Seattle: Students & Space

In early October, the AASA Digital Consortium once again met for collaboration, inspiration, and readiness for the future of our students. We have been fortunate enough to travel around the country to see just exactly how schools, businesses, and communities are doing to ensure that their learners are ready for the future. We’ve been privileged to see some incredible developments, and, on this trip, we headed to Seattle, Washington.

Seattle is an amazing city with most notoriety going to Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing. That being said, it’s just like any other American city and includes those who are impoverished and are in need. The public schools in the Seattle area are, as well, similar to those of other American cities: transient, poverty, high-minority, low-performing, lack of meaningful resources.

Do me a favor; forget that last sentence, because, while you would expect the same characteristics, there was a very different vibe going on in the Seattle-area Highline Public Schools.

Under the leadership of colleague and friend Dr. Susan Enfield, the Highline Public Schools embrace all socioeconomic levels and deal with all other pitfalls that face schools today. One of the aspects that makes Highline stand out is the business in the area. Boeing is literally in their backyard. The Museum Of Flight is about ten feet away from the edge of the first school we toured, Raisbeck Aviation High School.

Raisbeck started as a magnet-like school with students writings scads of essays and completing a myriad of other components in order to be accepted and attend. Today, it’s lottery-based, and some students even fly in every day to go to school. Let that soak in–kids flying to school. That’s how impressive this school is. While it certainly circulates around the aerospace field, all academics are covered and other offerings are given. Most, however, choose to go into the field of flight.

We started off by finding a spirit squad at the front door that high-fives every student and adult who enters. That little tidbit alone sets this school apart from many others. There are a student body and a staff who want to go to school, not play at doing so.

We then headed to Chinook Middle School located in SeaTac. The school has seen its challenges over the years–safety concerns from students, a high-transient population, and a staff that was not all on the same page, not to mention it’s a middle school, so tack the middle-school problems on as well. (I don’t care where you live, every middle school has middle-school issues). The vibe inside radiated positivity and integrity and fostered a collaborative mindset.

This was beyond clear in the media center, which was in the cocooning phase, morphing into a maker-space with learning materials to support the thought process. It was beyond cool to see how one person (the principal in this case) was working tirelessly with her staff to make the school a place where all wanted to go and was also providing the current resources needed for success. This was further evidenced when I sat in on a 7th-grade ELA class where students were brainstorming and writing their ideas on a Wordle cloud.

Our last school stop was at Midway Elementary School, a beautiful facility laced with natural light, smiling students, and student technology. As we toured the facilities, we heard several languages but saw the universal language of technology integration happening. I was most happy to see both ST Math and myON reading taking place in classrooms. I’m a bit biased towards both programs, as they have been essential in helping students make tangible progress in both math and reading comprehension.

We ended our time in Seattle with a tour of the Boeing factory, where around 520 planes are assembled each month. Each factory is the size of around nine football fields. You, too, can have your own commercial plane at the starting price of about 80 million. (There is a five-year waiting period and you need to put down 1/3 in cash; no credit is taken.)

The sheer magnitude of the entire operation can’t really be put into words. What can be are some of the simple facts:

  • Boeing is expanding rapidly.
  • Boeing is looking to hire 30,000 engineers over the next five years.
  • Boeing is trying to convey to schools in and out of the area that they need workers of all levels of education.
  • Boeing will pay 95% of your schooling.
  • Boeing will commit to you if you commit to them.

After the Boeing tour and their comments about schools today, it was crystal clear to me that many schools are not providing the skills that are needed for today’s workplace and society. Highline is bucking the trend and is doing all that it can to get our students ready. While we all don’t have Boeing in our backyards, we do have other factories, colleges, or farms.

We all should be mindful of whom we are serving and get them ready for today’s challenges, not those from 5 or 50 years ago. It is the Digital Consortium that not only reminds me of this but gives me ideas and opportunities that I can bring back to my own students and staff, and that’s why we are in the jobs we are in–to help all grow, learn, and continue to move…. wait for it…


Blockbuster, Redbox, Netflix, & __________

The AASA Digital Consortium met in the last week of July in Roseland, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). The group consists of superintendents from around the country who are looking to continue to expand on services provided for our students while seeing true innovation and leadership by example. We were in Chicago last year and had our socks knocked off; this year did the same.IMG_0248We jumped right in and began to review the ISTE standards for administrators from 2009.  While we were all impressed that the standards did apply to today’s times, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent from nearby Leyden, IL. Nick and I were talking about the above slide and how, while some things change, there will always be folks looking back to the past and wanting to use what was comfortable to them before. Nick used the great analogy of how we had once had thisdownload-1 and then this download-2

and now many do this,download-3 and in the future we’ll be doing something I can’t list because it’s not in existence yet.

