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Member Practices

The 21st Century Collaborative Network in Dysart Unified School District

By Gail Pletnick, Superintendent, Dysart Unified School District

Preparing students for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century is not a simple task. Technology and the flow of information is rapidly transforming how we conduct business in our professional and personal lives. Launching a 21st Century Collaborative Network designed to increase both leadership capacity and collaboration has played a key role in Dysart Unified School District’s journey towards becoming a 21st century school district.

Developing a Profile of a Graduate and Revising the Strategic Plan

A first step was to define the profile of graduates that are prepared to successfully embrace their future in a radically transformed world that seems to be constantly evolving.  We utilized a planning process that included collaboration with with parents, students, business, government, civic and educational leaders.  Through planning processes, district stakeholders explored relevant research and information, had deep thought provoking conversation and developed a Profile of a Dysart Graduate that includes not only academic competencies but life skills that equip students for the ever changing world. The Profile of a Graduate helped drive the revision of the district’s strategic plan, a document that guides the work of the district.  From that planning came a number of transformative initiatives, including how the district supports the adult leaders and learners in the system.

Designing a 21st Century Collaborative Network

Dysart serves over 26,000 Pre-K-12 grade students and employs approximately 3,000 staff.  In a district this size it is critical to build expertise, leadership and support capacity to accomplish common goals.  The Dysart Unified School District brought a team together to examine how to better align instructional support systems to build a 21st century learning environment that not only serves students but staffs as well. The result was the 21st Century Collaborative Network initiative that provides a framework for personalized professional learning for all staff, individualized support to each school and department, and empowered staff and students who are increasingly more competent in utilizing  21st century work skills. This creative solution approaches organizational change with a mindset for transformational education.

The Network was designed to integrate and expand support for collaborative teams already in place, such as campus RtI teams, gifted cluster teachers, and Innovation Ambassadors. The beauty of this framework is that it can provide that network of collaboration for any group or community of learners in the system. So, how does each critical component of the network help the district increase both leadership capacity and collaboration in Dysart?  It truly is by utilizing and integrating resources-both human and material-to create a strong network of mutual support focused on the 4Cs.

21st Century Specialists

In this Network, 21st Century Specialists partner with individual campuses to support the needs each school identifies.  They utilize their expertise to help staff build capacity, support staff in modeling 21st century skills, and to exemplify attributes we want for Dysart graduates.

Peer Mentors

Another key component is the peer mentoring initiative.  The Peer Mentors are certified teachers selected to support teachers new to the district.  These individuals go through an application and interview process at the building level.  They receive intensive training that is ongoing and includes mentoring for effective instruction, relationship development, and peer mentor collaboration and support.  The Peer Mentors are supported through collaboration with 21st Century Specialists and the building administrators.  The goal is to differentiate and personalize the support for each new teacher.


In education, the value of effective professional development cannot be denied.  How that professional development is delivered is a key to its effectiveness.  One of the critical components of the network is YourCaLL, Your Community as Leaders and Learners.  In his book Drive, Daniel Pink speaks of the three things that really motivate people-autonomy, mastery and purpose. In The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education, Kay and Greenhill describe the need to build professional capacity utilizing 21st century skills. Building on this work, Dysart developed YourCaLL. Through the YourCall program staff members apply the skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration to identify and solve challenges faced in the district.  Participating staff members have control over their time, the application of their talent, who they work with and what they work on.  The focus is on self- selection and self-direction in a collaborative work environment.  The self-designed staff projects build capacity and increase intrinsic motivation for professional learning while resulting in a product that can be replicated elsewhere in the district. This unique Dysart Unified School District program raises the integrity and quality of teaching and leadership in the district by empowering staff with meaningful professional development that is personalized, creates a community of 21st Century learners and leaders and supports the vision and goals of the district.  

Technology Specialists

Finally, the Technology Specialists not only support the technology on each campus, but also work to empower all staff to troubleshoot IT issues.  They develop online resources, conduct professional development for specific technology needs, work with the Innovation Ambassadors and help communicate that 21st Century vision of utilizing technology to transform learning.

The 21st Century Collaborative Network has helped Dysart create a network of support that has moved the district from shared helplessness to shared helpfulness.  The 21st Century Collaborative Network: increases the numbers and levels of experts across the district; supports a collaborative work environment; emboldens staff with a sense of self-direction; encourages creativity; inspires people to problem solve; and fosters the utilization of technology to increase efficiencies and effectiveness.  The 21st Century learning environment we want for students is the work environment we must create for our staff.

Planning is the key when driving critical change that requires us to think outside the norm.  Innovating is not speculating or taking a risk, it is planning with a vision for the future.  That is what Dysart Unified School District has done in developing the 21st Century Collaborative Network.