New Monroe Schools Superintendent Shawn Woodward all ears on how to support students
MONROE — Like any new student, Shawn Woodward is spending the first month of school sizing up his surroundings.
The nascent district superintendent is in the home stretch of a 100-day listening tour that will help form a five-year strategic plan for the 10 Monroe schools he now leads.
Woodward has met with staff, students, parents, support workers – just about anyone with insight into public education.
“It’s been very eye-opening,” he said. “People will get behind a school district if you’re willing to engage on a deep level with folks, if you build a plan that they feel like they’re a part of.”
Woodward aims to have the five-year strategic plan drafted by March and implemented as soon as it meets school board approval.
He said it will be aligned with the input he’s receiving.
“There will be things in there people will be excited about,” he said. “Part of it is aspirational. There will be a little bit of a ‘can we do this?’ aspect to it.”
Woodward forged his philosophy during his childhood as son of a Naval shipyard supervisor.
Two older brothers began careers in the shipyard after high school. His father told Woodward he had better do well in school because Dad would never hire him to work in his shipyard.
This sparked a realization students need a variety of options for tertiary education.
“There’s such a huge focus on going to college,” Woodward said. “We haven’t done a good job in public education about building out other pathways for students, and developing a sense of pride for kids choosing those paths.”
For example, he cited a Midwest school district that celebrates a “national signing day” for high school seniors who earn trade jobs or apprenticeships, modeled after athletes announcing college scholarships.
Five former Monroe High School students began jobs with Boeing this fall, Woodward said, and they should feel no less honored than students headed to college.
Woodward has gone on record in support of special education, a philosophy also shaped by his childhood experiences.
The 54-year-old recalls being seat-belted into his third-grade chair due to trouble sitting still and chatting too much.
As a young teacher he allowed his students to stand, taping a boundary area around their desks.
“They had the wiggles,” Woodward said. “Some kids learn differently. They require different kinds of support.”
In his time at the Pend Orielle School District, Woodward oversaw the introduction of an experiential learning program in one elementary.
The school used a non-traditional curriculum in which students learned at their own rate. It was a rousing success that generated a long wait list.
“Boy oh boy did that motivate me,” Woodward said. “We tend to over-quantify kids too much. We put a label on them when they just need something different.”
Woodward is driven by the belief that public education “can be” a great equalizer but said the district must be intentional in creating alternative pathways to meet that vision.
“We have to build a system that supports each and every student. Then and only then can education be the great equalizer,” he said.
In Monroe, constructing this is well underway.
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