Now, Blockbuster isn’t entirely dead.  There are still stores in Alaska (a great story done by CBS Sunday Morning if you haven’t seen it) and there’s a great video from The Onion as well.


The moral of the story is that we in education need to adapt, just as the rest of the world has. Education is one of the few (if not only) professions where the times have changed, but we are still implementing a system that was designed by a group of rich white guys from the 19th century, placed in facilities that are largely from the 20th century, and occupied with students who are in the 21st century.

Besides this brain-exploding moment I had, other highlights of this gathering included

  • Learning about all of the wonderful happenings in CCSD59 and how the focus in on employees, learners (who attend a year-round program in this school), and shifting from the traditional education system to learner-active classrooms (Pics below are from the year-round school’s media center / makerspace).
  • Exploring how Rolling Meadows High School offers its students design challenges The chair below was made with $20.00 worth of supplies and had to hold up to 40 lbs and how their physical education program will change the rest of the country. I firmly believe this.  Not only did they build an indoor track and gym under their main gym, but they are using technology to track everything from student recovery time to how students are using velocity to lift weights!
  • Speaking with recently graduated seniors from Wheeling High School‘s NANOTECHNOLOGY LAB to see how their studies have changed their lives.  Not kidding! This lab has millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment in it.
  • Examining future possibilities from the CoSN’s learning matrix.

In all, this was a superb gathering that showed everyone in attendance how education continues to evolve for the communities and learners we serve. I can’t wait to see what Seattle brings us in October!



An open letter to President Obama on the importance of MakerSpace education

The following letter was sent to President Obama this week in support of the MakerSpace movement and the importance of kids being kids… and learning.  It was written in conjunction with AASA and the US Department of Education. For those Superintendents that have signed the Future Ready pledge, this is the second most important document to sign following the pledge.

May 30, 2015

The President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC, 20500

Dear President Obama, 

All children are born makers. They look at the world with a sense of wonder. They tinker and discover. They take things apart to question how they work. They build amazing things using any materials within reach. And they solve problems – for someone in their community or halfway around the world. Inherently curious and creative, children are naturally drawn to making as a way to explore the world around them. 

As leaders in education, we are excited about the growing Maker Movement and its potential to transform the way our students learn. An open-ended process of creating, making includes a wide spectrum of activities – from building furniture to growing a community garden, from upcycling to coding, and so much more. Making involves utilizing the design process, learning to use tools and materials, as well as documenting projects and sharing them with others. These experiences challenge young people to combine critical thinking, imagination, and persistence to solve complex problems – with the ultimate goal of students seeing themselves as producers, not just consumers of the world around them.

By focusing on personalized, interdisciplinary learning experiences that are student centered, making can motivate and inspire young people to develop a deep and lifelong engagement in, and love for, learning. We believe this approach not only improves their academic performance, but also prepares students with core skills for careers in any field – particularly in science, technology, engineering, design, advanced manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. While making is not a new concept in education, with a growing community of supportive educators, leaders, and families, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to move this idea forward in classrooms and schools across the country. 

Last year, you hosted the first White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” We couldn’t agree more. We must ensure that all of our children have access to these opportunities. We need an “all hands on deck” effort from school leaders, teachers, parents, skilled volunteers, companies, and more – to broaden participation in making, tinkering and inventing. As school administrators – superintendents, heads of school, district leaders, principals, and others – we want to do our part to make the most of these opportunities. 

As the White House prepares to celebrate a Week of Making this year, we are committed to getting started or to continue our efforts by taking  the following steps: 

• Invest in the creation of and staffing for a dedicated makerspace for use by teachers, students, and the wider community;

• Identify a champion or lead educator at each school who supports all teachers with the integration of making into the curriculum; 

• Offer professional development opportunities and follow-up support for teachers in our schools or districts to integrate making into the current curriculum; 

• Empower students to do capstone maker projects and showcase the process of their work through activities like School Maker Faires and shared portfolios; 

• Develop and implement strategies to engage all learners in making and diversify the pool of future innovators; 

• Develop strategies to allow older students to engage in peer mentoring for younger makers; and

 • Engage our parents and community members to support these efforts and to create a vibrant maker ecosystem. 

Thank you for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to make this initiative a huge success.

Jason M. Eitner


The Lower Alloways Creek School District