis Unified School District for his work at the high school level. In 2010, the Kremen School of Education at California State University, Fresno, named him a Distinguished Alumnus. Most recently, he was named a Fresno State University Distinguished Alumnus and the 2014 Top Dog Award winner for his work with students of poverty in the Central Valley of California.
Smith, who did his student teaching at John Adams, donated his time to Madera Unified.