by Anne Gibson

It was the Beyond Textbooks Super Conference and there was no comparison to the first conference that was held in a room at the Vail Education Center in 2010. The tenth super conference was held at the Cienega High School Student Union, the 300, 400, and 500 buildings plus the library. The big difference is with this year’s super conference is the presence of 82 organizations from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, and New Mexico bringing 600 plus people with them.

Beyond Textbook Director Justin Chesebrough (left) poses with Beyond Textbooks Executive Director Kevin Carey (right) while taking a brief break from their Super Conference.

Visitors enter Beyond Textbook land by walking down Vail’s version of the red carpet beginning at the gate to Cienega to the student union. The red carpet was lined with high school, middle school and elementary school cheerleaders all cheering words of welcome. Visitors entered the student union to the background music of the Cienega string ensemble.

That was the setting on Saturday, October 1st, as Beyond Textbooks Director Justin Chesebrough took the stage to welcome everyone. He began with a few simple questions to determine who all had come to Vail that day for the conference.  There were the normal questions of how many are here for the first time, returning, etc. But the gasp came from the number of hands that were extended to the question of how many flew in for the event. Chesebrough then introduced the Beyond Textbooks Executive Director Kevin Carney, who as the inspiration speaker he is, spoke to the “Ten Years of Coming Together to Improve Education.” Carney is in his 24th year as an educator and founder of the Vail School District’s Beyond Textbooks program.  Prior to his current role as the Executive Director of Beyond Textbooks, Kevin was a Vail middle school principal for nine years and an elementary school teacher for seven years.

There were eighty breakout sessions on various subjects. Participants could elect to attend four fifty-minute sessions throughout the day. All had an emphasis on improvement. Examples were “Deliberate Writing” by Michelle Sebert a 21-year middle school language arts teacher from the Elgin/Senoita School District. Or, “All Hands on Deck!” by Jennifer White from Payson School District, describing programs they have put in place to take a failing school to an “A” grade school. Asked for comment, Carney referenced Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “One of the best prizes that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing. Whether helping Ash Fork or Benson become the highest rated school districts in Arizona several years ago, or recently watching Ash Creek move from a D rating to an A rating, or the Snowflake School District receive A ratings for all of their schools, it has been an honor to do “work with doing” with so many others.”

Beyond Textbooks is an online resource and collaborative community created by teachers and district leaders in the Vail Unified School District. It serves 113 partners from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, and New Mexico. It reaches 14,000 plus teachers, impacting over 160,000 students. The goal of Beyond Textbooks is to collaborate with schools to improve student achievement through implementation of the Vail School District’s proven teaching and learning framework.

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Anne Gibson