Lindsay rakes in dough and data

Lindsay Unified awarded $15 million U.S. Department of Education grant, $10,000 award of innovation in technology grant from ASU+GSV Summit

LINDSAY – Lindsay Unified is raking in the dough and the data after being awarded $15 million for their student-centered approach to learning. The district also received a cool $10,000 award for innovation in education through data use at an international education summit last week.

New money

Lindsay Unified School District made headlines in 2017 when they were awarded a $28.2 million Teacher and School Leader (TSL) grant through the U.S. Department of Education. They were one of only 14 schools nationwide to receive the award. And that money has not gone to waste.

It has been put towards recruiting the best teachers for Lindsay’s performance-based system (PBS), developing effective educators, including professional learning, human capital management systems, teacher recruitment and retention, research science and leadership development.

Things have gone so well that Lindsay Unified got a TSL grant extension of $15 million, and were awarded an Innovation Educator Award at this year’s virtual ASU (Arizona State University) + GSV (Global Silicon Valley) Summit. The latter carried with it a $10,000 award all on its own.

Lindsay Unified announced the two massive achievements within the same day last week.

“This new grant extension will support the development of professional learning pathways for educators, innovative approaches to asynchronous educator development, and the design of a teacher residency model for personalized learning school systems like Lindsay Unified,” stated a Lindsay Unified press release

Compounding Lindsay Unified’s riches the district announced on Monday that they refinanced outstanding general obligation bonds at 2.8%. The result is more than $650,000 in savings to district tax payers, according to a district press release.

“This has been a tough year for many families in our community, that is why it is especially important to pass on the savings of this refinancing on to local taxpayers,” Superintendent Tom Rooney said.

The press release noted that lowering the bond interest rate is similar to a homeowner refinancing their home mortgage. “There was no increase in the term of repayment and all of the savings will be passed on to the taxpayers in the form of lower property tax bills”, Grant Schimelpfening, Chief Business Official said.

“Our action to approve the bond refinancing reflects our continued commitment to our taxpayer’s and communities’ interests while demonstrating our continued stewardship of the district’s resources, especially during this difficult time,” School Board President Jean Miller Rincon said.

Empowering educators

In the last three years while receiving their $28.2 million TSL grant Lindsay Unified has been working diligently on empowering their students with their Empower platform. With their students well established online, Amelia Lopez, the district’s director of special projects thought it was time to bring the district’s educators into the fold as well. For her efforts, Lindsay Unified won the Innovation Educator Award by LEAP Innovations and GSV at last week’s ASU+GSV Summit. She said the district has been making strides for teachers to track their own progress through the Empower platform by setting goals for themselves. Which in the eyes of the district has made them not only educators but learners in their own right.

“We knew there had to be a way to harness the power and potential of this unmined data but discovered no solutions existed,” Lopez said as part of an information video provided by Whiteboard Advisors, a communications, research and consulting firm.

Through Empower, teachers can set their professional goals using the district’s adult learning curriculum built in partnership with Summit Public Schools, Transcend education and Columbia Law School: Center for Public Research and Leadership. They will use a set of 26 research based student outcomes that include educator outcomes and strategies for personalized learning.

Through their own portal educators can see a coded scheduler so they can find, preview and enroll in innovative professional development courses that include learning academies and micro credentials that fit their professional goals. Teachers can also use their Empower portal to work with the curriculum, collaborate with colleagues and access feedback. But they can also build their portfolio by adding lesson plans and videos of their instruction.

Lopez said that while teachers can sit down with their principals to help form their goals, principals and other admin cannot access the teacher’s data.

According to teacher testimonials from Lindsay Unified’s award submission video, Guadalupe Alvarez with Lindsay Unified has already seen the benefits of setting and tracking her own goals.

“Seeing my own learning is very empowering, excuse the pun. I’ve been able to reflect on their micro credentials that I have tackled and been successful with,” Alvarez said. “Similar to my learners I am able to check and adjust and learn from my mistakes and failures.”

Lopez said that approximately all 250 teachers in the district have access to their own personal Empower portal. And since the global pandemic has forced teachers and students into distance learning, giving educators a similar if not identical view of the platform has eliminated wrinkles in coordination that other districts suffered early on.

“Our educators, having engaged in the [learning management system] as learners were able to help learners transition to remote instruction in a way that was built from personal experience,” Lopez said.

Data is king

Lindsay Unified, through the performance-based system and student-centered education has been taking on the task of creating a data driven human capital tracking platform to heavily inform decision making in the district.

“We wanted a truly integrated human capital management system that provided data driving all key decisions for the district. What we are creating serves just that,” Lopez said.

Through Yet Analytics and Amazon Web Service (AWS), Lindsay Unified is attempting to tie together data and education. According to Lopez the AWS solution accounts for three key tasks: stream all key data systems for teachers and learners; ensure they can trust the data; and create a method for them to connect, correlate and compare all data.

Between ensuring their trust in the data and creating a method for them to connect, correlate and compare all data is a “data lake.” It is there for the district to pull data from normally disconnected sources and systems. According to Lopez the lake matches, “cleans” and organizes the data in order for the district to query it, analyze it and visualize it in tools like “tableau,” an interactive data visualization software.

Lopez said that data cleaning means that the data lake does the work usually done by analysts in the district. And it directly relates to tasks such as matching student IDs, clearing out duplicate data and correlating student data to their matching teachers.

“There is no system that does this and our infrastructure actually does this with automatic recognition,” Lopez said.

Overall, however the entire process aims to solving presumably long-standing inoperability issues of student data systems and educator data gaps. And it intends to bring together data sources to construct, “new meaning, new learning and ultimately new solutions to drive personalized learning, student achievement and effective educator development,” according to Lopez.

“With the empower adult learning portal and the AWS data lake we have truly created an integrated human capital management system that serves our educators as learners,” Lopez said. “We have brought data transparency and integration to the forefront of a results driven culture and offer the world an example of how to expand upon our best practices for learner support to drive high quality, personalized professional learning.”

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