3 essentials for a ‘new vision’ of schools post-COVID

How district leaders can embark on a 'holistic redesign' of the nation’s schools
By: | April 9, 2021
Broadband access, high-quality early learning and culturally responsive instructions are all keys to redesigning schools post-COVID. (Photo taken pre-COVID)Broadband access, high-quality early learning and culturally responsive instructions are all keys to redesigning schools post-COVID. (Photo taken pre-COVID)

Fixing the inequities exposed in greater relief by COVID will require a “holistic redesign” of the nation’s schools, says a wide-ranging new report by AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

The report, An American Imperative: A New Vision of Public Schools, lays out a multi-year vision for future-focused, rigorous, energetic and culturally vibrant learning that empowers learners, families and communities, AASA says.

The overall goal is to prevent schools from returning to a pre-COVID normal when the pandemic ends, said Daniel A. Domenech, AASA’s executive director and co-chair of the commission of education, business, community and philanthropic thought leaders that created the report.

“What makes this report stand out and what gives us hope is that it will impact practice at the classroom and school levels,” Domenech says.

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“Everyone associated with a school district—superintendents, principals, teachers, school boards, parents, and community and business leaders—must take bold steps to work together as systems on behalf of the well-being, self-sufficiency and success of our students,” he says.

The commission’s vision focuses on redesigning three key components of education:

1. Culture

A systemic redesign will rely on a relationships-based culture that is:

  • Whole-learner focused: The entire system must attend to the social, emotional, cognitive, mental health, and trauma-based needs of all learners.
  • No learner marginalized: All children, families, and staff must be embraced, valued equally and served with equity—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic circumstance, or disability.
  • Future-driven: Schools must anticipate changes in the career, social, economic and technological landscapes to inform ongoing decisions.

2. Social, emotional and cognitive growth

Learning must entirely reorient around the students. To meet learners’ social, emotional and cognitive needs, instruction must follow a growth model continuum, where data analytics, planning and evidence of progress operate in a feedback loop that allows educators to personalize learning.

3) Resources:

Teams of school, state and federal leaders must determine how to provide resources to meet every student’s ‘whole learner’ needs in the following categories:

  1. Learning accelerators: Broadband must be deemed a public utility so that all learners have access to the technologies necessary to access and accelerate learning.
  2. Aligned community resources: Educators, learners, and learners’ families must have access to a robust, multi-tiered system of supports.
  3. High-quality early learning: All children must engage in high-impact early learning to prepare them to function as co-authors of learning in their K-12 journey.
  4. Diverse educator pipeline: Educators and staff must represent the learners, families and communities to make culturally responsive learning possible.

Ultimately, the report makes it clear that the functions of leading, teaching and learning are critical components of systemic change, said 2020-21 AASA President Kristi Wilson.

“If we are to deliver learner-centered, equity-focused education to all learners, then we must experience a paradigm shift in how these positions function,” said Wilson, who is superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District in Arizona. “We believe that the one-size-fits-all approach must no longer be tolerated. Now is the time to raise the voices of our superintendents on behalf of the students they serve.”

Educators are encouraged to join a conversation about the vision on Twitter, using the hashtag #Learning2025.