It was just over a year ago that Don Pemberton, the Lastinger Center for Learning founding director, retired and long-time center staffer, Phil Poekert, took the reins. In that short time, Poekert has conducted a listening tour, lead strategic planning and hosted an international conference. It’s been a whirlwind year with no slowdown in sight.
Leading Through Transition
Poekert has been with the center since 2013, first as partnership manager and then assistant director.
“Phil has a dedication and a passion in helping students who need the greatest support to be successful,” Don Pemberton, said before his retirement. “That is a character trait he has always had at the Lastinger Center.”
This attribute stayed with Poekert as he assumed the role of director.
Setting the Course
As a first step in advancing the center’s work toward helping students, Poekert launched a six-week listening tour across the state, ultimately making visits to 20 of Florida’s 67 districts. Along with introducing the center’s new director, the intent was to “do a pulse check on the educational successes and challenges from cradle to career.”
While several recurring themes emerged from the listening tour’s conversations, the overarching messages from participants were that “our education system has experienced significant progress forward” and “there are numerous opportunities within the state” for the equitable education of all students.
Using the qualitative data of the listening tour, along with extensive data (quantitative and qualitative) form the center’s then 17-year history, Poekert and the center’s leadership team developed the 2019-2021 Strategic Plan.
Guiding the center’s efforts for the next three years would be four high-impact goals:
- Integration and expansion of Early Learning FLorida into state’s quality improvement efforts
- Development of a statewide system to improve PK-12 literacy in Florida
- Expansion of Algebra Nation
- Research and development of new educational innovations
These ambitious goals are accompanied by eight strategies and annual milestones for each, and a modified Balanced Scorecard for overall evaluation of success. As the close of year one approaches, the center is on track with a number of the annual milestones, including co-hosting the Leadership for Professional Learning Symposium (#LFPLSymposium) in Cambridge, England.
#LFPLSymposium is a biannual international gathering of educational leaders to “serve as a catalyst in the creation of new ideas and lead to academic and practice outputs through the contributions of participating colleagues.”
The two-day symposium, held June 17-18, focused on “leading and enabling sustainable professional learning cultures” and welcomed leaders from five different continents and included PreK-12 educators, school and system leaders, academics and political thought leaders.
“The role of leadership is to disseminate ideas and cultivate skills,” said Poekert, presenting on day two of the symposium.
Attendees lived this statement in sessions structured to bring great minds together in open dialogue over topics such as professional learning/leadership, student leadership, shared accountability and emerging learning environments. Hands-on activities allowed participants to look at shared challenges through lenses and from angles that, perhaps, they might not have before.
As Macy Geiger, 6th and 7th grade Learning Community Leader at P.K. Yonge, tweeted, “What an amazing collaboration of educators brainstorming solutions to challenges in education!”
Many, like Geiger, left the symposium, vowing to continue the conversations with their newly formed connections and sharing sentiments of renewal and rejuvenation via social media, and the co-sponsor of the symposium, the Professional Development in Education academic journal will be publishing a special issue based on manuscripts that emanated from the sessions.