Spotlight on California's PLTW Team

With six regional hubs, four affiliate universities, and nearly 700 schools, California is a PLTW state unlike any other. Of those 700 schools, almost half will offer PLTW for the first time this fall; in unprecedented growth, the number of schools has doubled between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. With so many miles to cover, schools to visit, and accomplishments to recognize, State Leader Duane Crum says it’s all possible because of a strong team.

“We have good people in all the right places,” he says. “About ten years ago when Bruce Westermo [affiliate director at San Diego State University] and I started, we managed a few dozen PLTW schools out of San Diego. Now, we completely focus on regionalization. We are not trying to do it out of one place.”

Crum says it was Westermo who devised the plan for regional hubs throughout the state. Now with PLTW regional centers in Sacramento, the Central Valley, San Bernadino, East Bay, Lancaster/Palmdale, and Los Angeles, in addition to where Crum is located in San Diego, the California PLTW network is just that – a strong network.

“The issue we originally had in California is that when Bruce and I would go elsewhere outside of San Diego and talk about PLTW, people didn’t want to listen. We weren’t from their area. Now, we have the regional centers, run by talented people who are established educational leaders in those regions. So now, when they say ‘We’re working with PLTW,’ people listen. It’s all about being part of something bigger and having these relationships with people who all have this great knowledge. That’s what is so effective out here.”

The regional centers have been a catalyst for school growth and student opportunities. Articulation – the term for the process by which a PLTW course counts for post-secondary credit – is extremely tedious in California, Crum says. State education code only recognizes articulation agreements between a specific high school teacher and a specific post-secondary instructor. If a teacher leaves, Crum explains, the agreement is void, and the team must start over. The regional state leaders have been instrumental in connecting PLTW teachers with community colleges that offer engineering programs and completing the articulation agreements.

Despite the state’s regionalized approach, Crum says that there are times when coming together is the best approach. California’s State Conference is one of the largest in the country, and even though it is held each year in Sacramento, it draws teachers from even the southern-most parts of the state.

“We make sure the state meeting is not another counselor conference,” Crum says. “We do 12 counselor conferences throughout the state every year, so we really focus on making the state conference much more than a counselor conference. We bring in the best people we can, and we keep costs down by raising funds from donors and vendors. Every year, we get principals who tell us they should have brought all of their teachers. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.”

The state also comes together for competitions and awards. Each year, Chevron sponsors an Engineering Design Competition, which Crum says gives students the opportunity to visit other parts of the state and talk with other PLTW teachers and students, making them feel part of something bigger. And two years ago, Crum started a California PLTW Teacher of the Year award program, honoring the best teacher in each program throughout the state.

“The teachers are so proud – they know they’re working with the best teachers in the state. When they go back to their school and district with that award, they’re not just a good teacher, they’re an award-winning teacher. The school and district receives publicity, and PLTW gets more visibility.”

But at the heart of everything California’s state leadership team does, whether its members are more regionally focused or united, is what’s in the best interest of students and teachers. And moving forward, Crum says that remains the priority.

“We obviously continue to recruit and support schools and train teachers. But I love doing the things that make our programs sing. I call them the ‘weird projects’ –  afterschool activities, VEX Robotics competitions, the Chevron Design Challenge, Girls Day Out, and awards and recognition. It’s what brings it all together for students and teachers, and that’s important.”