203 Dr. Ben Churchill -- Preparing Kids For Life

Dr. Churchill is a highly respected educator who is proud to serve in his fourth year as Superintendent of Carlsbad Unified School District.

He is passionate about all aspects of teaching and learning, and is especially interested in classroom technology integration, early learning and kindergarten readiness, workforce development, and career pathways for all students. He previously served as an assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, high school principal, associate principal of curriculum and instruction, and a high school English teacher. He began his 24-year career in education teaching English for six years in China. 

Dr. Churchill was recently recognized as the 2019 Innovative Superintendent by the Classroom of the Future Foundation. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for both the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce and the Classroom of the Future Foundation, Dr. Churchill is also currently serving as the Chair of the Board of Governors for the North Coastal Consortium for Special Education. 

Dr. Churchill earned his Educational Doctorate from Argosy University, a master’s degree in school leadership from Northeastern Illinois University, a master’s degree in teaching and learning from DePaul University, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Valparaiso University. Ben, his wife, and their two school-age daughters live in Carlsbad. The family is thrilled to be part of the active community of parents and other committed stakeholders in the district.

Connect with Dr. Churchill on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook - @SuptChurchill


Transcript of the Entire Episode

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Scott Schimmel: Hey, everybody. This is Scott Schimmel, the co host, the host of the YouSchool podcast, and I'm here, I'm really thrilled to be here with Dr. Ben Churchill. He's been really gracious to make time for us in his office. And I've known I've known Ben, since probably the first week that you came here, I met you and a gym at Carlsbad High School, when you were fresh to San Diego. And it was great to welcome you here. And now it's going on to your fourth year. So, Ben, welcome to the show. And thank you for joining, would you just kind of tell us where you are, what you're doing, and what brought you here.

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Dr Churchilll: Cool, thanks, Scott. Life is good. I am here in Carlsbad, as you said, my fourth year as superintendent, Carlsbad Unified School District. And I feel very fortunate we we moved here from the Chicago area. Four summers ago, my wife and my two daughters. And I, we had decided, when I was finished my doctorate degree, we were looking for Superintendent jobs. I've been on the SU a chief academic officer in the Chicago region. And when when we thought about, you know, the the change on our family that that, you know, starting a superintendent job would entail, we thought, let's find somewhere really awesome to do this work. Right. So, so we looked at the map, we circled a couple of places on the map that we thought would be places we'd like to live and raise a family Why? Exactly right. Right. So So coastal San Diego County, was high on the list. I knew the search firm that was conducting the search for the Carlsbad superintendent. And, you know, it all worked out. So I feel very fortunate that we, we worked hard to get here. And that will work in an equally hard to stay here. Because it's an outstanding place to live great place to raise a family. And and and the people I work with are outstanding. So couldn't couldn't be a better situation personally. And professionally. The work is the right work. We have a really positive and supportive community. parents and community members are genuinely supportive of public education and Carlsbad. Yeah. So So we, we get to do a lot of good work, because we get to partner with so many good people who are either behind the scenes working in their school, we work with the business community do a lot of work with, with Connecting Kids, students to the world of work and opportunities there. And when you have this supportive, strong community, you can really do great things.

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Scott Schimmel: Quick question, White Sox or cubs. Haha,

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Dr Churchilll: I'm a Cubs fan. And a lifelong Cubs fan. And this season is just like every cup season since I've been alive, you feel great for a while. And then you get really, really nervous. So we're on the edge of our seat here for the next couple weeks.

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Scott Schimmel: Well, I'm a Dodgers fan. So I understand the past you understand you 30 years.

