Summary & Conclusion
A careful examination of the intersection between LCFF, the Promise of Excellence Strategic Plan 2015-2020, and the initiatives kindled out of a complex context offer powerful insights and possibilities for educators across the state. In this case study, both PBIS and teacher-led professional learning serve as two examples—grown out of a district-wide commitment to equity, a stable leadership, and a complex fiscal situation—that highlight powerful ways in which a large, urban district has operationalized equity through LCFF. By building and supporting the work of leadership teams across the district and transitioning to an understanding of the whole child, efforts such as PBIS and teacher-led professional learning have evolved beyond the programmatic approaches that often come and go with education reform. Instead, both have become springboards for larger transformation. Additionally, this study suggests that while quantitative indicators can showcase early signs of impact, deeper cultural change takes time, and understanding the dynamics of change requires us to pay closer attention.
When LCFF was signed into law in 2013, PUSD was already in the midst of change. Triggered partly by a fiscal crisis, increased scrutiny due to receiving the label of “significant disproportionality,” and other contextual factors, PUSD’s leadership, a team that has led the district collaboratively for more than eight years, had already begun plans to bring about comprehensive change. Using a distributed leadership model, comprehensive and intentional theories of change, deliberative spending, and a commitment to equity, PUSD has been able to utilize LCFF as a lever for system-wide change. Additionally, with the flexibility afforded by the law, they have thought creatively about how to support the needs of students. Although the scope and complexity of change are broader than these two initiatives, both PBIS and teacher-led professional learning showcase innovative ways in which particular programs and structures, supported by LCFF, can work to support a broader and comprehensive process of change.
The world of education seems to be on a constant lookout for silver bullets, easy solutions, or the one way to improve educational outcomes. The story of PUSD calls for a different explanation of change. It teaches us that often the most transformational programs bring about change in a myriad of ways. While the data, test scores, and quantitative indicators of change can be useful tools for teams of educators to gauge impact, these often fail to capture both the nuances and the texture of educational change. As exemplified by both PBIS and teacher-led professional learning, the impact of comprehensive and intentional efforts to bring about change is multidimensional, impacting beliefs, practices, and structures across different levels.
Change is about much more, as Superintendent Martinez explained:
Respect, responsibility, results, and relationships. Is it about the almighty test score or more about children connecting with adults and caring adults? We have to believe that students can do and will do. Not lowering the bars but raising the bars and then adjusting your practices so students could surpass that bar. To create spaces where social-emotional learning and relationships and trust as part of that are seen as an explicit avenue towards rigorous instruction.
Similar thoughts were echoed by many. Stephanie Baker, former Deputy Superintendent, elaborated, “If there was no mandate, we’d still be doing this work. That is at the core of who we say we are.”