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San Jose Unified’s New Tech Programs

Host: City of San Jose calls itself the capital of Silicon Valley and for a good reason it is the historic heart of the region’s tech industry.  Well now one of the largest school district there, San Jose Unified is staking a similar claim adopting the new technology and new strategy for educating today’s student s for tomorrow’s careers. I’m joined now by Vincent Matthews, he is a Superintendent of San Jose Unified. Welcome back to the show. I want to get to your software that we’re going to talk about but first but let’s talk about your population, 32 thousand kids in your school district, that’s huge. And one of the things that we talked a lot about on the show is the achievement gap. But you say there is something that’s even more critical you called it the Opportunity Gap, what is that?

VM: That is correct. Let me start with our school board 2 years ago passed an equity policy and it called for equitable outcomes for all students. So that caused us to look at our data and when we looked at our data we saw this achievement gap. We knew we were if you looked at our average API we knew we were a good district but in order to be a great district we absolutely had to close the achievement gap. So we looked at ourselves, and in looking at ourselves that’s when we discovered the opportunity gap which is looking at the actions of adults in the system and the opportunities that what you provide to the students are barriers that we’re putting in front of the students.

H: Okay.

VM: So anyway, with that set in front of us we setup on 2 main objectives from our strategic plan and those 2 objectives are mission based it is what we are calling it is to eliminate the opportunity gap, eliminate those barriers that were putting in place and then to make sure that all of our students have 20 percentage skills. And so we created a strategic plan that’s set out to do just that.

H: Right. And then in part of the strategic plan, one of the things you’ve done is you come up with ways to increase more of what you called the adaptive learning, correct?

VM: Correct.

H: Because the old model of just sitting in front and then talking to the 30 kids when it’s cramming just doesn’t work because kids are at different levels.

VM: That is correct.

H: So you’ve adopted this model where it lets kids learn with by partnering with software. So I know one of your big partners now is Dreambox which we had on this show, very big backing in Silicon Valley by some of the founders of Google and Netflix, tell us how you are going to use it.

VM: Well we have, in our plan we have 5 main strategies, 5 main objectives. Three of those objectives are absolutely, without question we’re going to make sure that our parents and our students are engaged, we want to make sure that we have rigorous education, we want to make sure that we’re using best practices. We thought that Dreambox hits all 3 of those strategies. What Dreambox does is it’s without question it looks at students at and it targets them where their education is.

H: Dreambox is used primarily for math, correct?

VM: Correct, it’s a math program. We’re using it at our elementary schools, we’re using at all 40 of our, no I’m sorry, all 26 of our elementary schools, and it’s an adaptive learning program as you have just said and it engages students at their level where they are.

H: So basically just to bring it down even further, the kids are doing the program and then the software adapts to tell you if they’re mastering it or not mastering and then the teacher can use it as a tool to figure out who needs work on what, correct?

VM: Absolutely, so it targets our middle students where they are, it targets our struggling students where they are and it also target s our accelerated students. So the teacher it assesses students where they are, puts students at the place where they should be then they’re working, the teacher is monitoring their work, able to give instructions either later on or pre-instruction to make sure that students are getting skills that they need and that is what this is all about engages students at the level where they are.

H: Right. And you’re doing something similar with reading and also with writing?

VM: Yeah, we’re using a couple of other programs, Lexia and Imagine Learning and both of those programs are doing the same type of work with our students as teachers are using this adaptive learning as I said to instruct students at the level that they are.

H: We have Professor Kirsten on earlier he was talking about English Language learners that are sometimes so far behind that they were really they struggling in class. Is this something this kind of tools that would be able to help those kids because it really assesses where they are and help them catch up e specially with English skills?

VM: Yes. We’re looking at that, we’re looking at right now we’re looking at targeting as I said where students are but without question it can assist students who are struggling with English and who are struggling with just giving the language now.

H: How often will the kids use this kind of technology? I know charter schools it’s something they’ve really been focused on. It’s kind of unique now to have it on public school. How often will you be using it and how are you hoping that this will to serve as a model for other districts as well?

VM: So our best practice is for example, there’s 300 minutes of instruction we would imagine that 60 of those minutes will be using, let us say Dreambox. What we want to do is without question look at what those best practices are, target them and then it implement them throughout our entire system.

H: Right. So right there you’ve kind of a pilot program figuring out how it is going to work, show it to the kids and then you’re just going to keep them assessing as you go along?

VM: Correct. We started last year, we started with 10 schools. We piloted with those 10 schools. These 10 schools when after we survey teachers loved it, students loved it, parents loved it, students were engaged, students loved the fact that they can get on where they wanted to. It can move at a pace at a limit they wanted to when they felt like they get the tutoring that they wanted. And so from those 10, as I said now it’s all spread out to all 26, and the most important thing for us is that if this is the best practice and if it works for kids then we want to implement it throughout our system.

H: And this is all, so when we came up with this strategic plan that you were doing at, I know that you with some of the work you’ve done in the past, you’re a big-picture-person you like to look at the all the aspect and figure out what your bigger plan is, when you looked at the direction that you want at San Jose Unified to go in. What do you envision?

VM: So, well as I said were trying to close the opportunity gap, and make sure that all students have 20 percentile skills, when I say 20 percentile skills we’re talking about collaboration, critical thinking, creative thinking, being able to communicate and students who are global citizens. When we create the strategic plan, we embarked upon and got over 35 hundred of our community members involved in the creation of this plan. We want it to be an internal and external plan and we know that if we are producing students who have any of these skills then they will be successful as they move on in our inter-society.

H: What are you going to use as benchmarks to kind of see how the kids are doing and how your plans are working?

VM: We have, we’re creating now we will call them Key Performance Measures and they are anywhere from high levels of reading at the K-25 level to the number of students who are on IV classes or AT classes as I talk earlier about those barriers we want to make sure that were giving students in, were looking where the number where about 10 key performance measures and we’re using that as a measurement where kind of a benchmarks to measure our success and our progress as we move forward and making sure that all of our students have 20 percentile skills and when we say all, we mean all.

H: Yeah, and a quick like because we’re running out of time. But I, we can imagine that giving teachers an added tool like this in the midst of what we are going through on this crisis here in California, it has to be a morale booster as well.

VM: We were talking to these teachers as I said, we survey teachers and they were really excited, 100% of our teachers if you believe that 100% said that this was something they found effective and they like to use it, so we’re really excited about the possibilities that this program.

H: Yeah. It’s hard to get a 100% of anything, isn’t it? Thank you very much thanks for being here. Alright we talk about Dreambox Math Software you can see my interview with the CEO of Dreambox in our website at we’re going to be right back with the mid program from inner city San Francisco it’s called license Oasis for Girls.