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What was your What was your doctorate in? I don't know,

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Dr Churchilll: Educational leadership. So I did research around how we use technology in schools, and specifically how we support teachers in learning about how to use technology in schools. So So from a leadership perspective, it's one thing to say we'd like to use devices in our classrooms, right? It's another thing to say how can we most effectively train and support our teachers so that they can most effectively use the tools. So we looked at a lot of larger scale research studies that had been done. The State of Tennessee, about 10 years ago, did a large scale study on the effectiveness of professional development for teachers related to technology and, and in that research, and then in the research I did, it was pretty clear, if you support teachers in an embedded ongoing manner. So over time, you can give them the support, they're going to be much more able to make a difference. And that's not just technology, that's pretty much anything, right. He's one and done, come sit in the gym, listen to me talk for, you know, four hours, and then go back and do your thing. We don't find a lot of effect there. There's a time and a place. Certainly, you know, we did a whole district kickoff three weeks ago, where I got everybody, you know, over 1000 employees, we are in the gym together at Carlsbad High School, we got to talk about vision and and, and our hopes and dreams. Um, so so that was a sitting gap. But but then you hope to support that over time with embedded ongoing conversation about those same things

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Scott Schimmel: with your vision for the district. Is that something that you're reinforcing over the past three yours? Is it? Was there a new direction for where you're headed?

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Dr Churchilll: Yeah, no, it's a great question. I walked into a great situation here at Carlsbad unified schools have been high performing. Students have done well on on traditional measures of student learning and growth. And our community has very high expectations for for students. So So I walked into a situation where we were doing well, parents wanted us to continue doing well. And our board, the board that hired me, essentially said, Good is not good enough, let's figure out a way to take it to the next level. So that's really been my mission now over the last three plus years. How do you take something that's seemingly firing on all cylinders? Right, and and how do you find ways to improve on that? And we talk a lot about innovation in schools and classrooms. Right. And and I'm very careful to remind folks that that innovation for the sake of innovating, right, is is is not the point. Right? Right. Right. Innovation is doing something in a different manner. For better results. Yeah. And keep your eye on that prize. We can do great things. Yeah, I'm not, you know, I'm not an education disruptor or right. Plenty of folks out there who are just running. And they're doing good positive things. I'm sure they are. I don't see the same need here. I see the need to let's find ways to analyze what's working and what's not. And the case that things aren't working. Yeah, if there's a problem to be solved, let's get after it and find new ways to to solve it. But not for the sake of change. Not for the sake right. Banner,

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Scott Schimmel: will I mean, you are a I'd call you like a Twitter star. And you came out guns blazing. Since the beginning. What what are you doing with that? What is your strategy? What's your theory behind that?

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Dr Churchilll: Sure. So so I'm definitely I do try to be intentional. When we when we communicate publicly. One of my I think most important roles as superintendent is to both be a champion for public education, and a cheerleader for the outstanding things that are happening in our schools. We have a story to tell, I think it's a great story. And we have a choice, either. We allow others to tell the story for us. Yeah. Or we take control of the message and we share and we tell the story. And and not always rather be the one telling the story. Right. So if you listen to the news, if you read some things published nationally, you would be under the impression that schools are failing, that kids are doomed to a bleak future totally. And, and and i don't see that I see schools that are doing really well. teachers and administrators that are doing powerful things, kids that are changing the world, in their classrooms, in their backyards. And we'll are doing great things, and we'll go on to do even better things. Yeah. So so it's my role to tell that story. So, so, three years ago, it was the right time for us as a district to say, let's, let's increase our use of Facebook, let's get Twitter, let's get Instagram. Yeah, and and then use our websites, the four primary platforms for telling stories, sharing the good news of what's happening in our classrooms. And, you know, we're we're a small enough district, that that we we don't have a an employee that that does our, you know, our community connections. Right, right. Right. You don't have, right so, um, so you know, why don't you know, I rolled my sleeves and get to work on it. It's been awesome, because we've seen now every school principal, just about every school administrator, establish accounts at this site level, and then you know, professionally for their own leadership, and learning, set up accounts and start pushing good things out. They're teachers, classroom teachers, we have classroom Instagram accounts that are closed just for parents in the class, for example, that's again, and for a student safety and privacy. You know, there there are some that go that route. But but we also I think, can be responsible and have school wide accounts where, where you get to see some phenomenal things without violating student privacy rights. You can't do it. Right. So Oh, be bold, get out there, start taking pictures, start capturing the great stuff that's happening. Yeah. And I think, in my case, I enjoy doing it. So it's a natural thing for me. And then I get to share that with others. And and it's amazing how quickly it's taken off.

