In recent years, the education landscape seems to change daily in the hands of all State legislatures. In this environment, teachers and administrators need to keep up to date with proposed changes in their states. In most cases, these proposals will using come to fruition with out a lot of changes. This is where the teachers need to adopt the unofficial Marine Corps slogan “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” Many of the teacher/disruptors already follow this mantra without knowing it. This is probably what makes them disruptors. Oxford Community Schools (oxfordschools.org) and their Superintendent Dr. William Skilling are great examples of disruptors in the education process in the State of Michigan.
Dr. Skilling was my former principal at my current school. He is a visionary that is not afraid to change the way things are done in education. He did it while at my school, and now he is doing for an entire district. Just like many disruptors he sometimes stands alone- but not for long. In his current district, Oxford Community Schools (OSC), he has changed the culture even as Michigan’s Governor and legislature seemed to change the rules daily. At every step of the way Dr. Skilling and OCS were prepared for the changes and leveraged them for the benefit of their students.
OCS is on it way to being K-12 International Baccalaureate Certified district. They have created their own K-12 virtual school that serves a 5 county areas, have opened an OCS school in China, have created the 5th Core (fluency-based where all students are required to take either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish for 11 years), have weekly 2-hour late start for teacher collaboration, eliminated pay to play, offer free admission to all events for students, required 6 – 8th grade per-engineering program, 9 – 12 engineering program in partnership with two university, 9 -12 bio-medical program, opening Oxford Arts Conservatory the fall of 2013, opening a new k-12 school in Chongqing, China the fall of 2013, exporting American education virtually to China, have an international residency program for Chinese students, launched a K – 12 engineering program in 2008, have an Early High School program for 6 – 8 students, and have an Early College program on Oxford’s campus with more to come. Dr. Skilling and Oxford Community Schools are disrupting education in Michigan.
While at Byron Center High School Dr. Skilling disrupted the education process, along teachers, students and parents. In doing so, he made one of the top schools in Michigan. During his tenure we were leaders in Educational Technology and were a State and National Blue Ribbon School. He created the concept of the 3 A’s (Arts, Academics, and Athletics) and designed our building to fit that concept that became reality.
Dr. Skilling has been an example of the Improvise, Adapt and Overcome philosophy. He doesn’t look at what will it cost the school or district, but what value will he get out of the initiatives or changes. Like Steve Jobs did, Dr. Skilling surrounds himself with A people. He gives his staff the vision then the autonomy and resources the fulfill that vision. However as stated in my last post (Disruptors: Get Comfortable Being the Lone Wolf) it means that a times he stands alone as the lone wolf and his work is not appreciated by schools and districts in his region or statewide. However, in time, those around him start to slowly transform. He also re-inspires those of us that used to work for him to start change in our own district. Finally, in the worst economy in our lifetime, every program was created and implemented in the last five years (contrasting to what other school districts did- which was to eliminate programs and reduce opportunities). Net result: they are the fastest growing district in Michigan with over 1,500 additional students and highest fund balance in their history. Dr William Skilling and Oxford Community Schools are shining examples of a disruptive school district with disruptive leadership.