The Dangers of Making Decisions Based on Averages: How Irvine & Moreno Valley USD Built a Culture of 1:1
On November 20, Paper hosted a discussion at the 2020 CITE Annual Conference with two leaders from large California districts:
- Dr. Martinrex Kedziora, Superintendent, Moreno Valley Unified School District, California
- Brianne Ford, Chief Technology Officer, Irvine Unified School District, California
Working with large districts such as Irvine USD and Moreno Valley USD, the Paper team has seen firsthand how these districts, despite their size, have built a culture of 1:1 through personalized supports for all. The session speakers shared some of the best practices, initiatives, and tools that they have leveraged.
This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
1. Pilot, prove and improve
Irvine is a decentralized district, we're really focused on personalized learning and individual decision-making for our sites. At the same time, we’ve been growing by more than 1,000 kids a year for the last decade.
So we’ve got this interesting clash of trying to keep things local to the school-level, and truly rooted in what their families need at any given minute.
There’s a lot of inclusive decision-making—and Paper experienced this with us as well—we take a long time to take our first step. We bring in a lot of students, parents, teachers to provide us feedback before we act. Then Irvine embraces the messiness a little bit by letting people get in the front and lead our iterative approach of “pilot, prove and improve” to everything.
Lastly, continuous refining and improvement is at the foundation of our district—that’s what guides us through a lot of our initiative implementations.
Dr. Martinrex Kedziora:
Our graduation rate has grown over 25% in the past 10 years at Moreno Valley, and we’re very proud of that. We were at 70%, and now we're at 95%.
One of the things I saw when I came here 10 years ago as the chief academic officer was that we didn't have a lot of systems in place to check progress. People were doing what they were told, but they weren’t measuring effectiveness. And that’s what’s different today.
We developed a central mission that we didn't just put on the wall—we said it over and over.
And people got the message: Our partners and associations have helped us achieve a lot of the things we've been able to do.
2. Model what you expect, inspect what you expect
Dr. Martinrex Kedziora:
As a superintendent, you have to model what you expect, and you have to inspect what you expect.
I’m very hands-on, and everybody knows who I am. I’m at our grab and go’s every day, I do two messages a week to the district, I’m on the phone talking to people, and I'm sharing my personal stories.
When people know that you’re authentic, especially when you’re working with a lot of people that aren’t like you, they tend to rise and rally with you. And when I get all the reports in front of me, I look at them and make sure that I compliment people who are meeting their goals, and I also make sure to provide support to people who are having trouble meeting them.
3. Show students that they matter
Dr. Martinrex Kedziora:
I want students to know that they matter that I listen to them.
I'm on Zoom with students to listen to their lived experiences with distance learning. And when they tell me something, I have to show them that their voice matters.
With students that we serve, they won’t believe you till they see it. I like to tell people I’m available 24/7, and one student tested me on that once. He called me and told me he was struggling with distance learning, that he has 4 other siblings, and his parents both speak Spanish. "Everyone speaks very loudly at the house all day," he said, “and we can’t hear, Dr. Kedziora.”
He said he needed headphones and some mice to help control things for distance learning. I said okay, and we spoke about some other things he was having issues with, too. So that day, I got 4 headphones and mice, and some additional hotspots and I went to their house. And it may have been simple, but it meant a lot to that student and his family.
This is a very important piece when you work somewhere like here in Moreno Valley where many of our students are homeless, foster youth or living in a home with multiple families, and things are not always planned for or responsive to their needs.
4. Beware of making decisions based on averages
This year has provided tremendous challenges, but it has also peeled back that divide between what happens in the school versus what happens at home. As a district, we’ve always tried to recognize that there are systemically different environments at home and to provide supports for that. That’s why we engaged with Paper in the first place. But the human factor in those disparities was never more evident than it has been this year. I think our role is now to look deeper.
In the discussion about building implementations to scale, and with 35,000 kids, I think one of the dangers is to make policies based on efficiency, that aren’t founded in the reality of all the kids at home.