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Scott Schimmel: Yeah, there's so much that happens to your point in a school that goes unnoticed. Beautiful Things, consistent things. I know the Ken Ken Blanchard is an author, management leader guy, and one of his phrases is catch people doing things, right. And it seems to me, that's my lens for what you've been doing through social media, catching your teachers, particularly, it's not, it's not just the students. It's also the work and behavior of your teachers, which is beautiful, I got to spend an hour with a teacher in your district today, who's teaching a freshman success class, Mrs. Salvador, and to hear her heart for students and how much she cares about them. And the way she goes about asking about their personal lives, caring about their academic interests, all that stuff, it's like, this is beautiful, and she just goes about her day, every day. That's what she does. But to be able to capture that and highlight that- one, I think would give her the encouragement, I see you, I know you, I noticed what you're doing. It's work that's beautiful. But also to the rest of the you know, it's it's a way of reinforcing some of these core values that you have.

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Unknown: Yeah, yeah, it's, it's true and, and she's a great example, you, somebody, who, you know, relatively new teacher, you know, she graduated from Carlsbad high school, I might, you know, I see her in the end zone, a football game. I've gotten to know her, I think as well through the use of social media, as, as I have in person, a meeting. So so you can use social media to develop and strengthen relationships between, you know, the community and schools, but also between individuals, as superintendent, you know, I would love to say I know all 1000 plus of our employees, right? Well, but but but I don't, but but people like Salvatore, you know, I meet her and make an initial connection. And then by connecting over social media developer relationship, and and you know, it, it only makes our system better. When people feel connected. You talked about highlighting the good things that teachers are doing, that's also intentional on our part, you want to feel valued as part of an organization, right? And what better way to show value of people and for people, and by highlighting them, celebrating them, recognizing them, you know in a public public format,

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Scott Schimmel: I think of Roger, a campus supervisor, Carlsbad High School, one of the most innately talented people I've ever met at connecting with kids and mentoring them without ever being lame, old, you know, kind of a stodgy old guy. He's just, he's this call, I call him a counselor, a chaplain, like, he's all things to all people. And he just deeply loves students, and that what a beautiful thing, it's not even being in the classroom, per se, it's coaches, its staff, it's campus supervisor, it's amazing.

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Dr Churchilll: That that's another message that we really try to highlight over and over again, that it's not just about teachers, you know, it takes every single one of us to raise these really awesome kids, and get them ready to go out into the world. And Roger is another example of a guy who you're right, relationships matter. He's a master at it. He also looks really good and a fedora I know this from social media, because I see him on Fedora Fridays

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Scott Schimmel: Speaking of students and graduating, like what, what matters most to you what, what phrases or values do you beat the drum over, like when students graduate from your schools? What are what are you hoping that they're like and capable of doing?

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Dr Churchilll: Yeah, so so we have a graduate profile that that kind of spells out the attributes and characteristics that we hope every student leaves our school system with. And for me, that really distills the the core characteristics down into something that's pretty easy to understand. We talked about things like effective communicator, and collaborator, right? So kids who communicate well, who collaborate Well, we have the skill set to to be effective, not just individually, but in a group. We talk about things like ethical and responsible citizenship, what does it mean to be both ethical and responsible? Looking at it through the lens of citizenship? How do we interact with our community? How do we make our world a better place, but those are examples of some of the core values that I think we absolutely must expect our students to have? Yeah, things happen in a combination, both at home and in schools. But But as educators, I do believe we can't leave it up to chance, we can't just hope that they're going to be responsible citizens, right, we have to talk explicitly about what it means and how to get there. were designed for it, designed for it exactly right plan for design for and get after it. And, and not high school, we post we have graduate profile posters that are in every classroom. So our kindergarten students getting to see that that you know, lifelong learning is great and critical thinking are are part of our core values. Yeah. Do they understand what that means? Perhaps not. But yeah, but our can our teachers in kindergarten and first grade, second grade, start working elements of those core values and characteristics into what they teach? Absolutely, yeah. And so that's, that's something that, again, I walked into, we arrived in Carlsbad, and the district had already done the hard work of engaging with stakeholders, developing this, this profile of a graduate. And now I get to help make that that happened. But what's really cool is, I walked into a situation where the district values were in alignment with my values. And, and that's how we knew this was the right place for us, right, because the things that I care about, not just doing well on a test, for example, young, but also developing skills to be successful in, in the real world. Those were in alignment. And that's really cool, when you can work in a place that that shares the same set of values and thoughts and ideas that you do

