DMPS Prepares for Summit on School Climate & Culture

20160414-ClimateSummit-H-300dpiWhy go to the time and trouble to go to the mountains, Jake Troja wondered, when we can get the mountains to come to us? Good question, it turns out. And they are coming for the inaugural Des Moines Public Schools Summit on School Climate and Culture on August 8 & 9 at the Iowa Events Center.

Photograph of DMPS administrator Jake Troja

Jake Troja, director of school climate transformation at DMPS, is busy preparing for a conference of more than 1,000 people to discuss school climate and culture.

Troja is the DMPS Director of School Climate Transformation and he has been buuusy coordinating what will be an unprecedented meeting of minds in a district bent on becoming the model for urban education in the United States.

Three keynote speakers will highlight an agenda that includes more than 20 from all over the country:

  • Erin Gruwell: Erin Gruwell is a teacher, an education activist, and the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation. Erin and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, Barbara Walters’ The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Erin and the Freedom Writers have earned them dozens of awards including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award, and were the subject of a motion picture starring Hilary Swank.
  • Randall Lindsey: Randall B. Lindsey is emeritus professor at California State University, Los Angeles and has a practice centered on educational consulting and issues related to equity and access.
  • Reuben Jacobson: Reuben Jacobson serves as the Deputy Director for the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington D.C., an alliance of national, state and local school networks.

Most of the approximately 1,200 attendees will be DMPS teachers and administrators. But Troja has lured enough others from 100+ school districts around the state and region to achieve critical financial mass and already begin planning for SSCC II next summer.

“Every school has money in the budget for PD (professional development),” he said. “I figured why go to the added expenses of travel time and dollars to send our people to conferences around the country. Why not host a conference here?”

Troja’s position was made possible by a federal grant DMPS received to transform school learning environments. This conference is his brainchild and he has absorbed a largely self-taught crash course in major event planning. His fingerprints are all over this maiden voyage as he’s handled everything from negotiations with the heavyweight speakers like Gruwell to a parking deal with the Iowa Events Center.

“We reallocated money that would normally pay for about 90 district staff to travel to similar events around the country and used it to provide a topnotch PD event for about 1,000 of our educators,” he explained.

The big event will focus on five major areas:

  1. Best Practices in Improving Student Behavior: This strand will focus on current research and best practices in improving and maintaining positive student behavior
  2. Multi-Tiered System of Supports: Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework used to guide the implementation of an evidence-based model of schooling that uses data based problem-solving to integrate academic and behavioral instruction and intervention.
  3. Cultural Proficiency: Cultural Proficiency is the way a person or organization effectively engages with and plans for issues that arise in diverse environments. It is a paradigm shift from viewing cultural differences as problematic to learning how to interact effectively with other cultures.
  4. Social and Emotional Health: Social and Emotional Health of students is more than simply the absence of illness; it includes the possession of skills necessary to handle life’s challenges.
  5. Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholder engagement is collaboration between families, community and educators that accelerates student learning.

“Des Moines Public Schools is always looking for ways to innovate and ensure that our staff has the best professional development,” Troja said. “There are some quality conferences out there that address school climate, but they aren’t locally focused. Hosting an event like this is a great way to bring in the best of the best nationally and present them to our staff in a cost effective, widespread manner.”

Another highlight of the summit will be a panel discussion on the second day involving the three keynoters and Tim Lewis (Professor of Special Education at the University of Missouri), Joelle Hood (Senior Consultant with Collaborative Learning Solutions) and Brian Mendler (author of the book That One Kid).

Last but not least on the agenda is a tour of Central Campus and Scavo High School, two of the district’s many brag points in the same location.

For educator types around here the state fair is about to become anticlimactic.

For more information, visit the Summit on School Climate and Culture web page.

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