I always feel a little out of place when I visit the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Maybe it’s because it’s considered one of the “public Ivy Leagues,” or maybe it’s because I fear there is video of me riding my mountain bike down the north steps of the rotunda. Either way, it’s a long way from the trailer parks I grew up in, and a long way from Lawton.
For most of the last five years, LPS has enjoyed a unique partnership with the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Darden school of Business. Yes, the same University designed by Thomas Jefferson and the same Darden School of Business that produces CFO’s, CEO’s, and other leaders for Fortune 500 companies. Publications like The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Princeton Review consistently rank Darden’s MBA program in the top ten programs. Faculty members are world-wide leaders in their fields. Virtually every trainer hails directly from the same faculty that has trained current leaders for U.S. and multinational corporations. It is a school-business partnership, but they do not teach us curriculum or classroom management.
We train as would any student in their Executive MBA program, by examining the triumphs and tragedies of companies like Xerox, Apple, and Southwest Airlines. We dissect Harvard Business Review case studies about the great business minds of the last century. We participate in simulations to apply the research regarding change processes in organizations. They train us in Root-Cause Analysis, Behavioral Event Interviews, and team dynamics. They challenge cherished and deep-rooted assumptions about our field, our practice, and our purpose as leaders. And once they have awoken our inner entrepreneurs, they train us in the practical processes and practices to ensure success with fidelity across our organizations.
This is not a curriculum; we do not discuss math books or legislation. They train us how to effectively support our students within our current accountability systems, which unfortunately, includes standardized testing. None of us like the state and federal obsession with filling in bubbles, but if we do not support our students as they face standardized tests, we fail them. Test prep is only a small part of UVA training, however. They mostly train administrators and teachers in effective collaborative structures. Discourse centers on applying an entrepreneurial mindset to our teaching practice. And for the purists among us, educational practice is overseen by another internationally respected institution: The UVA Curry School of Education.
To date, most of our elementary schools and middle schools have successfully participated in the UVA training. Our next step will hopefully be to focus on the high schools as a cohort – the first of its kind for UVA, Darden, and Curry. If approved by the Board of Education, LPS will be working alongside the University of Virginia in a new initiative focused solely on large high schools. Thankfully, Lawton High blazed the trail as one of the largest high schools in the nation to complete UVA, enabling the first-ever cohort of three major high schools from one district. UVA, Darden and the Curry School of Education have been planning two years for this, totally redesigning their approach to fit EHS, MHS, and LHS in a way that allows them to retain their unique identities while still adopting the practices that have so dramatically impacted schools across our nation.
LPS and UVA form an unexpected partnership, but the impact on student achievement and culture have been undeniable. Thomas Jefferson believed that ignorance was the enemy of freedom, and that the common person should have access to the highest levels of learning. Consequently, The University of Virginia has since formed the blueprint for modern universities, but I doubt our third President ever envisioned such a program. Nonetheless, I suspect that such a partnership would make Thomas Jefferson very proud.