Join Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy for an in-depth discussion in this video Bill Cirone: Santa Barbara superintendent of schools, part of Project-Based Learning: STEM to STEAM.
Okay, I'm Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools. And our role is to support school districts throughout Santa Barbara County. We also oversee the ROP program. And are a partner with the Santa Barbara school district and with the engineering academy, as well as with the community at large. I became involved early on actually, when Amir approached made about the concept. And the, asked the for support and ideas and spent a good deal of time brainstorming with him.
And initially, you know, you don't get ideas like this very often, where people really want to be out of the box creative, and it really takes a special kind of person. You need to have the vision and the ideas. You need to be tenacious. You need to be willing to face challenges and obstacles and road blocks. That probably shouldn't be there, but it's just part of life, and and also in education. Slow comes change, change comes slowly.
So you know, we talked about all of those things and Amir got started in a very, as most good projects do. You know the Academy is well recognized and large now. But in the early days it was very small, a couple of classrooms on the main campus, with many obstacles along the way. But it's what I always call when, kept encouraging Amir with the scoreboard theory. Start small, get a couple of scores on the scoreboard, and build your support from there.
And that's what happened, but I, I don't want to in talking about the great things that happened. I think it's also important to talk about the obstacles and the roadblocks you know, you have issues like making sure that the curriculum is aligned to state standards. You have facility issues. You have equipment issues. You have financial issues. And then you just have general skepticism among people who are used to doing things in a more traditional way.
So you know, you need to not only address all of those things, but at the same time, keep up your spirit. And again it takes a very special type person who brings passion, skill. Understanding, love of learning, love of kids. But when you listen to the kids and you see the result, you can see it's really worth the journey. The, problem, initially was just, getting people to buy in and get approval, and also to get the university system to buy in as well. But clearly the the results speak for themselves.
The students in, in every way have demonstrated mastery of state standards and exceed in terms of academic achievement and in terms of college entrance. The students and and you know, their peer group in the more traditional format. So there's no question that state standards are being met, and exceeded. In fact, what you're really seeing is a very high level of of college level work.
Which University folks that have come here see and acknowledge and are impressed with. And I think so much of it comes out of again the combination of the love of learning and the engineering approach that Amir takes, in the concept of a hands on learning and a project based learning. Kids are learning by doing, they're following their passion, they're loving it. They, they're solving real life problems. They're working with community members.
It has all of the elements that makes learning come ex, come alive. And when you hear the students talk the love of learning has been transferred from a teacher to student. And you could see their passion for not just the projects they are working on, but the learning process themselves and how motivated they are. And I might add one other point that to me is very important. You know, for so many years high achievement it was, it was very hard for students to move toward high achievement because of peer pressure.
Because being smart in effect was considered being nerdy and a lot of smart students didn't want to rise to that standard. Well clearly here at the Engineering Academy, as hard as it is to believe, it's been a culture change because it's now cool to be smart. And they even have t-shirts to that effect. But you could see the ripple effect that the students at the Engineering Academy are as esteemed both on campus and in the community, as the athletes.
And that's really saying a lot. Project-based learning to me has always been going back to when I began teaching myself, almost 50 years ago I hate to admit. Has always been the best approach in terms of what's happening here in Santa Barbara County, there is indeed a ripple effect. The others come and see both from within the district, and outside the district. What's happening and the model, here in the district and in the Santa Barbara District, you have a number of academies.
The Health Academy, the Entrepreneurial Academy, the Green Academy. Several academies that are taking the same type of hands-on and project-based learning approach in their particular areas. You have it in other districts. In San Ynez Valley, San Ynez High School has what's called the East Program. Which uses high level technology to work with the community on solving community based projects.
And when I visit there I see the same love of learning, the same engagement. I talk to students who feel that they're suddenly valued in the community, they see their own value as individuals in terms of being part of a community and solving problems. And the the, so the bottom line is to answer the question, yes there's a huge ripple effect. And you're seeing a spread of the concept of the Engineering's Academy approach to project-based hands-on learning by doing.
The funding challenges were huge, because the program started at a time when education was facing one of the largest fiscal crisis' in the state's history. And school districts were being cut back, on a number of existing programs. Sports programs extra curricular activities. So finding funding for new programs was very difficult aspect. Fortunately, our ROP program was able to help, in the sense of paying teacher salary.
And we also provide support, for a funding for a lot of the equipment. But bigger than that, was the expansion of the program. And this comes back to the theory of starting small and getting something up on the scoreboard. Because when community members started to come and visit and see the level of learning. remember, education has been under pretty heavy attack in the sense of students not achieving. So when people come in and see students achieving at this level and more so, really loving learning.
