La Sierra High School

La Sierra High School


To:The La Sierra Staff and CommunityFriday, February 13, 2009

From:Robert Cunard

The Friday Letter

Quotes of the Week

The following proverbs are said to have originated in Kenya. They are brief, but wise.

Seeing is different from being told.

What's too hard for a man must be worth looking into.

There is no cure that does not have its price.

Talking to one another is loving one another.

The Friday Letter

The last of the major cultural shifts a school undergoes in the transition from isolation to true collaboration and professional learning has to do with professional development. I think this last element of the shift is simple, but profoundly different from the old paradigm of our profession. Here’s how DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker summarize this cultural shift:

I have an acquaintance, Dave, who is an educational leader in a nearby district who says, when speaking of his faculty, that “The answers we need are all right here in this room.” If you’re part of the team looking for the answer to a problem, my friend Dave’s admonition can either be viewed as empowering or frustrating. The idea that we already have the expertise we need is very frustrating if we keep on failing to meet our goals; it makes us feel less than adequate.

For a long time our profession has sought magic bullets. In the 1980’s many of us took rigorous training in Madeline Hunter’s Essential elements of Effective Instruction, a program that everyone thought would surely raise student achievement. It was expensive training—and student learning only improved in fits and spurts. (By the way, the Direct Instruction training some received several years ago is Madeline Hunter’s model with slightly different vocabulary, nothing more.) I have known many a veteran (and am one myself) who can reel off the various magic bullets which have swept in and out of our profession. And all the while, student academic achievement has only improved slowly (though it is clearly improving now across the country in the accountability era).

My friend Dave is right: the answers to our problems and challenges really do lie within us. Schools that achieve better results have teachers who identify their problems well, evaluate data, look for solutions, try them out, look at the data, and then keep moving forward. In such schools, when one teacher finds a better way to do something, that technique gets shared and replicated so that all students benefit. In an environment where small teams work on different kinds of problems, the best professional development becomes embedded in the work each week. Instead of subjecting teachers to training, what we should really do is empower them to take charge of learning what they need to know in order to improve student achievement. This model of professional development is also consistent with what we know about adults as learners: adults learn best when they determine what they need to know and are coached, guided, and empowered to learn. Just look at all the people we know who were not great students in high school but who end up thriving as learners in community college or college once they find out what they really want to know. Makes sense, doesn’t it?


Good News: As Richelle Funkhouser already shared, our Academic Decathlon team finished 3rd in Riverside County. Our team earned more medals than ever before. We narrowed the point gap between us and the winning team by 50% in one year.

More Good News: Wednesday afternoon our district administration shared some attendance data with principals, and our hard work is very clearly paying off. No school in the district has improved its ADA more than La Sierra. Compared to last year, our ADA is up by 1.2%. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that absolutely perfect attendance would have been an improvement of 4.9%, you can start to see how substantial the growth is. Also, we are now within one tenth of one percent of having the same ADA as both of our feeder middle schools, and that is something that very rarely happens.

Last Monday while we were not in school, our athletic program went on like always. Our girls water polo team traveled to Beaumont High School for a key game and experienced some remarkable weather. See for yourself:

Yes, they played water polo outdoors while it was snowing!! Talk about women warriors! And best of all, our girls won a tough game.


School is closed Monday as we observe the Presidents Day Holiday. I’ll see you all back here Tuesday morning.