Professional development for school board trustees

Earlier this winter, I attended the California School Boards Association (CSBA) conference with the other trustees of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) board, as well as Superintendent Louann Carlomagno. This was the fourth time I have attended the conference and I always come away with new insights, inspiration, confidence (that our district is on the right path) and new compelling ideas.

Along with outside professional development, I consider my fellow board members a huge source of professional development as well. I admire and respect them deeply and feel so fortunate that I have the privilege to work with them. Louann Carlomagno is an outstanding superintendent, along with our wonderful president, Helen Marsh, and trustees Dan Gustafson, Gary DeSmet and Sal Picazo Chavez.

There are unique challenges to being on the school board, as there are for every job.

An important one for us that was underlined in a keynote speech we attended was how important it is to remember that “just because someone says something, doesn’t make it the truth.” Everyone must find their own truths, and find what works for them and their communities and families.

That is one of the reasons why Sonoma Valley is so incredibly special and unique. Not just the outpouring of community support for quality education, but also the educational choice that we have here.

I can happily say, since being elected, that our school district actually does what it says. And we continue to want to improve.

Our leaders are quite amazing in that they are intelligent and progressive, always looking at what is best for our children, families, faculty and staff.

Our district understands that in order to provide quality education, we need to support our quality teachers. When we say: “Children First,” what we imply is that our teachers are what is at the forefront and with them, our future leaders will have a chance.

In order for this to happen, the infrastructure needs to be in place in Sonoma to help and support them, and this includes great leadership and role models for our children, as well as professional development.

Professional development helps us to keep on the cutting edge of what is in the best interest of our students and how to deliver this to them, and inspire them.

The CSBA conference is one way for our school board leaders to share ideas and bright spots.

The conference provides a time for the school board members and superintendents to push their thinking to the limits and bring back bright spot ideas.

The seminars and workshops include topics from budgeting to health and wellness, curriculum, communications and more. What you might guess is a dull, dry and sometimes conservative conference, ends up being a progressive and out of the box sort of idea booster. The keynote speakers are often cutting-edge authors, sometimes in education, and other times on the outskirts, who understand the minds and souls of today’s youth.

This year, Jane McGonigal, Linda Hammond and Yong Zhao were the three speakers who were particularly interesting, especially for the youngest of us there.

McGonigal is a gamer, a futurist and an author. She said, “Game developers have spent three decades figuring out how to make us happier and more collaborative, how to make learning more fun and social, and how to satisfy our hunger for meaning and success. All of these game-world insights can be applied directly to re-invent education as we know it.”

While a gaming topic might not seem like a relevant topic for a school board workshop, she showed us that the opposite is true. (Remember, insights being the operative word.) Games make us resilient because gamers spend 80 percent of their time failing.

Failure is just a way to learn. She cited science that shows that if you are watching a game (listening) instead of interacting, you are getting far fewer neurological benefits from your learning experience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating electronic games in the classroom, but understanding, education and an acceptance of this generation and how to help them. (PE can have cooperative games, a classroom lesson can have a game, clapping and stomping the times tables, for example, games don’t need to involve electronics.)

Up next was Hammond, who is a renowned education leader and professor of education at Stanford. She spoke about the topic that is most on the minds of myself and my fellow board members, the new Common Core State Standards that are being implemented right now here in Sonoma and across the country.

She spoke eloquently about how the Common Core will present our students with perhaps fewer facts to memorize, but encourage deeper and higher thinking.

And finally, Yong Zhao discussed how Google’s search engine is a tool that students today have, but that learning today is not product-based but authenticity learning – process and strength driven. Working together and understanding others as partners. So although the tool exists, they need to learn to use it.

He urged us to help students to discover what they are good at and passionate about and to develop those skills and interests rather than being mediocre at everything.

Each year, I come away from this conference inspired and re-energized for the hard but exciting work that lies ahead for us as a community in ensuring that all students in Sonoma have access to the highest quality education to prepare them for college, for their careers and for life as productive and happy citizens of the world.

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Nicole Ducarroz is currently serving her third four-year term. By trade, she was a software engineer, and now by passion, she is involved with education. When she ran for school board nine years ago, her platforms were the following four things: 1 – Children first; 2 – Parents and teachers as partners; 3 – Parental choice; and 4 – Increasing district income.

More information about the conference is available at aec.csba.org. She enjoys hearing from anyone, including parents of students at all area schools anytime at nicole@svchildrenfirst.org.