So, for example, we have hotspots that can support 4 connections. So if you’ve got 4 kids, you get 1 hotspot. But try to imagine 4 kids being proximal enough to that hotspot and engaging live in 4 different classes at the same table. There’s danger in making decisions based on averages, whether that’s for technology policies or data decisions, where we’re only considering those big aggregates in those Dashboards we create. Those are the starting points of a conversation, rather than the ending.
We have a tendency to look at what the state publishes and think, “Yes, we’re doing well! Look at all that blue on the Dashboard!” but it masks some very serious needs in the district, and I think our focus needs to be on the next question we should be asking. We have a brilliant data team that helps us with that, and we also have partnerships with groups like Equal Opportunity Schools that come in and tell us beyond just the aggregates of data.
We’re looking at which kids are not opting into extra elective and AP classes, not just look at the grades of those that are taking those classes. We then move past that towards the personalized interview with the child and families to understand “why” without speculation.
The initiatives that we’re trying at Irvine revolve around asking students and families what their reasons are, rather than assuming their reasons.
5. Make supports targeted, personalized and 24/7
Dr. Martinrex Kedziora:
When we began distance learning, I realized students needed support because they didn't always know how to use their Chromebook without a teacher at school, helping them. So I asked to have the district open a daily help desk for people to come to get help at night.
Another thing is we have Wi-Fi buses that we’ve been parking in parking lots at the high schools, Target, Taco Bell, etc. We’ve put picnic tables that are distanced so that our students can have those dedicated areas. I’ve asked students where we need these buses, and they’ve been amazing and have told me, “this apartment complex” or “this area of the high school, we don’t get Wi-Fi there.” You just have to build that communication and culture of support and demonstrate that you are asking and listening.
And every day, people say, “can we stop doing this?” and I say, “well, how many people are coming?” and when they say a number, I say, “then no, because until nobody comes, we’re going to keep doing it.”
When the pandemic hit, we shifted and did a lot of the things that Dr. Kedziora mentioned. We greatly extended our office hours to help parents out. We made sure everybody had the internet access they need at home, etc. Our Ed Services and ed tech departments partnered up to make two weeks of introductory courses for our Learning Management System, focused almost exclusively on socioemotional learning and grounding.
We’re focusing on socioemotional learning above everything else, distilling our standards down to the essentials, and providing more curriculum for our teachers so that they can put aside the noise and focus on engaging with kids.
And we're putting family supports at any hour of the night because we don’t know when kids or parents will need help. We had started implementing Paper long before the pandemic.
For those of you who haven’t worked with Paper before, it was an incredible tool for getting students live help when they needed it. I will say it has been our lifesaver.
Providing live tutoring support and Essay Review for students 24/7—and just live interaction for students—that has helped us close the gap. Each month, we have about 1,700 to 1,800 of our students using [Paper]. When kids don’t have a parent at home that can help, or when they don't have the resources to get outside support, or when the teacher is just exhausted, it’s provided a lifeline for students whenever they need it and in whatever subject they need. It was something we put in place to address equity issues prior to the pandemic, but it has been vital right now.
6. Lean on community, compassion and continuity
Dr. Martinrex Kedziora:
One of the biggest things is that you can learn from each other.
Brianne doesn’t know this, but I’ve watched all of the videos on Irvine’s website. Watching their videos taught me more than anybody ever showed me, in terms of what they gave to their parents.
At this time, you can never really say, “Well, that's Irvine, and this is Moreno Valley,” because our kids need the same thing as the kids in other districts. And that’s what equity’s about: giving everybody what they need and responding to them.
When I heard that Irvine was using Paper, I thought, “well, if they’ve got that for their kids, then we need it for ours.”
And I thought that about so many other things, too, because we were acting quickly. Some kids were so stressed, and they needed somebody to talk to. So when I heard Paper was live, I thought, "This is it."
Thank you, the video team in Irvine will be thrilled to hear that. Community is such a big answer to all of this, for example, CITE. We borrow and steal all the time, and it definitely goes both directions.
Leaning on that community, giving ourselves some grace, and pursuing continuous improvement is probably where we all need to be right now.