A little while ago we sat down with Superintendent Valerie Pitts to talk about why she signed the Future Ready pledge, her plans for the district, and where she sees education heading.
Below you will find more information on Larkspur-Corte Madera Schools and Superintendent Pitts—please scroll down to read the interview itself.
About the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District
Location: Larkspur, CA
The Larkspur-Corte Madera School District is a high performing K-8 school district located approximately eight miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. The district serves families and students in the cities of Corte Madera and Larkspur. Local revenue from business leases, a parcel tax, and SPARK, the Larkspur-Corte Madera Schools Foundation, allow the district to provide ample enrichment programs at its schools, including visual and performing arts, technology, science specialists, a variety of GATE activities, after school tutoring, homework clubs, and foreign language to its students.
The district's Academic Performance Index places it in the top 10% of public schools in California. The staff is collaborative and compassionate, and the community has an active parent community that serves as catalysts for growth to inspire and promote well-rounded, lifelong learners and future citizens of the world through challenging, innovative, rigorous curriculum.
District Mission/Vision Statement: “Larkspur-Corte Madera School District is a dynamic learning community. We are inspired to think critically, collaborate, encourage creativity, and communicate effectively in supportive and inclusive environments. Every individual is empowered to become a productive citizen through relevant, rigorous, and engaging curriculum, active partnerships, and authentic interdisciplinary learning experiences.” Read more about the district’s mission.
About Superintendent Valerie Pitts
Dr. Valerie Pitts has been superintendent of Larkspur-Corte Madera since July, 2005. Dr. Pitts has a deep background in education, having worked as a K-12 teacher, principal, and district office administrator prior to becoming superintendent. She has served across four counties and six school districts in Northern California.
Dr. Pitts has a Doctorate in Education with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, a Master’s in Education and three credentials earned from Bay Area universities. She is the proud mother of four children and she enjoys the arts, hiking, skiing and spending time with family and friends.
Dr. Pitts has spent her entire professional career in public education and is passionate about ensuring equity for students, inclusion, high standards, engaging curriculum and continuous improvement. Her focus is on excellence!
The Interview Starts Here!
Q: To get started, can you tell us about why you signed the Future Ready pledge?
A: I signed the pledge because I am a change advocate. I see a real need to speed up reforms in education. The more we are willing to stand up together and say the future is here, we need to march forward and get ahead of it, the easier it will be to make the changes that need to happen.
I see this as an integrity issue. If we’re really working on behalf of students, we have to pledge to move forward. We’re starting to talk now about getting students ready for the 22nd century, not just the 21st. Education leaders need to embrace change, and signing the Future Ready pledge is a powerful, symbolic way to demonstrate they they are doing so.
Q: Can you tell us about the Future Ready-aligned initiatives you have in place in your district?
A: The last several years we have been primarily focused on PBL (Project Based Learning), arts integration, and using technology as a tool for those things.
A lot of our work in the district has been in reshaping how we think about education. How do we use the tools we have—technology, but also the world and real experiences outside of the classroom themselves—to help our students learn through problem solving, critical thinking, and all of the wonderful things accessible to us in the world that are not necessarily accessible in the square box of the traditional the classroom. We want to create spaces where kids are encouraged to learn, with indoor/outdoor flexibility.
Related to creating new spaces, we just opened a new school. We were fortunate to be able to design the school around some of these ideas regarding what a learning space could look like that is meant to engender creativity and self-directed learning.
We prioritized the notion that classrooms needed to be differently shaped. In this new building kids can get indoors and outdoors easily—we’re fortunate to be located in California, where being outdoors is pleasant—and we’re able to encourage teachers and students to be outside, in a natural environment, where PBL can happen organically.
Q: What is your vision for the future of education?
A: For me, Future Ready and the future of education isn’t just about technology. I think a lot about the assumptions built into our current model of education. One part of our old structure which I think needs to be fundamentally reconsidered is scheduling. We need to reconsider periods—even block scheduling is still glorified periods. I don’t think this way of looking at time facilitates major learning.
How do you get kids into those environments where we they can learn hands-on, and really see how the world works? We know, for example, that actually sitting in a courtroom can be a more valuable experience for learning than learning about how law works in the abstract. Our challenge is to figure out ways to make these changes.
Another idea, which is related to the challenge of rethinking scheduling, is about the space in which learning takes place. I think that we can actually get away from having school buildings—we can use libraries, industrial spaces, and create learning opportunities in the real world and natural environments. Students could take public transportation to San Francisco for the day for a lesson, or to the headlands in Marin, so they’ meeting in different places and learning from different experiences. I think we need to radically rethink the goals of education, and the approaches we use to achieve those goals.
I also think we need to allow flexibility among student groupings. Grade levels are fairly arbitrary groupings, and don’t serve the needs of the individual students. If we focus more on PBL and skills acquisitions and less on grade levels, we can help each student grow and realize their personal potential to its fullest.
Q: Can you recommend any best practices or give any advice on how to implement the use of technology in the classroom?
→ The use of technology is non-negotiable. There really are no excuses any more. If you aren’t using technology as a tool to create future thinking, problem solving learners, you’re simply not relevant.
→ We need to get away from text books. Curricula materials needs to be accessed digitally as well as in the many new and changing multi-media libraries.
→ Collaboration is key. We can no longer teach alone. Ideally, we should have a group of teachers teaching a group of kids, to encourage teachers to collaborate and involve more minds in the process.
→ You have to have teacher to teacher support. You need teachers on special assignment, and to release teachers during the school day to help implement new practices and initiatives, with support of those teachers on special assignment. Administrators have to be adamant about setting this up, to ensure that it happens and teachers get the support they need to continue to grow.
→ Also, teachers need to collaborate, not just with teachers but with students as well. We all learn better when we have people to bounce ideas off of, and students can be good sounding boards, just like teachers can. The challenge is, how do you make this happen when teachers are in segregated boxes? We have to change the teaching environment, and make it possible for teachers to have groups of students together throughout the day. We need to be using the physical space in which we teach differently, and looking differently at how we group students throughout the day.
END OF INTERVIEW