And engineers would come in and would be amazed to see the level of of achievement and involvement, and how knowledge in many cases, would even match their own. It really engaged the community in a way that they provided funding support. That started small, but certainly Virgil Wielding, the physicist, who has that background saw, and came, and believed, and funded in a major way.
As did many other community members and individuals as well as foundations and corporations. So, the partnership with the community, was really the coming out of success, really grew out of success. Not out of the concept of what I want to do. But out of what I am doing in one or two classrooms initially, and what we could do if we, if we grow the program. And that's another great model because it shows that the, communities do care about their schools.
They understand that education is important. And if you can demonstrate success and if you can demonstrate innovation, and if you think out of the box. And, most important, if your students are passionate, engaged, and achieving the support follows. well, in all of the ways that I mentioned. Certainly, to me, the biggest thing is the love of learning that I see, and, when I visit and also when I talk with the students.
I mean, they're so engaged, they're so articulate, they're so passionate. This is really what learning and education in school, is about and should be about. Secondly, I mean the a big goal of Amir's has always been to, to get more young women into engineering. Traditionally most of the engineering classes and the higher level math classes and science classes have been dominated by males.
And he's been able to make that happen. To me that's a very big achievement and success and a big measuring stick. And then, of course, there are the traditional measuring sticks. You look at traditional measurement sticks in education which are test scores was, and our college admissions. And in all of those areas, the the Academy comes fairs very well. Yes and there have been tours and visits and Amir's been very generous with his time in taking, making presentations to groups.
And, and there is a lot of interest, and just as important. There's also a let me just start that again. Just as important there's also the many of the teachers like Amir, who are involved in project based learning, are getting together and sharing their ideas and sharing their experiences. And I think the critical mass really becomes important for other districts to see that this isn't just one teacher or one individual as a, superstar and a, local community hero, which he is.
But also the fact that it's replicable, others can do it. You look at the Health Academy, you look at the Green Academy, you look at the East Program, you look at some of the Ag programs up in the Santa Maria area. All taking the same approach, all having similar success, in their area. So, yes it is replicable, and again to me, it's really what good teaching and good education is all about. Well, to me the, first of all I, the, the big piece for me is Amir, as a true community hero.
And I, I have my own TV show, I've had him on and with Cox Communications we've you know featured him as just that. As a community hero, because here's a person. Who again demonstrates, in this case in education, but it could be in any walk of life. If you have a passion, if you truly believe, if you have, if, if it's a principled issue and you stick with it you could overcome all types of obstacles and make it happen.
And for me it's great because Amir made it happen for kids. And the proof is in the pudding. Secondly so many of the students themselves that I've talked to, who had a doubts in themselves and their ability. And who have really come out and flourished. Those are the stories, those are the students that really excite me. Because it's great when you see, and I attribute it to the hands on approach and the caring and the passion of the faculty.
And the fact that they're involved and they're engaged and they're suddenly discovering, yes I can. So while most people talk about the robotics, which is exciting and I get equally as excited as anyone else about the many, many achievements in the area of robotics. Robotics is just one piece. And then all of the other teachers, the art teacher, the, the, the way the whole program crosses across the curriculum, it's inter-curriculum. The way it integrates arts and language and all of the other subject areas.
It really is a, a mosaic, a portrait, that's a beautiful work of art, and it's been wonderful to watch the, process of the portrait, being painted Oh, yes, absolutely and that was one of the very big early challenges that I know Amir faced. And it's unfortunate but, again as I said earlier change is slow in education.
And the proving, demonstrating that the curriculum and the hands on project based learning matches up to state standards is not easy because people are coming at it. From a cynical perspective initially. And clearly, I mean, the emphasis on testing often challenges people who are interested in project based learning in a way that it's if, if the, the, the thinking was.
In the past, and we're changing that now with the Common Core. But the thinking was, well the best way to get high achievement on a test is to teach the curriculum of the test. And do more rote standardized, and for students, boring type textbook learning. And but it's hard for someone who's thinking outside the box to overcome that in the early in the early stages. So getting away from the emphasis on testing and I would say that I mean in many ways Amir and his colleague who, who took this approach.
Prove to be pied pipers, because the reality is now the state, and not just California, but 44 states through the Common Core, have adopted a curriculum that, whose approaches on analytical problem solving, emphasis on thinking skills, and hands on learning. The work being done here and being done at the other academy programs as well is really what revitalizes me. In the sense of seeing the audit of possible and seeing that even in the most difficult of times.
With the most challenging financial circumstances. Where the attitude is the same, no to everything and just survive. A person with a good idea, with a burning spirit, with a tenaciousness, coupled, of course, with a high level of skill can virtually make anything happen. And isn't that really the American dream?
When you're done watching the documentary, make sure to check out the bonus conversations in the Interviews chapter.