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Scott Schimmel: With you as a father of girls in the district. I think, for me, I, I sometimes switch hats as a as a leader, as a speaker, as a trainer, when I'm speaking to schools and up and I'll actually put on my dad hat for a second, and I'll talk about hey, my, my three kids, and that this whole project of raising them and helping them become the kind of humans we want them to be you teachers, you staff, you coaches, you, supervisors, counselors, you are a huge part of that equation. And, and especially for teenagers, as kids very naturally pull more and more away from their parents, more look to peers and on campus activities, how much more so that you are modeling and demonstrating the kind of life that I hope my kids can look and say, I'd like that I like the way you're doing that, like the way you're living that out. It's it becomes very personal. And I think that that's one of the key reasons why education is such a hot topic. It is so deeply personal. Similarly, I think very similar to church and religion. And faith like people, it's, it's so personal to folks.

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Dr Churchilll: Yeah, no, I couldn't agree more. And, and, and we have such a, a heavy responsibility. When you think about as educators, yeah, whether whether you're a coach, or a campus monitor, or an Office admin or or, or or teacher, whatever your role is, that that responsibility is real. And we need to keep that for in the forefront of your mind. You know, people talk about that this idea of having a North Star, right? What is it that that guides you and drives you? And and if you don't know and understand where where your own values lie, and what's important to you, and, and where you want you to go, and you know, what we want to know be able to do? It's gonna be hard to be as effective as possible.

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Scott Schimmel: Right? Yeah, model it first in your own life. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. So 10 years from now, if you could be really effective, keep making good things. Great. What, what is school look like? Do you think what, what looks different? What's distinctly unique about your future?

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Unknown: You know, rather than initially talking about what looks different in schools, you know, I think I'd like to hit on me, you know, what looks different in terms of some of the outcomes, you know, for me, in 10 years, the outcome would be that every single kid is graduating from from school, with, with the knowledge and skills to be successful in whatever comes next. And I'm not just talking about corals, bad schools, but I'm talking about all school, right? The goal should be that that every kid graduates, and every kid has a plan. And, and the skill set necessary to to execute that plan. You know, we send a lot of kids to college, here in Carlsbad, but 80% of our graduate school go off to trade school to your school or your school after graduation. And we're really successful in keeping those kids in college as well. I think most recently, it's about a 93%. rate of staying and in college Africa. That's huge, right? Yep. But there's still 20% of the kids that graduated from our schools that don't go on to college. Right. Is that? Right? Yeah, right, right. So I'm super proud of those kids who choose to go into military service. That's outstanding, a really good career path for many kids. And I'm super proud of the kids who go directly into the world of work, whether it be you know, an entrepreneurship avenue of their own making, or they go to work for somebody else. That's cool. So So, so by no means do, I think every kid has to go to college. But what we do often see here and in lots of other places, that that that percentage of kids that's not going to college, sometimes doesn't have a plan. Sometimes, you know, can can can be lost. And and so terms of outcomes, you know, I'd love for us to get to a point where no one is lost after high school, writing that, that they know and understand who they are, yeah, they want understand their their value to the world. And they have some sense of both what their passions are, and and what they're good at. So so that's what I hope happens, you know, how do we get there, we continue doing a lot of the good things we're doing now, thinking critically about what it is we do in school and how we do it, how we partner with with folks outside of school, and, and again, what what our core values are, if we can get all of these systems aligned, I really do think it's possible for every single student to walk out of our systems with a plan that they can execute.

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Scott Schimmel: I love it. I love it. Thank you so much for participating in this and for what you're doing. It's it's been a certainly a bright spot for our work in local schools. And I just feel like you guys are friends, family, partners in what we're trying to do with kids. So thanks. Thank you very much, Ben.

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Dr Churchilll: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

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