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5 questions to ask when rethinking accountability systems

Superintendent of a large school district discusses the questions leadership and school boards should be asking when considering accountability.

3. What is happening today? (Relevant to our expectation of what is happening in the classroom) The only way you are going to be able to answer that is to actually have “eyes on.” You need to build the capacities of people to be effective leaders on campuses.

You need to reverse the role of your central office. Its role should be a support system rather than a driver of behavior.

That has been a problem in large districts. We have basically had central offices driving everything. The bottom line is, if you build the capacity of leadership on campuses, operating within your line of site, you know every day what is happening, versus gathering data at six-week intervals. Data at six-week intervals is almost worthless data. It’s too late. You need to know that child today. You need to know what you need to do to pivot, today.

These kids can’t afford to have six weeks go by before you make a judgement on what they’re doing or [to make] a judgement on the curriculum.

That’s why formative assessments are so important. That’s why distributive leadership and ownership cultures are so important. If you are focused on data, you’re going to center around your predetermined ideas about what you think the data should show you. And if it’s not showing you, then you follow predetermined responses.

That has been our process for twenty years now. And I’m so frustrated, and everyone should be. At the end of all this testing we gather all this data, and then we go have data meetings. And out of those meetings we have action plans. And guess what? Year in and year out, we have the same action plan. It doesn’t change.

4. Has your action plan changed at all? I want my teachers to say, “How am I going to do this?” I want them to own the problem. I want them to be empowered to drive the solutions. That is a flip of the system. We need to trust our teachers; we need to build their capacity to do it very well.

But, we need to have “eyes on” with people who know what they are looking at on a regular basis–people who are there to support the teachers in their growth. That’s going to make the difference. We need to look at data but not in the way we typically do it.

We need to say data is important, but who is it important for? It’s not important for me. It’s important for that teacher so she can quickly pivot to the needs of that child.

Compliance systems don’t drive change, they drive mediocrity.

5. Is the current system designed to engage the community and parents in the day-to-day learning? All community stakeholders should be involved. It really becomes an economic development question. Are we providing the kind of education the community wants for our children to go forward and then be in control of their freedom?

The current accountability system neuters your board in terms of holding their schools accountable. Not intentionally, but by default. The board looks at the state and says, “What do you say we are?” The community then looks at the state and says, “What do you say we are?”

I want our community to look inside our buildings and hear from them, “What do you say we are, what do you say we need to be?” If we get to that level, we will drive change far better and far faster than any compliance-based system in the state.

The Takeaway

Vroonland truly has his heart in his work. As superintendent, he is solely focused on the children, and the community’s high level of involvement has created a system that produces great graduates that return as teachers at a very high rate. Vroonland believes in accountability, and he asks tough questions that demand answers.

More importantly, Vroonland is asking the right questions. He realizes that data for data’s sake is a never-ending circle of futility. Data should be actionable, and with the help of his community and the leadership of his teachers, his eyes are on a district that sees the unique value and infinite promise of every learner.

It is incumbent of the education community, at-large, to have open conversations about what accountability means, how it impacts learning and the role students, teachers and parents play to better articulate meaningful learning interactions and opportunities.

The result of meaningful conversations would, hopefully, establish more comprehensive and usable engagement approaches to education supporting the realities of accountability systems and desires of practitioners and caregivers alike.

Accountability without inclusion of engagement merely supports political definitions of learning. Vroonland provides hope that real conversations are turning into thoughtful action.

About David Vroonland, Ed. D., Superintendent

Dr. David Vroonland officially assumed his position as superintendent of Mesquite ISD on July 1, 2015. An educator for 31 years, Vroonland began his education career in 1986 as a teacher and coach in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD. In 1991 he accepted a similar position at DuVal High School in Lanham, Md., followed by two and half years as a coach and teacher in Akishima, Japan. In 1995, Vroonland returned to Texas to teach and coach at McNeil Junior High School in Wichita Falls ISD.

His administrative experience began in 1999 in Wichita Falls when he became an assistant principal at Zundy Junior High; he later became principal at Barwise Junior High. Vroonland moved to Allen High School in Allen ISD as house principal in 2003. He opened Ereckson Middle School in Allen as principal in 2004 before assuming the role of assistant superintendent of administrative services in Allen ISD in 2006. Most recently, Vroonland served as superintendent of Frenship ISD, which is located on the southwestern side of Lubbock County. He has served in that role since July of 2009.

Vroonland and his wife, Joy, have two sons, Caleb and Matthew, and one granddaughter, Josalin.

Vroonland earned his bachelor’s degree from Centenary College of Louisiana, his master’s from Midwestern State University and his doctorate from the University of North Texas.

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