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New Collaboration Seeks to Transform the Way Teaching and Learning is Done in Arizona Schools

October 15, 2020

Three organizations have committed to collaborate with Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona with more than 64,000 students, to support district leaders in efforts to create equitable learning outcomes and better prepare all students for the demands of college, career and civic life. The Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA), Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC) and KnowledgeWorks share a common conviction that one-size-fits-all approaches in our current education system prevent both learners and educators from succeeding to their fullest potential. They are collaborating with Mesa Public Schools to focus on personalized learning.

The personalized learning approach focuses on the individual success of every child. It is designed to meet individual students where they are in their educational journey, ensures mastery of academic content along with social and emotional skills and fosters student ownership in their own learning.

CFA is committed to advancing the long-term success of Arizona. The nonprofit organization leads the Arizona Personalized Learning Network, providing training and support to schools and communities to personalize learning for their students and grow a system-wide approach to sustain student-centered practices. This effort builds on CFA’s decade of work with policymakers, public schools and communities to expand student-centered learning in order to create more excellent and equitable outcomes for all Arizona students.

The state’s largest teacher preparation program and a national leader in research, MLFTC brings people and ideas together to build an education workforce that can provide all students with deeper and personalized learning by building teams of educators with distributed expertise.

A national nonprofit, KnowledgeWorks helps schools, communities and states advance system-wide approaches to sustaining student-centered practices, supported by expertise in teaching and learning, education policy, strategic foresight and an emphasis on evidence-based practices.

Each organization brings its own set of expertise and commitment to educational excellence and equity. Through this collaboration, they are deepening existing ties to focus on practical steps to bring about systems change that benefits both learners and educators in Arizona. At the heart of the work is a shared commitment to learner-centered innovation.

Personalized, competency-based learning creates engaging educational experiences that are personal for every learner and systems that are customized to each student’s strengths, needs and interests. It uses flexible pacing to ensure that all students have opportunities to master the future-ready skills, knowledge and dispositions to realize their fullest potential. It encourages student voice, agency and ownership over their learning.

“We believe real system transformation requires alignment of teaching and learning at the systems level,” said Chuck Ambrose, president and CEO of KnowledgeWorks. “More importantly, we believe that each learner, no matter their race or zip code, must have access to the tools, supports and experiences needed to graduate ready for what’s next. When that happens, we’ll know the system has really changed. By working in partnership with ASU and CFA, these changes for students and learning communities can be accelerated.”

Sybil Francis, president and CEO at CFA, says, “We’ve championed new ways of thinking about education for more than a decade, and how to support districts and educators to redesign school systems in Arizona to build the capacity to sustain student-centered learning. We’ve done this because the one-size-fits-all system of education is not creating equitable outcomes for kids. Nor is it preparing them for success in our rapidly changing world.”

CFA and KnowledgeWorks are entering their second year of a partnership on the Arizona Personalized Learning Network. The network invites school partners (both public districts and charter networks) to make a five-year commitment to participating in the network and engage in the work of deep systems change. Mesa Public School is an initial partner in the network. The other current members of the Arizona Personalized Learning Network are Amphitheater Public Schools, Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District and Yuma Union High School District.

MLFTC has a long and enduring partnership with Mesa Public Schools. MLFTC students work as interns and residents in schools throughout the district, and the district has worked closely with the college to free teachers from the constraints of a one-teacher-one-classroom model by building teams of educators that can surround learners with diverse areas of expertise.

“Collaborating in the work with MPS and the Arizona Personalized Learning Network is a great opportunity,” says Carole Basile, dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “It’s a natural fit with our work on the Next Education Workforce. We can’t solve our education challenges if we focus only on curriculum or only on pedagogy or only on ed-tech or only on teacher shortage. We can’t magic-bullet ourselves out of a systems problem. We can only design our way through it by taking a learner-centered approach that focuses on the individual success of every child, a professionalization approach that empowers educators to bring about that success and a systems approach that seeks to design learning environments and organizations that have the capacity to support those educators and learners.”

“Mesa Public Schools promises our graduates will be ready for college, career and community,” says Superintendent Andi Fourlis. “We can not fulfill that promise alone. By coming together as partners, we can take a holistic approach in supporting Mesa’s students and staff. Together, we can make deep, lasting change so that our district can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning, all in support of student success.”

MLFTC and KnowledgeWorks will work together to facilitate professional learning activities and related materials for teams of educators. Brent Maddin, executive director of MLFTC’s Next Education Workforce, and Virgel Hammonds, chief learning officer at KnowledgeWorks, are convening teams from all three organizations to talk about how to advance the work in Mesa.

“This is an extension of work we are doing to support teams of professional educators,” says Maddin. “Our superpower is educating educators — whether that’s preparing novice teachers, deepening the knowledge and practice of veterans or helping school and district leadership drive transformational change. KnowledgeWorks brings a deep well of practical wisdom in delivering personalized learning, and we are thrilled to welcome that expertise into our work.”

“There are so many areas where our respective strengths can complement one another,” says Hammonds. “MLFTC’s focus on teams of educators brings a new and interesting dimension to the work we have been doing to champion learner-centered education.”

All partners share a conviction that, for the sake of learners, education needs to be redesigned. All have structured their work around developing best and next practices in learner-centered education.

Says Francis, “In Arizona, we’re working with partners and education leaders to deliver successful personalized learning. We see personalized learning as a promising educational approach to meet the needs of every child, and, from a systems perspective, it will help to close achievement and opportunity gaps, increase educational attainment and prepare a highly skilled workforce ready to innovate for our future.”

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