Dec. 11, 2009
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Lab focus of school district's world 'class' vision

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The San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) wants to create a world-class learning environment for its students.

To accomplish this, district administrators are exploring partnership opportunities with the Lab. The SRVUSD is using funding from the Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, (LLNS) Community Gift program to open a dialogue with the Laboratory to pursue a collaborative partnership.

To this end, the Lab’s Science Education Program (SEP) hosted visitors from SRVUSD. Superintendent Steven Enoch and a group of district administrators and science teachers toured the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (CAMS).

Following the tours, the teachers in attendance heard a presentation about energy from Lab systems analyst A. J. Simon, while administrators met with a small group of Lab managers to discuss possible future collaboration between LLNL and SRVUSD.

In July 2008, Enoch became the superintendent of SRVUSD, the highest performing large school district in California. He brings with him some 30 years experience along with a clearly defined vision for moving the district to "world class" status with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). He has outlined his ideas in a paper entitled "The Next Level?," which he shared at the Lab meeting this week.

"It was fun to watch the science teachers on the tours," he said, commenting on their excitement about NIF and LLNL’s technologies. "Our kids need to go on a tour like the one we just went on.

"Teaching has changed," Enoch continued. He explained the need to engage students more and discussed the skills needed for the 21st century – including collaborating thoughtfully and critical questioning.

Stan Hitomi, SRVUSD science administrator and former LLNL employee, said he hopes that the district can "take what is done at the Lab and bring it back to the classroom."

"The Lab is about people. It is listening to scientists speak that energizes us (teachers)," Hitomi said.

Hitomi noted that the San Ramon district is unique in that it incorporates four engineering programs or academies in each of its high schools. He sees great opportunities for science "bridges" between the Lab and the SRVUSD.

Among the possible ideas discussed was a teleconferencing capability whereby Science on Saturday-type presentations could be conducted on the Lab site while video-conferenced live to schools in San Ramon, or beyond. In addition, virtual tours of Laboratory research facilities could be offered to students where a scientist explains how the equipment is used, and students could interact and ask questions. CAMS is the first scheduled pilot project, but other venues have been identified.  

"The SEP leverages Laboratory resources to improve the quality of science teaching," SEP Manager Richard Farnsworth said. "Generally teachers and students come to our programs as individuals. This systemic approach marks a unique opportunity to collaborate with a district to create a new approach to student learning."

— Linda Lucchetti