Superintendents Tell Education Business Leaders What They Really Want
District leaders count on education companies to help them accomplish their educational missions, and it’s sometimes a challenging partnership. In a candid panel here at EdNet 2015 about the view of vendors from the superintendent’s office, four district leaders shared their advice about how the marketplace can do a better job serving K-12 schools.
Highlights of the panel discussion included the following themes:
Projecting Future Needs: Fifteen years from now, more students will learn online, more will pursue formal education from home, and more curricula will be career-specific, said H.D. Chambers, the superintendent of the Alief, Texas Independent School District. He predicts much more involvement from the private sector in 2030 too. But to stay in business, companies will have to meet schools’ changing needs more effectively, Chambers said. “You can’t just create a solution and bring it to us,” he said.“I get a lot of things brought to my desk where there’s a solution, and I didn’t even know I had a problem.”
Get to Know Districts: School leaders want to work with companies that work hard to understand the unique challenges in their districts, said Dana T. Bedden, the superintendent of the Richmond, Va., schools. “If you don’t know my district, then you’re already starting off behind the 8-ball,” Bedden said. Companies that tout their success with other districts—if the demographics of those other districts look nothing like Richmond—are not likely to get an audience with him, he said.
Flexibility Matters: Vendors or service providers get into trouble with R. Stephen Green, the superintendent of the DeKalb County, Ga., schools, when they say “all bets are off” around outcomes if the district wants to customize a product to meet its needs. “That kind of ultimatum is a deal-breaker,” said Green. Plus, when he enters into a contract with a company, he wants open communication so that an “early warning system” is triggered if either side sees something isn’t working.
Establishing Trust: “I want people who will work with me on how to serve a diverse” student population, said Susan Enfield, the superintendent of the Highline, Wash., school district. Enfield said sometimes companies that she considers partners in the district withhold information from her. “If my folks are putting up roadblocks, you need to let me know. Trust is key…Let’s talk about what’s not working when it’s not working,” she said. “I want you to help my team get smarter, better.”
Producing Evidence of Success: Green of the DeKalb schools in Georgia tells his leadership team: “Do not bring a contract up for renewal unless you have empirical evidence [as to] why we should renew that contract.” That empirical evidence “should manifest itself in how it benefits children,” he added. “There needs to be a causal relationship as much as possible.”
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Let the teachers decide, not you suits, not the businesses.
First of all, there is no "causal" information possible in classrooms, schools, and districts with populations of students that are completely unique. As a former superintendent I can offer this advice – "don’t buy anything unless your teachers ask for it." The ONLY truth is based on your own teachers owning the needs of your own students. Let the teachers decide. We waste too much money on hope for change, when the only change possible is your current teachers.