Why is Dr. Willard Daggett Speaking in Verona and Why Should You Attend?

Dr. Willard Daggett will appear Wednesday, December 12, 2012 in the Verona Performing Arts Center from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.  He has been invited to come and speak in Verona to help kick off the rebooting of the strategic priorities for the Verona Area School District.  The board and administration have been working on revisiting our past strategic priorities and amending them to meet the needs of our current and future students.  Dr. Daggett, who is a very engaging speaker, will be talking to community members about the need for change.

I had the opportunity of hearing Dr. Daggett back in July as he talked to our board and administrative team of how a good school district like Verona can become a great school district.  Great schools don’t settle for being good, they continually re-evaluate and adapt to ensure that students are getting the best educational opportunities.  With the changing of evaluation practices, shifting from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) to utilizing National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Scores along with a Common Core Curriculum, student performance is anticipated to nosedive.

In Verona, 91% of our high school seniors last year indicated that their future planning included College or University study.  I could be off on the statistics but I believe our graduation rate was at 94%.   Both of those marks would seem to reflect that we have a very good school district.  Personally, I think we have a great school district.  However when you look at the new report cards that were issued by the state we did well, but not great.  Even the numbers above make one beg the question, what about the other 9% and 6% respectively?  If you look at multiple measures across our district over the past year we see a distinct gap in student performance between our white students and our students of color.  We also see that poverty impacts the performance of students in our district.  So how do we ensure that all kids, regardless of color, economic status, sexual preference, gender identity, etc have equal educational opportunity as well as equally high expectations for their performance?

Dr. Daggett will talk to us about rigor and relevance.  There is a third R, but I tend to forget that one.  Rigor refers to material that is challenging but believing that all students are capable of meeting the challenge.  Relevance is how we make the content appealing to a student and show them real life value for what they are learning.  Seeing the practical application of something often impacts the student’s interest level and desire to learn a concept.  There is a belief that our current curriculum doesn’t do enough to engage students in the area of rigor or relevance.

There is a belief that nationally we don’t do a good enough job anymore in preparing kids for life beyond High School.    Dr. Daggett will cite statistics that reinforce this concept and highlight differences in why he believes students in Singapore or Sri Lanka are doing better in math than our students.  Dr. Daggett will also highlight the problems that exist in the language arts and the fact that our current system is failing students.  You will hear about the need to expand the time spent on math instruction and language arts instruction.  You will hear about embracing the use of technology in the classroom.

One idea I liked from my previous opportunity with Dr. Daggett was on the concept of looping.  Some of the biggest jumps in educational rigor happen for students between Kindergarten and 1st grade, 4th grade and 5th grade, and 8th grade and 9th grade.  Research suggests that “looping” teachers may have a better impact on student learning as teachers would have a class for two years.  The second year of the cycle, the time needed at the beginning of a school year getting to know ones students would be eliminated since you would have the same class as the previous year.  It would allow for more opportunity to jump right into educational material and maximize learning.

You will also hear thoughts about extending the school day, extending the school year, and alternative models of learning.  As a side note, the La Crosse school district has implemented a year round school program at one of their elementary schools for the current school year.  Whether you believe in your round school or a longer school day, the main goal is to start thinking about ways to enhance the learning opportunities for students.  Questions to think about are if we have longer periods of math and English instruction, where do we introduce art, music, physical education?  If we go to a longer school year, how much longer should it be?  How many days, hours?  How do we pay for that?

I would like to think that my education in elementary and high school was a good one.  It has been almost 25 years since I walked across the stage and received my High School diploma.  Dr. Daggett may highlight in his presentation the evolution of the changes in education. The evolution can be summarized as essentially the same ideas renamed and repackaged each decade with little or no substantive change in result or performance.  Teaching as a profession has been under fire from both the right and the left.  Teachers Unions have been blamed for all that is bad in education but seldom ever credited for anything good in education.  Many people want to parse out that teachers can be respected and treated well but the union they have chosen to belong to is the problem.  You will hear some of that in this presentation.  It may not be as overt as I just stated it, but if you listen you will hear it.   However, Dr. Daggett will also tell you that we can’t improve or become a great school without great teachers.  We need our teachers to be champions for all of our students.

I welcome Dr. Daggett to our district to speak to our staff, our families, and our community members not because I agree with everything he has to say.  I welcome him because he delivers a strong message about the need for change.  I welcome that message because I believe it will help us create dialogue about what we really want for our district.  I welcome the message because I believe the ensuing dialogue will drive us to action.  I welcome the message because the action we take will be a result of the involvement and energy from those who are invested in the futures of our students and our community.

Dr. Daggett has his detractors and if you google him you will find a number of things that reflect who he is and how some have challenged his message.  I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.  The best way to draw your conclusions is to attend the presentation.  It is free to anyone, so please share and plan to attend.  I close with a tribute to a remark from Dr. Howard Fuller this past Friday.  I have adapted it a bit.  In education we like to say “It takes a village to raise a child”, well the presentation tomorrow night is a reminder of where the village is, who the villagers are, and what the village must do to survive.  I will be there and I hope you will be too.

My contact information is listed here on my blog.  Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, comments, or want to have a dialogue about what I have written.

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About johnmmcculley

Father of three, currently serving in my first term on the Verona Area School Board. Hoping to help foster more open discussions about the future of education in my community.
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