To the Moon: T-2-4 Not Unlike 1960s Space Program

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

- President John F. Kennedy, speaking at Rice University in September 1962.

By Rusty Graham
Senior Writer, Spring Branch ISD

Elliott Witney likes calling T-2-4 a “moonshot” goal, for obvious – and not so obvious – reasons.

The obvious: T-2-4 is a stretch goal that challenges everyone in the system to perform with a singular focus – to double the number of students completing a technical certificate, military training, two-year degree or four-year degree. Much like the challenge put forth by Kennedy in 1962, that the United States would put a man on the moon before the end of that decade, T-2-4 will “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills … .”

But as Witney, the district’s executive director of strategic leadership and innovation, told trustees earlier this month, going to the moon is today unremarkable. Forty-five years after Neil Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind,” moonshots are not routine but the goal has been reached and exceeded many times over. We got there. We know it can be done, and we get better at it each time we go.

Getting there the first time was the real challenge. And the real work of how to get to T-2-4 was started in November of last year, after five Cross Functional Teams (CFT) were chartered by the board of trustees a month earlier. The CFTs are a way to organize the work of central office departments.

Successful large organizations share certain characteristics, said Superintendent Duncan Klussmann. They’re aligned to their missions, they’re focused and they’re disciplined. Apple, for example, is a $168 billion company and can put all of its products on a single tabletop.

Likewise, Spring Branch ISD and its 4,500 employees and 46 campuses needs alignment to reach its singular goal of doubling the number of students completing a technical certificate, military training, two-year degree or four-year degree.

The CFTs – Driving Results, To and Through Higher Education, Leadership Pipeline, Teacher Development and Evaluation, and T-2-4 Culture – represent T-2-4’s critical measures rather than divisions or functions, Witney said. Led by senior administrators and composed of leaders from functions across the district (hence the “cross functional” moniker), the CFTs are charged with using a study team process to design, implement, monitor and evaluate both urgent and foundational activities to reimagine  -- and reinvent, where necessary – the system toward T-2-4.

Teams solicited input from teachers and students along the way, Duncan said. “(The CFTs) are a way for the central office to implement programs that address the critical measures and the goal,” he said.

Teams met at least once a week throughout the 2014 spring semester, first defining problems then working on solutions to those problems. Those solutions will become work plans that align processes within the system to T-2-4.

“It’s been a year of hard work and hard thinking,” Witney said, “but it’s just the beginning,” adding that “we think we know our system better than we thought possible.”

Case in point: the Driving Results team, led by David Sablatura and Lance Stallworth, found that there was no district-wide system for strategic planning. “We found we had a large, disparate system,” said Sablatura. “We couldn’t drive results because the systems weren’t connected.”

Once the problem was established and defined, the team set out to analyze data and seek solutions – in this case, a circular timeline helped see where key functions were out of alignment. For example, student testing occurs largely in the spring, with results released in late May, early June, or even later in the summer. Yet principals’ summative evaluations were coming before the test results were in.

“(Testing results) were coming at the wrong time … not even allowing for a proper conversation between the superintendent and principals,” said Sablatura. He said that the previous school year’s data should all be in place by September, making it a better time to get in front of principals. “The principals on our committee liked it,” he said. “They’ll know what’s expected of them. The objectives are clear.”

Or Jennifer Blaine’s Teacher Development and Evaluation team, which collected “tons of data” through teacher focus groups and surveys, she said, and found that the district’s teacher evaluation process was flawed.

“Teachers feel like (the evaluation system) is punitive and not designed to help them grow professionally,” said Blaine. Other problems emerged, including evaluation standards and teacher development. She said the team confirmed data analysis with teacher comments and is putting together an action plan that will help teachers get better at their craft.

“(Teachers) love to help other teachers,” Blaine said, “and they don’t want to do evaluations. They want to help coach colleagues.” (Sablatura’s Driving Results team is also working on ways to share best practices. “There’s a need to put systems in place where staff can seek answers from colleagues,” he said.)

Blaine said that several teachers told her that they had no idea that (the CFT) was putting so much thought into the process.

“We have heard everything that (teachers) have said,” said Blaine. “We’re doing our due diligence to making this an evaluative process.”

Work has resumed this fall, with CFTs ramping up their meeting schedules and continuing into the next phases of their work. The teams have defined problems, analyzed the data and found solutions, and now will work turning those solutions into work plans, all of it aligned with T-2-4. Some of the plans can be implemented at the staff level; others will require policy changes at the board level before implementation.

Like NASA’s mission throughout the 1960s was focused on getting a man on the moon, so too is Spring Branch ISD’s mission focused on doubling post-secondary success for its graduates. And like the 1960s space program gave us residual products, everything from microcomputers to space blankets to freeze-drying, so too will reaching T-2-4 give us residual products, such as more aligned processes and planning, better teacher evaluation instruments and stronger leadership – and a strong sense of urgency to get the mission accomplished.

The Cross Functional Teams:

Leadership Pipeline Facilitator: Patti Pace
Teacher Development and Evaluation Facilitator: Jennifer Blaine
Driving Results Facilitators: Lance Stallworth and David Sablatura
To and Through Higher Education Facilitator: Duncan Klussmann 
Culture Facilitator: Linda Buchman

Additional Links of Interest:

4 comments: Leave Your Comments

  1. Several thoughts. I absolutely agree about evaluations. They are punitive, not being used for promotion, raises, special favors, anything but a paper trail to fire me. I come to do my best, please recognize. At least pay me as well as surrounding districts.

    T24 will only work if we start working with students and families in Kindergarten. Our students north of the freeway need to know that college is not only possible, but that money need not be a stumbling block. But, if they don't get the foundation laid right now, middle school may be too late.

    Our alumni need to know that they are welcome in our campus libraries to complete college homework, on a space available basis. This is the continuance of T24. They are still our students.

    1. YES! YES! YES!

      The students are ours, even after they leave. Former students are welcome, when the schools allow them to be. This needs to be expressed to all of the campus administrators. All administrators need to be welcoming, not just a few.

  2. Recently our 5th graders went on a field trip to Rice University. They came back talking about it with excitement. I love that but I asked myself, why Rice? why not H.C.C., Prarie View A & M, St. Thomas, HBU and other local schools that are more attainable for my north of I-10 students.
    How do we incorporate the T part of the T-2-4 plan? It is hard to "see" an example of military training/profession or other technical schools. Can SBISD reach out to technical schools and have a night similar to College Night to showcase the types of carreers available through technical schools?

  3. Evaluations should be used to measure the progress of students over time, used for diagnostic purposes among multiple measures, data shows us where work and support needs to be done on student's weaknesses on certain skills, but not to be used to predict, infer, the quality of a teacher. Evaluations penalize teachers on their student's test results. And teachers deal with the effects of poverty, stresses and struggles that students experience which affect their achievement.