For Michele Hancock, the recently hired superintendent of the Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District No. 1, her job is not business as usual. When she took the position last summer, she had a vision to transform the district, including questioning all practices, programs and policies to ensure they meet the needs of all students.
"There are a tremendous amount of board policies, and some are so old and outdated, they are not effective for today's child," Hancock says. Hancock, often described as passionate, energetic and focused on results, vows to replace such outdated and ineffective programs with 21st-century strategies for student achievement.
Hancock's new KUSD Transformation Plan principles include blended personal learning, in which instruction is coupled with integrated technology; multidimensional life and career skills, such as critical thinking, adaptive problem-solving and collaboration; and relevant global knowledge, such as media literacy.
"The plan is to ensure every child experiences high-quality, personalized learning success," Hancock says. "Representatives of district staff, the union, parents and the community have redefined the district's principles in terms of goals that consider authentic student voice/ performance-based learning, and student results, meaning all-inclusive systems of support and 24/7 learning."
The plan also looks at how to allocate resources for three areas: central functions, such as how departments are organized and whether they have the right number of people; school provisions, such as considering what schools really need; and program evaluation and effectiveness. For example, Hancock says she questions the district's reading recovery program, which serves 10 students a year. Maybe the district can figure out how it could help more students, she ventures.
Vickie Brown-Gurley, the district's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, says the transformation plan is designed in part to focus on 21st-century learning and personalized learning. It demands that administrators review how to meet the needs of all students, including those with special needs, bilingual students and preschool students. Hancock challenges her staff to look at the barriers in place for such students and to understand why they don't have access to, for example, the Golden String orchestra or the Magical Singers, two programs that include relatively few minority students, who comprise 40 percent of the district's student body. "People talk about an achievement gap for Kenosha," Hancock says. "It's an opportunity gap."
- Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District No. 1
- Salary: $195,000
- Age: 56
- Student enrollment: 23,027
- Schools: 42
- Staff: 4,052 including 1,873 teachers
Hancock also is attracted to innovative practices, like the School of One math program in New York City, or the push in Oxford (Mich.) Community Schools for instruction to be immersed in global education, foreign language and science and technology. "It's a paradigm shift for us," Brown-Gurley says. "Having a super- intendent with a vision propels us even more quickly forward. It's a great place to be. Finally, now we can do what we're supposed to be doing."
Given the importance of the transformation plan, Hancock created a new position of strategic planning, innovation and community partnerships to facilitate the design. "It's a new day," adds Kathleen Barca, the district's former middle school executive director of school leadership who now fills the position.
Hancock comes from a traditional education background, having started as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and then moved to Rochester (N.Y.) Public Schools, where she worked as a teacher, curriculum specialist, literacy specialist, assistant principal and school principal. She became chief of diversity and leader— ship/professional development and chief of human capital initiatives until she moved on to kenosha as superintendent.
Brown-Gurley recalls being part of the leadership counsel that hired hancock. "It was very clear that this was the person we really needed."