If There Are Destination Restaurants, Why Aren’t There Destination Districts?

The country is filled with destination restaurants: really interesting food venues that are off the beaten path.  We hear about them from friends, occasional snippets in airline magazines, and Yelp-like websites. For instance, I often find myself on a two or two-and-a-half-hour drive in the opposite direction of the San Francisco food scene. For me, that means Hanford, Calif., where the Imperial Dynasty held court for years.  “Perhaps some of the best Chinese Food anywhere in the country” was how it had been described.  And if you love Basque food and you live in California, you have made the journey to Los Banos or Bakersfield for the pure delight of the family atmosphere and second-to-none dinner offerings.

So, if we have destination restaurants, what about destination school districts—those unique, off the beaten path organizations that are “hidden gems” when it comes to student performance, next-generation delivery and passionate implementation of things that, today, are considered “around the corner.”  I know how popular Orlando is.  My friends who have young children talk about their annual pilgrimage to Disney World, Epcot and the like.  When I mention Lake County School District, some 30 minutes outside Disney World, they scratch their heads.  Personally, I would rather visit with Susan Moxley, the Lake County superintendent, and her team, than take the obligatory trip to Space Mountain.  The Lake County team is doing cutting-edge work in professional development, smart spending and personalized learning, yet they currently sit as unknown as John Malkovich and Denzel Washington were early in their careers.  So the next time you’re planning a family vacation in the Orlando area, drop Susan a line and see if she’ll spend time with you, because Lake County is education’s “Tomorrowland,” and just as good a ride as anything Disneyworld has to offer.

And as long as we’re talking destination districts, think about the Lindsay Unified School District, which sits near the entrance to Sequoia National Park in California. Tom Rooney and his team are transforming a very traditional school district into one that foreshadows what is likely to be commonplace in 2025. There are no teachers in Lindsay. The proud staff members changed their names to “learning facilitators.”  There is no extra credit available, and youngsters and staff are focused on a “completion by mastery” program wherein every student has a personalized plan and the exemplars for excellence are clear and available 24/7. Youngsters progress at their own pace. So you’ll find individuals who accelerate the completion of an English course, for example, so they can extend the much-needed time they need to master algebra 2.  I’ve made the three-hour journey down Highway 99, the 400-mile ribbon that runs from the Oregon border down to San Diego.  It’s not the most scenic spot, but if you end up in Lindsay, you can be sure that a time machine was as responsible for what you see as the four-door family vehicle that got you there.