Almanac

Viewpoint - March 23, 2011

Guest opinion: Valley school story disputed by parents, staff

by Linda Yates and Jenn Kuhn

This note is a community response to last week's cover article, "Classroom Divide," which alleged confusion about and even punitive approaches to the use of technology in Portola Valley School District classrooms. It was based largely on information from a single teacher and written by an Almanac intern. Let us offer a very different truth, starting over five years ago.

In January of 2006, the Almanac published a front page article about 21st Century Learning within the PVSD. Senior staff writer Marjorie Mader, reported on a three-day learning lab led by world-leading paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team. The labs, provided to every student, were hands-on, project-based, authentic, and multidisciplinary. This archaeological exploration launched the 21st century education transformation that is ongoing in our district — a collaborative effort of teachers, administration, staff, parents and students.

Since 2006, PVSD has incrementally designed, tested and adopted multidisciplinary approaches, project-based learning, collaborative projects, hands-on activities, differentiated and even personalized curriculum, authentic work and yes, technology integration, to support 21st century learning experiences for our children. Our example is becoming recognized locally and nationally, including by the U.S. Department of Education.

Throughout these years, we have leveraged a plethora of local and national resources to guide our innovation and design, including sessions with IDEO and Stanford's d.school, meetings with Denise Clarke Pope (co-founder, Stanford's Challenge Success), and others. We agree with Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Sir Ken Robinson, Harvard Professor Tony Wagner and the ever-growing chorus of researchers, educators, leaders, and indeed President Obama, that a more relevant 21st century education is imperative for the nation's future competitiveness.

Clearly, broad integration of technology within the classrooms is one fundamental component of 21st Century Learning. The vast majority of Portola Valley parents, teachers, staff, administration and children embrace technical opportunities — why wouldn't we? Indeed, the thought that there could be too much technology within our digitally savvy, Silicon Valley district is an odd one.

The article was correct to cite fifth-grade teacher Marcy Barton as a district leader in technology integration; more broadly, she created our very 21st-century-relevant, hugely successful Integrated Exploratory class, including a 1:1 student laptop program. But Marcy's story is more comprehensive than technology use, and her success represents an evolving norm in our district that touches every teacher at Ormondale, every grade four and five teacher at Corte Madera School, and most teachers in the middle school. The real story is not about a tiny cohort of disgruntled teachers, but about an entire district and community pulling together to embrace new ways of learning.

In response to last week's article, over 170 families representing more than 300 signatures, including teachers, staff, administrators and parents, respectfully request that the Almanac print a retraction and return to its usual high standard of research and reporting and write a different cover article on 21st century education. We believe you will uncover the true story of Portola Valley's early adoption and ongoing leadership within the educational community.

Linda Yates and Jenn Kuhn are parents whose children attend Portola Valley schools, and wrote this guest opinion on behalf of some 300 district parents. Their names will be published in an advertisement in next week's Almanac.

Comments

Posted by Portola Valley Parent, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Mar 26, 2011 at 11:52 am

The article of last week you are referring to should not be retracted. The 21st century initiative and use of technology did very little to aid my child's learning of English and History. In fact those would have been the last topic areas I would have chosen to integrate technology into as a school administrator. It was a source of confusion and a huge distraction from the topics my 7th grader was supposed to be learning. I pray my child did not lose too much academic ground during this mess. Where was the oversight by the administration in the beginning or before these changes were trotted out? Do not blame and punish the teachers for doing as they were told when things did not totally work out. Believe me, there are quite a number of families who are dismayed by the changes in the 7th grade curriculum who did not sign that petition.


Posted by elle, a resident of Woodside School
on Mar 27, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Regarding the guest opinion's reference to receiving technology design and innovation guidance from sources such as Stanford's Denise Clarke Pope, and other sources; these groups are a work in process researching methods that frankly requires a lot of capital and financial resources. When research is conducted on children's learning,it is often done at schools that don't have a lot of parental participation ( I know I've been involved with it), therefore allowing the students to be researchers guinea pigs. In this case, whereas technology is expensive, the school being "used" for research needs to be rich. CM has the means and therefore, your children my friends, are very rich guinea pigs for a social experiment. Whether or not it is successful, the CM school board fell hook, line and sinker for it and seemed to enjoy the publicity when it first came out. Be careful for what you wish for.


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