Focus on Kids, Not Adults, To Build 21st Century Learning: Superintendent Robert Runcie

It’s not easy to get an audience with the person holding the highest office in the school district, so when we do we take full advantage. We get the parent-insider on big ticket items from the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie.

In our first conversation last month Runcie was serious about staying focused on our schools and on education decisions made in Tallahassee, not what the feds are doing. He reminded us that only 9% of our funding is affected by federal decisions.

Today, we talked about reimagining education; a topic close to me and every parent.

The Problem with Boxes

I have a middle-schooler in an “A” school. We live in a middle-income, working class neighborhood with many 2 parent households. In other words, we are the lucky family who do not face the added pressures of poverty or underperforming schools.

As we wrap up the school year, my daughter has to bid for her classes for next year. Her school has a very renowned math-track. Trouble is, my kid loves language arts and science…not math. She’s a vestibule for random interesting facts. If I had a penny for every time I heard, “Mommy, did you know…,” I’d be rich. Apparently, there is no exciting track for curious, well-read minds like hers.

But…aha! We find honors Biology! We get excited and we are all set to go. Finally, a challenge she can sink her teeth into.

Pump the brakes. The school informs us that even though she is qualified for honors Biology, she can only take it if she is ALSO in honors Algebra AND is one of the top 75 students in the school.

Say what?!

The explanation for that nonsensical rule was “the classes are demanding and we need some way to filter the kids.” So, let me get this straight. Instead of expanding course offerings to allowing kids who are highly interested in science to be challenged by honors Biology, we put it out of their reach by creating new boxes to check, requiring them to take 2 highly demanding classes at once?


So, you can image my anticipation in getting the Superintendent’s take on meeting student learning needs, and why we are having such a hard time getting things moving.

Superintendent, do you think we are challenging our kids? Are we meeting their learning needs?

What we are doing now was good for the 20th century, but it’s not going to get us where we need to be for the 21st century. And, I’m not the only one saying that. Talk to the students! They think we are “old school.”

But, getting every adult in the organization on-board to rethink what we are doing is a challenge. Though I respect the fact that we can be challenged (because we don’t always get things right) we need to come up with alternatives that will get us where we need to be, and not argue for the status quo.

So what is your vision for the future of teaching and learning?

The next level of maturity for us is in how we schedule and design experiences for our students in a more intentional way, around their interests. We should continuously keep the student connected to their area of interest so by the time they leave high school they have great skills in that field; they can write and communicate well; think critically; understand aspects of science and their environment, and be passionate.

We have to continue to innovate, turn around our low performing schools, redesign public education by thinking about an education system designed around the needs of the students versus students having to fit into it.

Why are we having such a big problem doing that?

The biggest challenge in public education is not children. The biggest challenge in public education is the adults. The level of hypocrisy is extraordinary.

What we as adults focus on and how we behave, shows where our priorities are. If our priorities are our kids, that’s what we should be focused on. We should make sure we are doing everything we can to get them the best education possible versus diverting our energies to adult issues. And the more you divert, the more issues will come your way. It is self-fulfilling. People will know that’s how you operate.

So our challenge, at least what we try to do with staff and everyone, including the classroom teacher, is to shield them as much as possible so they can get their work done.

What do you think?


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