When asked about what’s exciting her most at the moment, Superintendent Zandra Jo Galván lists the K12 partnerships she has formed at the K8 Greenfield Union School District, an inland agricultural community on California’s Central Coast. Why is she so fired about these crucial community connections?
“I’m excited about the future for kids,” says Galván, who was recently named Superintendent of the Year on by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. “The students, our board of trustees, the teachers—everyone is so invested in Greenfield.”
Proof of that investment lies in the opportunities for post-secondary success created by the partnerships Galván has formed with organizations such as Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools and companies such as Apple and Lego.
Partnership No. 1 focuses on virtual reality
The League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of about 150 districts that collaborate to identify instructional practices that will have big impacts on student achievement.
It has allowed Galván to travel to different districts to examine cutting-edge instruction and Greenfield’s work with the organization has paved the way for widespread use of virtual reality in the district, which has allowed students to tour the world and has further led to the launch of esports labs. Virtual reality and esports have also become key vehicles for project-based learning and problem-solving skills, Galván notes.
Partnership No. 2 revs up robotics
The Apple and Lego partnerships enable Greenfield to offer robotics in all five of its schools and to send students to the toy company’s national FIRST competitions. Galván and her team have plotted how robotics will take students from the early grades all the way to graduation and beyond. “We backward map the skills from preschool all the way through to the secondary setting,” she points out.
Because Greenfield is just over an hour’s drive from Silicon Valley, students take regular field trips to get exposure to various careers in the tech industry. Students who recently got a behind-the-scenes look at the Apple campus also got a chance to chat with CEO Steve Cook about computer science, robots and careers. Galván also got to address Apple leaders and investors.
“That was a game-changer for the children of Greenfield, who got out of our small farm-working community to meet with a billionaire,” she says. “My message to everyone there was, that everybody has a story, when you discover your story then you discover your purpose in life. I asked everyone to ask my kids about their story and to tell them your story.”
Partnership No. 3 focuses on virtual reality
The district has a new partnership with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, which has selected Greenfield as a model for K12 innovation. The organization is sending a group of superintendents and other leaders to tour the district in the spring.
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And what does Galván intend to show off when the leaders visit? “We’re going to share culture—how leadership impacts culture,” she says. “When the superintendent sets the tone, the directors, the C-suite, the board, the principals, the teachers, our classified labor partners all share that. We have really great culture here in Greenfield that we’ve cultivated over the last seven years.”
Some of the hallmarks of that culture include not having had a single grievance about a contract violation in six years—since her first year leading the district. “I’m going to have the (ASAA) team interview teachers, like any teacher, grab any teacher and just talk to them about our culture here,” she exclaims. “I am unafraid for them to talk to anyone because they’ve been the work we’ve done together.”
Galván and her team also work closely with local government, including the fire and police departments, as well as neighboring school districts and a range of nonprofit organizations, colleges and social service providers. “When you watch me or the district on social media, you’ll see the bright faces of students and team members,” she concludes.
“That is something we cultivate—it’s the day-to-day interactions … that really make a district what it is. When you invest in people, then people are more willing to go the extra mile and do the work for kids.”