In a recent panel discussion hosted by LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of Learning Counsel, education leaders shared their experiences, challenges, and visions for the future. The esteemed panel included Dr. Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent of Beaverton School District; Dr. Ellen Perconti, Superintendent of Goldendale School District 404; Kimberly Kellison, Superintendent of Winston-Dillard School District #116; and Dr. Sue Rieke-Smith, Superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin School District. This insightful conversation provided a glimpse into the diverse landscapes of their respective districts and shed light on the transformative strategies they are implementing.

To set the stage, each panelist offered a brief overview of their districts. Dr. Balderas highlighted the diversity in Beaverton School District, serving around 38,000 students across 54 campuses, with a strategic focus on dual language programs, CT (Career and Technical) initiatives, and preschool expansion. Dr. Perconti spoke about the rural context of Goldendale School District, home to 870 K-12 students and an additional 2,000 in their online school. She emphasized the importance of knowing students personally and adapting lessons to cater to their unique needs.

Kim Kellison shared insights from Winston-Dillard School District, a small rural district near Roseburg with approximately 1,315 students. Kim's district places a strong emphasis on early literacy, community engagement, and the expansion of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, including a new culinary arts offering. Dr. Rieke-Smith discussed the demographic shifts in Tigard-Tualatin School District, serving around 11,500 students and recently becoming a minority-majority district. She emphasized the importance of knowing students emotionally and socially to create a conducive learning environment.

Dr. Balderas expressed pride in Beaverton's resilience during the pandemic, successfully implementing a strategic plan with a focus on dual language programs, CT initiatives, and preschool expansion. He highlighted the district's outward-facing efforts, aligning systems for a more comprehensive approach to education.

Dr. Perconti commended her staff's resilience in Goldendale, emphasizing a student-centric approach that goes beyond teaching content. Her district faces the ongoing challenge of aligning positive initiatives with state assessments to showcase their achievements.

Kim Kellison shared the strategic priorities of Winston-Dillard, including a strong emphasis on early literacy, community engagement, and expanding CTE offerings. The district's proactive approach to early literacy and science of reading adoption reflects a commitment to foundational skills.

Dr. Rieke-Smith discussed the growth and diversity in Tigard-Tualatin, emphasizing the importance of emotional and social understanding as a foundation for academic success. Her district focuses on creating a regulated and supportive environment, acknowledging the significant shift towards a minority-majority demographic.

LeiLani Cauthen then posed the question of what could be done differently in education. Dr. Rieke-Smith stressed the need for innovation while ensuring that everyone understands and supports the change. Kim Kellison highlighted the importance of building trust with the community and elevating student and teacher voices in the decision-making process. Dr. Perconti emphasized the critical role of trust between superintendents and boards, recognizing that any change must be sustainable.

Dr. Balderas concluded the discussion by acknowledging the need to focus on students and navigate the challenge of adapting to their evolving needs. He emphasized the importance of authentic engagement with diverse families and communities, especially as the student population becomes increasingly multicultural and multilingual.

The panel discussion provided a deep dive into the challenges and triumphs of various school districts, emphasizing the importance of adaptability, innovation, and community engagement. These superintendents are at the forefront of transforming education, embracing bold initiatives, and ensuring that the next generation is prepared for an ever-changing world. As the educational landscape continues to evolve, the insights from these leaders serve as a compass for navigating the future of education. Watch the full panel recording below.