Commitment to student success was strikingly apparent in all board members and senior administrators at the Board of Education retreat on the weekend of Nov. 14-15. Discussions were candid, open and passionate and were focused almost exclusively on how the college can help students succeed.
I wholeheartedly support dedicated focus on student success, along with the proposed shift that emerged in the discussions from teaching being content-centered to learner-centered. It became obvious that this is the clear direction in which the college needs to head, and people were excited about it. I think it happened because they were speaking from the heart.
To really get this going, I suggest that the college pony up and give the students a turn at the wheel. After all, this is about their success, their learning and their lives. Nothing will get the college where it needs to go faster than having them steering the ship.
Throughout the weekend retreat, the message was crystal clear; the central purpose of the Board of Education is to help students succeed in whatever way they need. Even though some students don’t necessarily have clearly defined goals, board members agreed that it doesn’t mean they don’t care deeply about having a better life and gaining the knowledge necessary to achieve that better life.
“We need to get to a place where we have a very high level of confidence, that no matter where a student starts and how they start, that we are touching them in the right way to get them on the right path,” College President Mary Spilde said. “I don’t think that I’ve got that high level of confidence that we’re doing it in an appropriate way for every single student. We’re working on it. We’re trying to figure out how to do it.”
Spilde acknowledged that the college has work to do in making the college’s definition of student success visible, public and known in meaningful ways.
Maurice Hamington, executive dean of Academic Affairs-Transfer, commented on the shift he saw taking place in the discussions towards teaching being learner-centered, rather than content centered. Hamington said that at the macro level, education is headed in this direction and everything, including how faculty are hired and how the college looks at itself, needs to shift to a theme of being learner-centered as part of the college’s strategic planning.
Board Chairman Pat Albright asked how the college can become not just learner-centered, but learner-connected. He added that he was reluctant to put the onus on instructors, while acknowledging that’s where it needs to start. He said that students can be made aware of resources that are available to them, such as the tutoring, counseling, vets and women’s centers.
Kerry Levett, Executive Dean of Student Affairs, said that the centers can only do so much. “It has to be a good experience for all of our students in the classroom first, and the centers support that experience,” Levett said.
Board member Rosie Pryor offered that, unlike today, when she was a student, advisors were faculty. “What if student success, learner-focused success, really was the responsibility of faculty as much as anybody. That may be a burden, but what are they there for if not to help students be successful?” she asked.
“I absolutely agree that would be the best if that teacher has the time to be able to address all of those specific needs,” Albright said. “We are increasing teacher responsibility by putting more students in their classroom.”
He acknowledged that each student added to a class decreases a teacher’s available time to address the needs of an individual student, saying he assumed that they are probably already giving 100 percent.
Albright’s comments lead me to believe that the college has decided to hold firm to the bargaining agreement that allows for larger classes. In the absence of a written response from the administration showing that the teacher’s complaints are unsubstantiated, The Torch accepts them as valid and reason enough to encourage undoing the bargaining agreement that allows increases in class sizes.
The mission of student success isn’t about some students; it’s about all students. What does the college have to say to students who draw the short straw and land in larger classes? What does it have to say to teachers who have to spread themselves thin and short-change students needing additional attention?
Tight finances mean that the college cannot operate optimally. I am not ignoring this reality. I am standing my ground, however, in saying that overburdening teachers is not the way to go.
The lively and deeply focused conversations at the retreat left no question in my mind as to the sincerity of speakers in wanting to help students succeed. The question remains, however, can they deliver in helping them all? I say let the students find the way.
It appears that Lane is at a significant crossroads, and I believe that something radically different needs to happen – something that allows instructors to teach to the best of their ability and be able to give students individual attention when they need it.
I suggest creating a task force comprised primarily of teachers and students to delve into the problem. They are, when all is said and done, who this is all about. Give them full access to all the data, including every aspect of the college finances. Let them interview deans, teachers, students, administrators, the chairman of the Board of Education and anyone else they see fit.
Their mission would be to come up with a clearly defined action plan for addressing the college’s financial problems, taking into consideration the entire college and its future. Such a project fits with a shift towards the learner-centered model. Comparing their proposal with what the college has chosen to do would be more than interesting – it could produce a viable and different way forward for the college.