A Look at Two Prominent Private Schools in Scotland

A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick

[Pictured from left to right: AASA Past President Amy Sichel; AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech; and AASA President Gail Pletnick.]

Just 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.

Continue reading

A Look at Personalized Learning in Scotland

A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick

[Pictured from left to right: AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech; AASA Past President Amy Sichel; Dochgarroch Primary School Head Teacher and Principal Sandra MacLennan; and AASA President Gail Pletnick.]

A 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.

Continue reading

The AASA International Seminar Takes Us to Scotland

A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel

AASA Past President Amy Sichel and AASA 2017-18 President Gail Pletnick.

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.

Statement in Support of Public Eduation

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;

Continue reading

From “Back to School” to “Back to the Future”

A guest post by Ken Kay, CEO, EdLeader21, and Aaron Spence, superintendent, Virginia Beach City Schools, Va.

Aaron Spence [left] and Ken Kay [right].

Okay, we’ll admit it: both of us were already working on our traditional “Back to School” blogs when it dawned on us that we should be doing something differently. Yes, we need to welcome folks back to school after summer vacation. But must we welcome our stakeholders back to “school” as it has always been understood? Could we make “Back to School” an opportunity to help students, teachers, parents and administrators chart a new course for the direction of our schools? Can we help our communities envision the future of our schools even as we head back into them this fall?

Continue reading

A Long, Hot Summer

Some of the images we’re seeing on television and stories we’re reading about in our local newspapers are describing some of the most disappointing and disheartening moments in the history of our country.

What has made it even more alarming? The violence, compounded with the flurry of discussions focusing on bigotry and hate, come at a time when we should be focusing on a more exciting time — the start of a new school year.

Make no mistake that these incidents are on the minds of every superintendent, principal, teacher and any other advocate for public education. Walk into any supermarket, bakery, barbershop, beauty salon or gas station and I would be surprised if people aren’t talking about it. The question remains, as I mentioned in a recent press statement, how do the leaders of the more than 13,000 public school systems pull through?

Once again, let me thank AASA members for the outstanding work they do in preparing our nation’s young people for the unique demands and challenges they will undoubtedly face in their lives beyond high school.

The examples of outstanding work being done by our superintendents are endless, but let me pinpoint just a few. I invite you to take a listen to the latest AASA Radio segment. Matt Utterback, the superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District and the 2017 AASA National Superintendent of the Year®, rightly points out that the academic success of the generations of students of tomorrow, is equally, if not more important to the academic success of students in our schools today.

Earlier this summer, Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District 89, was sworn in as the 2017-18 president of AASA. An outstanding leader in every sense, Gail proudly asserts the importance of redefining, redesigning and reimagining teaching and learning environments in our schools as a way to improve the overall quality of our school systems and communities.

 

Finally, in late July, Illinois superintendents Mike Lubelfeld (Deerfield Public School District 109) and Nick Polyak (Leyden High School District 212) successfully led AASA’s Digital Consortium summer meeting in suburban Chicago, where dozens of administrators engaged in meaningful dialogue about model digital transitions to improve student achievement.

AASA recently launched its I Love Public Education (#LovePublicEducation) campaign, an on-going effort to highlight why public schools are essential to developing the future generations that will maintain our country’s status as a world leader. Shortly following the Labor Day holiday, we will formally introduce another section of our website that provides a collection of resources about equity for school system leaders at all levels to help them and their teams succeed.

Who could’ve imagined the inflammable rhetoric that has taken place in our nation over the past few days? Not many of us could have foreseen the most fundamental fabric of our country — the public schools in our communities — being threatened by the ugliness of the actions that have been carried out by a selected few.

I am unboundedly confident that despite the rhetoric, our nation’s public school system leaders will rise to the occasion. They will speak out about the value of the public schools in their respective communities. They will speak out about the partnership that we, as educators, have with families throughout our urban, suburban and rural communities. This is a partnership to ensure that all children in these communities will receive the quality education that they deserve and that they are entitled to.

 

Daniel A. Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.   

