Pewaukee Schools Superintendent JoAnn Sternke and Kettle Moraine Schools Superintendent Pat Deklotz were among 50 superintendents from around the country who traveled to Washington, D.C., for an education summit Nov. 15.
The two were invited to the U.S. Department of Education White House Domestic Policy Council summit "Innovations in Personalized Learning: A Conversation with Leading Districts."
It was an honor Sternke said she did not expect to receive.
"I was actually very surprised," Sternke said. "I think two things come to mind. We've (Deklotz and I) been very active with CESA 1 (Cooperative Educational Service Agency) with the regional work in personalized learning. Both our districts are visiting sites. I think we've been good forerunners of that work from a regional perspective.
"Secondly, we're very active with the Department of Education Future Ready work, which is preparing students really to be college and career ready using technology as well as personalized learning to be better prepared when they leave high school. I think it's our work in those two realms that possibly had to do with our invitation, but I will tell you, I was humbled, thrilled and excited when I saw that email."
At the summit, held as an all-day event at the White House and U.S. Department of Education, Sternke and Deklotz spent time in various sessions learning from educators around the country about best practices.
"In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to network, and it was just really exciting to see some of the dynamic things going on in large and small, urban and rural, suburban districts all across our country from Miami to Pewaukee. It was fascinating," Sternke said.
Sternke said it was also an opportunity for the superintendents to influence educational policy.
"It was really a chance to, I felt, influence policy," Sternke said. "We had a nice opportunity to have our voices heard about some of the things that would benefit this initiative in our schools. That ranged from increased funding for connectivity to more supportive teacher professional development. It was really a nice opportunity to share best practices and network with other districts that have great best practices."
"It demonstrates that work we are doing is work that education experts from across our country recognize as important for children, regardless of demographics," Deklotz said. "There were rural and urban, public and charter schools represented in the room. While each district has unique challenges, the universal understanding of how technology tools empower educators to target individual student needs and abilities was common ground.
"I was impressed that the individuals participating wanted to capture the work they have done and provide the next administration with a summary of the work in order to support the next administration in their efforts."
Sternke said one of the ideas that got her attention in particular was the equity of internet connectivity in school districts, learning of some districts' partnerships with cable companies to bridge that gap. She was also intrigued with districts that had created learning academies. It made her think of Pewaukee's Insight program,k in which students take business, engineering and/or entrepreneurial classes with business mentors in the Pewaukee community, and how it could be made even better.
"I think that, in broad brush, some of the learning that's going on in some next-generation high schools outside of the four walls of the high school really is powerful," Sternke said. "There are lessons to be learned from school districts that are successfully bridging that high school experience with that next step into those work and college worlds.
"If there's one lesson that I came away with, it's really looking at how we can make those step out of our four walls, particularly for juniors and seniors in high school. I think we can really make those years more powerful by creating community partnerships that are more individualized with student career interests. We've got a good start, but I think there are some models out there that I learned from other schools that might be even more helpful to us."
For Deklotz, the summit affirmed the work she said the Kettle Moraine community is putting in for its district.
"We are on the right track and making significant progress," Deklotz said. "The focus on the individual child and the importance of life skills that go beyond college and career were strong themes that emerged. In our technology age, information is everywhere. However, the role of the teacher is even more important as students learn to navigate their digital environment. Habits and skills such as collaboration, persistence, critical-thinking, communication, and growth mind set are developed and refined through coaching and instructional dialogue."