Mid-term Update: Change Must Happen

As mid-term exams and papers approach, I have a version of the following discussion with some students in my classes:

Student: What’s my grade right now?

Me: You’re not passing right now. You need to do something different than you’ve been doing.

Student: Like turning in my homework?

Me: Yes. And?

Student: Coming to class every day?

Me: Yes. And?

Student: Um . . . ?

Me: Get help. Come see me. Form a study group. Use all the resources you have. Most importantly, do something, almost anything different. Because what you’ve been doing isn’t working out as well as it needs to.

So here’s a little summary of recent events at CCSF and a little reflection on what I think should happen next:

  • On Tuesday night, CCSF’s Board of Trustees appointed a new interim Chancellor for the college: current CCSF interim Vice Chancellor of Student Services, Thelma Scott-Skillman. Before coming to CCSF, she was a counselor and teacher, the founding president of Folsom Lake College and served in the office of the California Community College Chancellor, among other thing (click here to see a bio). My impressions of Scott-Skillman are that she is thoughtful, intelligent, and experienced. She also impressed me by listening carefully to students. A college leader that truly listens to students is rare and she seemed truly to do that. Scott-Skillman will start her new job on November 1.
  • In the next couple weeks, maybe as soon as later today, we will have a Special Trustee at the college. Rumors about who it might be  (including current Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher) have gone around — but who it actually will be remains to be seen. With broad authority, the Special Trustee will have tremendous impact on the future of the college.
  • CCSF’s first report to the ACCJC, due by October 15, is almost complete. It represents many hours of work by administrators, faculty, classified staff, and (a few) students. Whether it will satisfy the accreditors is not clear.
  • Not that much has changed so far at City College of San Francisco. We have changed our mission statement and we have talked a lot about structural and administrative changes — and, despite watching very closely, I can see little substantive change so far. Perhaps it’s too much to expect that the changes we have to make to remain accredited would be obvious already. But the timeline is short. I think the real changes have to start happening this month.

The structural and cultural changes the college needs to make are daunting. We need to become more flexible and nimble. We need to change the way we do business to meet our students where they are and prepare them more effectively for the rest of their lives as citizens in our society. We also have to live within our budgets and still provide superb education.

A recent EdSurge opinion piece discusses Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, and his attitude about experimentation and doing “more with less.” The editorial concludes,

Every school and classroom must deal with different resource constraints and in many cases have reason to cry foul. But without a renewed sense of accountability and an adjustment  . . . towards an attitude of experimentation on students’ academic needs, we shouldn’t be surprised when seeing the same results.

At City College, we have to be willing to adjust to the changing world around us. We have to be willing to experiment with how best to teach and prepare our students. Experimenting means we’ll both fail and succeed. But if we don’t experiment, risking some failures, we’ll never find the success that our students and our community deserves.

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