Say Hello To Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships, Los Altos School District
Alyssa is currently the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships for the Los Altos school district, but joined Los Altos School District in 2006 working first as principal for Santa Rita Elementary School and then as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction. Prior to joining LASD, Alyssa spent the first ten years of her educational career in Southern California, both as a teacher and administrator for San Diego City Unified and Del Mar Union School District. Under Alyssa’s guidance, LASD has become a nationally-recognized leader in educational innovation with the district’s work featured in Forbes, Wired, The Economist magazines and on CNN and the CBS News program 60 Minutes. Alyssa was recently recognized as the “2013 Education Multiplier of the Year.” She is passionate about creating innovative learning environments that meet the needs of all students and is the mother of two rambunctious young boys.
SVT: What has your career path been like that has led and prepared you to where you are now?
AG: I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but I have always seen myself as a learner. I love to learn and have always embraced a growth mindset. I was very fortunate to stumble upon teaching, discovered the power of facilitating learning experiences for others and have never looked back. While I absolutely loved the few years I taught, the realization that I could make a difference for larger numbers of students was appealing and triggered my desire to move into leadership roles. As an educational leader, I have had the opportunity to work in a number of very diverse environments and different public school districts which have rounded out my views of education. It’s no secret that education is facing huge challenges, most of which I believe can be reframed as opportunities to rethink for students. The diversity of prior experiences have prepared me for my current role as Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnership in LASD. In this role, I have the privilege of working to pursue new and effective learning methodologies for implementation in our schools that acknowledge the rapidly changing world in which our students live.
SVT: How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis as you see it in and out of the classroom?
AG: Creativity and innovation skills are critical to future success in life and work and should be an integral part of every child’s daily experience at school. One of the many questions we have been asking in LASD is “How can we encourage innovation and creativity in ourselves and our students?” At a high level, over the last four years we have worked to create a culture of learning in LASD that supports risk-taking and reframes failure as possible “fuel for innovation.” If something doesn’t work, we can learn from it, and then modify and try again. The work we have done with our administrative team and teachers is making an impact for students. Our teachers provide opportunities for students to embrace and nurture creativity through art, music, open ended problems and design challenges embedded in every content area. The conversation is continuing and as an organization we are actively encouraging innovation and creativity by supporting teachers to take risks and try new things.
SVT: What excites and encourages you today where you are, what you are doing and what you are seeing?
AG: What excites me most in my current role is witnessing the transformation of learning experiences fueled by teacher passion. It is exciting to see the difference for students when teachers are both passionate about their work and willing to rethink instructional practices to better meet the needs of today’s learners. I am also incredibly excited about the way we are revolutionizing learning in Los Altos School District. During the last few months, we engaged our community in an extensive need finding project as a part of a design thinking driven strategic planning process. The information we gathered from students, parents, teachers, and administrators is leading us to have conversations about the type of schools we want for our students – places where students can create, experiment, learn at their own pace, have time to explore areas of passion and fail safely as a part of the learning process.
SVT: Where do you think the motivation, enthusiasm and excitement in education come from and do you have a particular success story you might like to share?
AG: I believe passionate teachers are at the core of providing motivation, enthusiasm and excitement in education. Author Robert Fried describes a passionate teachers as, “someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world, drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day — or captivated by all of these” The work of passionate teachers in LASD is incredible. At the start of this school year, with the support of Los Altos Education Foundation we hired a STEM teacher at every elementary school. The role of the STEM teacher is to both support general teachers with the STEM subjects in a co-teaching model and provide students with additional learning opportunities in STEM subjects. The LASD STEM team is one of the most passionate group of teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They embrace moonshot thinking and as a result there are many new opportunities for students including weekly lunch clubs where students design & tinker, STEM expos, robotics building and computational thinking at all grade levels. None of this would be possible without the dedication of passionate teachers.