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Preparing our students for a changing world | Commentary
Today’s students live in a world of global communication and trade where information is just a mouse click away. What will the world be like when our current kindergarteners graduate? For young people to be successful, they need to be both visionary and grounded and to possess skills that will enable them to be flexible and dynamic, able to adapt to the changes that will surely come their way. And we, as teachers and administrators, parents and community members, need a vision for the future of our schools that builds on our strengths, reflects the values of our community and sets priorities that will help our young people succeed.
Over the next few months, we will embark on an important exercise to help us develop a seven-year strategic plan that will enable us to achieve that vision. Members of the Vashon School District Board of Directors and I envision an efficient, three-month planning process, informed in part by a community conversation about predictions, possibilities and plans for the future.
I invite islanders to take part in this conversation, to share their diverse experiences, insights, hopes and aspirations. There will be many opportunities for community participation — from public forums and surveys to committees and discussions.
The endeavor will be guided by five questions.
What are the best predictions we can make about the future our children will encounter over the next decade?
As a starting point, we invited islander John McCoy, a former Seattle P-I journalist and university lecturer, to write a brief paper called “Five Future Trends and Their Implications for Education,” which was the foundation for our first community discussion held on Jan. 17. In addition, we are gathering resources such as speakers, videos, articles and web citations to inform our thinking and enlighten our planning; much of this will be available on our website.
What character traits and skills will students need to thrive?
The future we envision informs the nature of the skills and attributes our students must possess for success. The skills they’ll need to thrive must evolve at a rate at least equal to the change they will encounter. But it’s not just skills they’ll need; they’ll also need to possess a mindset open to change and character traits that will enable them to be persistent, flexible and responsive to the challenges that lie ahead.
What educational experiences will students need to develop those capacities?
Certainly we must consider how to develop our teaching practices, programs and content to provide our students the powerful learning opportunities the future demands. An exciting movement is under way to create nationwide common core standards to help our students meet the challenges of a changing world, and it’s important that we consider their application to Vashon students. At the same time, we need to see what’s right here on the island. We have a cadre of talented people and community resources — scholars and writers, business owners and tradespeople, many of whom could provide mentoring and applied learning experiences. Our schools must attract and involve those who have the know-how, interest and experience to help our students grow.
Which current programs and services align with those experiences and what do we need to create?
We must benchmark our current programs and services to determine their efficacy in the changing world. We will invite students, parents and teachers to participate in surveys and interviews that reveal the current effectiveness of our programs and services and suggest future changes. We commit to maintaining the quality of the programs that continue to serve our students well and to do whatever is necessary to help them meet the future.
What conditions must be in place for our faculty and staff to thrive in the future?
I’m proud of our fine faculty and staff. People who choose education as a career do so out of a commitment to safeguard the future of our country and world by helping our students develop the skills they need to become responsible and productive adults. To support the continuing development of our teachers, we must plan and budget for professional development, advocate for reasonable compensation and provide opportunities for recognition of outstanding performance.
Our school district is strong. We’re blessed with an excellent faculty and many signature K-12 programs that demonstrate our quality and creativity. Thanks to our generous community, skilled administrators and a budget-conscious school board, we’re relatively stable financially. We’re poised to open a new high school under new leadership. And we’ve accomplished the goals outlined in the strategic plan adopted in 2007, resulting in a process of continuous curriculum alignment and renewal, stronger professional development and the improvement and development of capital facilities.
These are positive, enabling conditions — a groundwork that we’ve laid for a vibrant future. Now, let’s work together, build on these accomplishments and do what we can to help our students embrace a future full of promise, challenge and opportunity.
— Michael Soltman is the Vashon Island School District superintendent.
The school district invites islanders to participate in this process. Communicate with the planning team by emailing VISDstplanteam@vashonsd.org. Follow the district’s progress and find out about upcoming meetings and events by visiting its website, www.vashonsd.org.