AASA’s National Conference on Education officially kicks off this week and I am pleased to report that the 2018 edition will be our largest convening in more than 10 years. This tells me that more and more superintendents and other public school administrators across the country are eager to learn from one another, trade strategies, and discuss what is working on behalf of the more than 50 million students who are attending our public schools.
AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently announced the four finalists for the 2018 Superintendent of the Year, a program graciously sponsored by VALIC and First Student. This is our opportunity to showcase four champions for children and put outstanding school district leaders from communities large and small on the national stage. It marks a time to place the spotlight on the superintendency — a profession I often say is the most difficult job in America, yet the most rewarding.
A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel
Whether you are in Scotland or in the U.S., the educational systems have many similarities. They include regulations, funding, hiring, teacher shortages, and the effects these issues have on teaching, learning, and ultimately student achievement. Traditional teaching and innovation are dispersed throughout Scotland as is the use of technology—quite similar to the diversity in educational approaches in our schools. We visited some very creative and personalized classrooms where students were actively engaged.
We had an opportunity to view private schools that were the very best that money can buy. We also viewed government schools that were not as fortunate. In many cases, however, the schools with limited funding still produced amazing results. We saw, as we see at home, that funding and resources can be critical in leveling the playing field.
A guest post by AASA President Gail PletnickA visit to Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh allowed us to get a close look at education at this private school for students (boys) ages 12-17. The school grounds were beautiful and the building radiated tradition.
The boys were smartly dressed in school uniforms that distinguished their rank or grade level at the school. The library had old stained glass windows and the woodwork was incredible. At the same time, we saw modern physical education facilities including a competition-sized pool.
This mix of very traditional and more current was also reflected in the instruction we saw in classrooms. Our tour guides were two young gentlemen who were in their final year at the school. They wanted to show us everything this private school represented and offered.
A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick
During our visit to the Mary Erskine School, we had an opportunity to speak with students directly. Our tour guides for the visit were two young women in their last year at the school. One of the girls told us she planned to go to the university for civil engineering and the other planned on becoming an attorney.
The students spoke of their love of the “maths” and sciences, as well as language. Although the students did not speak about 21st century skills or the 4 Cs, the projects and work that lined the halls and were on display in classrooms were evidence that creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration were woven into learning at this school. Even in a school that is a more traditional model, going beyond academics and ensuring students obtain the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary in this new era of work and life are being addressed.
A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel
Tours and visits to private independent schools show how enriching an educational experience can be when government restrictions are minimal, with extreme local control and funding is optimal. It is not surprising that these are key components to deliver educational opportunities for all!
We visited the all girls’ Mary Erskine School, one of the three schools of the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools system (ESMS). It is an independent secondary school associated with the boys’ school and the primary center, the equivalent of our preK-6 program. We met with Mrs. Velma Moule, the head of the girls’ school and, as of the next school year, the head of the entire ESMS operation.
A guest post by AASA President Gail PletnickJust as in the U.S., there are both government sponsored and private school options available in Scotland. After visiting government funded schools, we had an invitation to tour some private institutions.
The Mary Erskine School (for girls) and Stewart’s Melville College (for boys) are schools within the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools (ESMS) private system. These schools are single sex from ages 12-18. The schools offer day school, week boarding or full-time boarding. Tuition for the day school is approximately $14,000 and full-time tuition and boarding fees are approximately $26,000. Other services are available for additional fees, including coach transportation to the school and travel experiences.
A guest post by AASA President Gail PletnickA visit to Dochgarroch Primary School in Inverness, Scotland was a true lesson in personalizing learning. Sandra MacLennan, the head teacher and principal, arranged an extraordinary visit that included a tour of the entire facility and visits to a music class, preschool and regular classroom.
During the music class, we were treated to children performing piano, violin, trumpet and chanter solos. We learned that the chanter was the “training” instrument for bagpipes. That was followed by children sharing traditional Scottish songs and dance. The students were kind enough to give their American visitors a dancing lesson. I am not certain one lesson was enough. In the regular classrooms, we saw children typing in Braille, others on a computer doing a lesson, a story time and a pre-school class having snack.
A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel
Traveling to Scotland has been eye opening. The scenery and castles are beautiful.
Equally impressive is the thriving, government funded, education system where 95 percent of students attend public schools. The country claims to have achievement results that surpass Finland!
In the Highland area, schools are small and offer pre-K to secondary, the equivalent of our high school. Countrywide, class size (student-teacher) ratios are about 15-to-1 in primary and drop to 12-to-1 at the secondary level, the equivalent of our high school.
Scotland has a national system controlled by its Parliament and government oversight, much like we do with standards for the 21st century, with a focus on literacy, numeration, the arts and problem solving.
Scotland’s standards for excellence sound like those we have in the U.S. The list below outlines objectives which are very similar to ours:
- Progression in learning and evaluating achievement, ages 3-18
- Supporting improvement
- Literacy and numeracy including Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN)
- Career long professional learning
- Support for engaging parents and caretakers
- Senior phase pathways
- Employability and skills (DYW)
- Using data to support improvement
- Tackling bureaucracy
- Supporting the new national qualifications
There is a focus on leveling the playing field which the Scots call reducing the attainment gap, similar to our achievement gap.
The sequence of education continues through ages 16 to 18, where the focus is on school to work, entitled a “pathway”. How similar is that to what many of us are working to accomplish in our high schools? They are focused on “meeting the needs of all learners” as we work to meet the needs of “each learner”.
During what the Scots term the senior phase, they focus on service to others, and health and wellness, much like our profile of the graduate. This ensures addressing the knowledge, skills and dispositions that prepare students for the 21st century world of work and life. The Scots have an online tool which benchmarks the outcomes of the students called Benchmarking for Excellence.
We look forward to our school visits in the days to come.
Amy Sichel is the superintendent of the Abington School District in Abington, Pa. She also served as the 2013-14 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
We issue this joint statement in support of public education and our continued commitment to the highest quality public education for all students.
Public education is the foundation of our 21st-century democracy. Our public schools are where our students come to be educated in the fullest sense of that word, including as citizens of this great country. We strive every day to make every public school a place where we prepare the nation’s young people to contribute to our society, economy, and citizenry.
Ninety percent of American children attend public schools. We call on local, state, and federal lawmakers to prioritize support for strengthening our nation’s public schools and empowering local education leaders to implement, manage and lead school districts in partnership with educators, parents, and other local education stakeholders and learning communities, and provide support such as counseling, extra/co-curricular activities, and mental health supports that will help students engage in learning;