I’m sitting down today with our own LEAN Frog Co-founder and Director of Sales and Marketing, Dr. Sherri Headrick, to talk about the basics of the Alabama and Tennessee’s Best K-12 Practices Contests.
We’ll answer some questions such as – What is it? Who can enter? What makes a good entry?
Josh: Good morning, Sherri!!
Sherri: Good morning, Josh!
Josh: Tell us a little about the contests and why LEAN Frog sponsors this competition.
Sherri: LEAN Frog’s mission is to help public schools maximize the value they deliver to students, parents and communities. Our goal with these contests is to recognize best practices and innovations in public schools that impact student achievement and promote effective and efficient use of public resources. Often you see a lot of headlines about what’s going wrong in public education. We want to shine a bright light on the good work people are doing every day to positively impact students and their communities. That’s the reason we work with school systems. When resources are used effectively and efficiently, it allows students to learn better and have greater opportunities.
Josh: Why do schools enter the competition?
Sherri: I’d love to tell you that that people enter the contest because they recognize the value of having innovative, quantifiable and sustainable processes that lead to student achievement and that they believe a repository of best practices would be a great asset and legacy for their efforts. I think that is part of it. However, I think the main reasons people enter the “Best K-12 Practices” contest is to:
- Win some money
- Gain a little publicity
- Promote an initiative they believe in
- Recognize a group of teachers and/or students that have done something special or unique
I’m fine with that. Whatever motivates people to think about the work they do, document how they do it and continually evaluate how it benefits their students is a good thing in my book.
Josh: What does LEAN Frog look for when judging entries?
Sherri: We evaluate the entries based on three main criteria:
1. Creativity – original programs or initiatives that are not widely used or a unique application of a practice that other school systems are using.
2. Sustainability – a practice with measures in place to ensure the practice continues. We look at whether or not there is a person or a team who “owns” the practice. This ensures that the practice continues to work efficiently and effectively. This tends to be the area where people do not provide as much detail as we would like
3. Impact on students is the final criterion. We look to see how the practice improves students’ environments or wellbeing, how it improves the quality of service provided to students, or how it maximizes resources available to students. Student impact is the whole reason for this contest.
4. This year, we’ve added a small portion (up to five points out of the total possible 35 points) for evaluating the creativity of the media presentation. The presentation can be a video or PowerPoint covering the who, what, how, and why of the best practice (i.e., who started it, what it is, how it is implemented and sustained, why you started it/why it benefits students). Some of the best presentations have strongly featured students in still pictures or videos. Our first Alabama’s Best contest winner featured a video created by a student! While the majority of the points do not come from the media presentation, but from the quality of the best practice, we do encourage school systems to use the presentation to showcase their uniqueness.
Josh: What separates a good entry from a winning entry?
Sherri: When I look back at the Grand Prize winners from 2014 and 2015, I see some “sweat equity,” for lack of a better word, put into the practice. These entries showed that they took some time to assess their current situation, involved their stakeholders in generating improvement ideas, and had a clear vision for sustaining the practices.
For example, Tarrant City Schools reviewed data to determine how many “reduced price” families missed qualifying for “free” meals and by how much. They held a “Kitchen Cook Off” and staff members voted on entrees to improve recipes. They documented increases in breakfast and lunch participation.
Our 2015 winner, Roanoke City Schools, took a standard practice—an Outdoor Classroom—and adapted it to become an agricultural outdoor project-based learning opportunity. The program not only emphasizes cross disciplinary learning, but students also learn about calculating expenses and profit through selling fish from their three fish ponds and fresh eggs from their chicken coop. The school system had the foresight to engage Auburn University’s Fisheries department and the Alabama Forestry Commission to help standardize practices.
Josh: Any final tips you want to give school systems?
Sherri: Remember you have to enter to win. The deadline will be here before you know it. The deadline for “Tennessee’s Best” contest is July 29 and the deadline for the “Alabama’s Best” contest is October 28. Review your accomplishments from the past year (or the previous year) and identify the ones that have repeatable best practices and submit your entry today.
Josh: Thanks so much, Sherri!
Sherri: Thank you for taking the time to ask about this contest and share the answers.