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Changing What Learning Looks Like: Santa Cruz Unified School District Demonstrates the Possibilities and Positive Impact of Student-Centered Approaches

Posted on February 21, 2023 • Categories: Impact Stories, The Arizona We Want in Action

Peter Boyle with partners at KnowledgeWorks and personalized learning evaluators at Research for ActionOur partners at Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District (SCVUSD) held an eventful and eye-opening Inquiry Lab in Rio Rico, Ariz., on Feb. 14-16. With the support of CFA’s Arizona Personalized Learning Network (APLN) and our technical assistance partner KnowledgeWorks, SCVUSD has been adopting personalized, competency-based learning and new instructional time models into its district-wide strategies over the past three-and-a-half years. They invited fellow educators to learn about their progress and study their experience. School and district leaders from across the state and beyond were able to see the work in action and hear from students, teachers, and administrators.

Student Led ToursCFA is actively expanding APLN across the state because introducing and expanding personalized, competency-based learning that places each child’s success at the center of education is showing promising results in improving academic achievement, meaningful learning, and helping students and teachers thrive. Most importantly, personalized learning practices move educators and learning systems beyond a one-size-fits-all approach towards one that better aligns education with the needs of tomorrow.

SCVUSD leaders shared many insightful takeaways - on the decision to make the shift to personalized learning:

  1. The move to incorporate personalized learning into their district-wide strategy aligned with their continued reflection on “are we doing what’s best for kids?”
  2. They started small and quickly realized that personalized learning practices can seamlessly merge with or enhance existing values and effective instruction models that are already in place, to support student success further.

CFA’s Director of Educational Leadership & Innovation Peter Boyle tours classrooms led by students.

SCVUSD leaders also reflected on what they found most important in making the shift:

  1. Prioritize your learning standards
  2. Develop a shared understanding of learning vs. teaching
  3. Post-covid is the perfect time for making a shift (school- and district-wide)
  4. Focus on intentional progress
  5. Communication is key; help teachers connect & break down silos (whether in schools or across multiple schools in a district)

In touring several SCVUSD schools during the Inquiry Lab, we saw highly engaged and energetic school communities, candid and open communication among everyone, and teachers who reported stronger relationships among and between students. We also met students who were empowered to set goals and make decisions.Heard from teachers and observed classes in action They reported pride and satisfaction at having a clear understanding of their learning targets, being able to chart their own growth, and appreciation for accessibility and flexibility when additional support is needed. While much more than personalized learning approaches contribute to creating this culture, it was clear that the school- and district-wide alignment –everyone working together to reimagine learning with the best interests of the students in mind– provides a shared fabric with which everyone is weaving together.

AZ School Leaders: You’re Invited to Join the Arizona Personalized Learning Network
Want to learn more or ready to jump in?! CFA is forming a new cohort of the Arizona Personalized Learning Network’s “Launch” program, and we invite school leaders to apply. You'll join an existing collaborative learning community of leaders from other schools across Arizona. Get the details & sign up by Feb. 28!

Learn more and apply