If in the next few months every Utahn has not heard of the term "Shift in Focus," it won't be the fault of the State Board of Education.
The board is beginning the painstaking determination of how the "shift," its new strategic plan, can be implemented. Meetings Thursday and Friday were devoted to detailed discussion of ways to bring the strategy off paper and into Utah classrooms.The plan encompasses both subtle and overt changes in how education will be approached in the state. Its prime premise is that the student, rather than the system, should be the center of effort.
Board members created a long list of people who must become involved to make the plan work, but decided they must begin by encouraging all members of the education community to feel ownership in the plan. Meetings, workshops and inservice training will begin in earnest to explain the concept and how it relates to students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community at large.
Board member Keith Checketts said, "We have to pull the education community together to be sure they share the vision before we talk about getting out to the larger community." He said the board may have to be willing to "let all our rules sunset - to begin over again," just as other educators will be asked to make changes. "How much are we willing to trust those we are trying to empower?" he asked.
Board member Valerie Kelson said she was willing to "throw out everything but the bottom line." The system must remain accountable for providing the best for children but have the flexibility to arrive at that ideal by different routes, she said.
On the topic of accountability and assessment, the board heard a presentation from a blue ribbon task force that it earlier assigned to study student assessment and make recommendations.
Adrian Von Mondfrans of Brigham Young University, who headed the study, presented eight recommendations to strengthen student assessment and to make test information useful to educators.
He suggested that it is more useful to compare students, schools and districts to themselves over time, than to compare them to each other. Intrinsic differences make it impossible to make valid comparisons, he said.
Schools should initiate better analysis of national and statewide test results to identify problems and moderate programs, he said.
Ken Zenger, president of the Utah affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, told board members they have not given sufficient emphasis to the role of teachers in the educational process during the Shift in Focus development.
"I feel this is a first step, but the significance of the shift is going to be lost if teachers do not receive major credibility from that report," he said. "The state office is so involved in how to implement the plan they have totally forgotten that the teacher is the major element in the process . . . . Teachers should have a major role, not a secondary one."
He said teachers, if they are not involved in developing an implementation plan, will look at the shift as another burden imposed on them from the top down.
During Friday's meeting, Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard, R-Logan, took a few minutes to affirm his support of board members and Superintendent James R. Moss, who have been the targets of negative media coverage in the past week.
Hillyard, the second senator to appear at the board's meeting to express support, said Moss has done a good job for the board and that the superintendent has done much to unite the many voices of education and simplify the job of the Legislature.
He disclaimed quotes attributed to him in an Ogden newspaper Thursday that were critical of the state's education leadership. He also decried the action of the State School Boards Association in defecting from the Education Coordinating Council, the action that started a flurry of media attention.
"It's a sad, sad mistake for members of the education family to withdraw," he said.