Creating the Conditions for Change: Reflections from the Field

Written by Maša Užičanin

I recently interviewed Dr. Tim Scott, Superintendent of Kiski Area School District, a Pennsylvania NISL Superintendent Academy graduate and partner of Sevenzo’s. His district has succeeded at changing structures, mindsets and adult behaviors to support rigorous student learning experiences in a short time-span of just four years. Our exchange, below, captures his thoughts, on what it takes to create the conditions for change. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Q1. Dr. Scott, what are the values that drive your work?

Tim Scott: These are not just my values, they are OUR district’s values and they drive everything that we collectively do at Kiski: 

  • We will raise the bar and close the achievement gap for all students
  • All students and teachers will be provided with extra time and support during the school day in order to extend learning or to assist struggling learners
  • Adult learning is as important as student learning
  • We will successfully address our priorities through focused teamwork 

Q2. What was the most difficult part of your job when you started your change process?

Tim Scott: When I got to Kiski, and everyone will honestly tell you this now, our schools were functioning like separate kingdoms. There was no shared vision for student success. There were no structures in place for teachers and other staff to collaborate within or across schools. We were at the mercy of program implementation and we were gathering a lot of data that wasn’t really driving instruction. The most difficult mindset shift that we needed to make was to move away from thinking “my kids” to “our kids.” Today, there’s no such thing as “my kids.” All of our students are “our kids” and we have structures in place to support collective action to ensure that all of our students are receiving supports or enrichment they need to thrive.

Q3. What was the most important structural change that you made in order to meet your collective vision for student success?

Tim Scott: Establishing PLC structures to enable true teacher collaboration around student success was pivotal. This was a game changer for our district. This structural shift wasn’t easy at first—scheduling alone was a difficult task—but once teachers started seeing the results that these interactions yielded on student learning, they bought in. Today, every teacher at Kiski participates in a PLC. And they feel a sense of ownership over this process which has done wonders for morale.

Q4. Is there one thing you wish you had done differently at the onset of your redesign journey?

Tim Scott: Oh yes, I could name a number of things. But if I had to pick one it would be the contextual analysis piece. I wish my team and I understood the unspeakable issues and blindspots that would get in the way of our efforts early on. Instead, we learned what those were the hard way. I intentionally did not engage other stakeholder groups in the redesign process because, to be honest, I didn’t know how. And I have one steadfast rule: don’t attempt to do things you know you will do poorly. This was a huge miss on my part. I should’ve gotten our teachers involved in the process much earlier. It would have expedited our ability to get everyone on board, using a common language and process, and we would have seen student impact earlier.

Q5. Is there any advice you’d like to share with your peers?

Tim Scott: Do the contextual analysis. Involve more than your core team in the process. Get external help because otherwise there will be posturing and you won’t get to the truth or the core of the issues that are plaguing your system. And keep everything you do pointed at your North Star—your vision for student success. Program implementation isn’t a solution, system redesign is. System redesign is harder but it will be worth your efforts if done right. And if you do this right, you will see tremendous cost savings. We need to stop wasting money on value neutral programs and initiatives and start building the capacity of our people to focus on student outcomes.

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