Woodson HS Commencement Address

Dr. Poole, members of the Woodson faculty, parents, relatives, friends, Woodson’s graduating class of 2017, I am honored to have been given the opportunity to be here today to congratulate you on this accomplishment, this very significant milestone in your lives. Obtaining your high school diploma is the beginning of what we hope will be a bright future for you as you move on to colleges and careers. In twenty to thirty years you will be assuming the leadership of our businesses, professions, our politics, our country.

Today many refer to you as Generation Z. You are likely to be the last graduating class of kids born in the 1900’s. You are the post Millenials, born in the age of the internet, in your element when it comes to technology and social media. You actually are now the largest portion of the US population at 26%. You are rightfully concerned with student debt and your ability to afford college. You face a growing income gap in what is a shrinking middle class in America. You have grown up with the reality of global terrorism in the post 911 years. You are about to enter adulthood in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in  modern American history.

But fear not my young friends because as your parents did, and their parents before them, we have in this country the remarkable opportunity to shape our future, and by your remarkable accomplishment today in earning a high school diploma, you are well on your way.

America is the land of opportunity. It is today and it has always been. I came to this country at the age of nine with my parents, as a young immigrant that did not speak a word of English. I was born on my grandfather’s sugar cane plantation in my native Cuba. My early schooling was in a one room school house that was basically a thatched cottage with a dirt floor. I learned to read and write with the children of the “campesinos”, the mostly Haitian and Jamaican workers that came over to cut the sugar cane.

My father traveled to New York to sell our sugar and one year he came back from a trip and informed my mother that we were going to America.

To this day I remember that airplane ride to Newark, New Jersey. It was in the middle of January and I recall the blast of cold air that engulfed the airplane’s cabin as the doors were opened. I did not have a winter coat so my father wrapped me in a blanket from the plane and carried me down the steps. No bridge ways in the airports in those days.

My father took us to an apartment he had rented on the West side of Manhattan and by the time we reached it was late at night. I remember going to sleep immediately and waking up early the next morning. I rushed to the window to view my new neighborhood and was greeted by the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. It had snowed overnight and everything was a winter wonderland. My father took me shopping that day, buying me a coat, gloves and a hat, and a sled. That day he took me sledding in Central Park.

Those happy days came to an abrupt end when I realized that my parents were about to place me in a boarding school in Terrytown, New York, because they both had jobs and there would be no one home to care for me. I left Cuba as a literate fifth grade student, but here in the States, because I did not speak a word of English, I was placed in a second-grade class. My school was on the shores of the Hudson River and in those days the Tappan zee bridge was being built and I spent my days looking out the window at the bridge construction. I had given names to many of the workers I recognized by their clothes, the red flannel shirt guy was Pedro and the one with the blue overalls was Juan.

One day as I looked at the teacher in the front of the classroom writing numbers on the chalkboard it occurred to me that the numbers and configuration looked familiar. It was a simple single digit division problem to which I knew the answer. Automatically my right hand went up and the teacher looked curiously at me and with a smile she said one of the few terms in English that I understood, “you’re excused”. Up until that point the only time I had raised my hand was to be excused to go to the bathroom.

I shook my head, “no,no” and pointed to the problem on the board. The teacher invited me to the front of the room, handed me the chalk, and I immediately solved the problem. In shock and awe, she proceeded to write problems, up to double digits, and I solved them. She looked at me, wide-eyed, as if she had just discovered a prodigy, and marched me to the principal’s office. I was administered additional math tests after which I found myself promoted from the second grade to a fifth-grade class. In the span of a day I went from the oldest kid in the second grade to the youngest in the fifth.

As it turns out, they did not do me much of a favor because my new classmates did not appreciate that a younger, non-English speaking immigrant kid was sharing their classroom. The bullying became intolerable and I eventually begged my parents to take me out of that school and bring me home.

By the time I started a new school year in my neighborhood school I was proficient enough in English that I could participate in class. With supportive parents and good schools, I eventually graduated high school, went to college and became a teacher. I even went to graduate school and obtained a PhD. I have had a wonderful career. Thirteen years ago, if you were in kindergarten here in Fairfax, I was your superintendent. For the past nine years I have been honored to represent all the superintendents in the nation here in Washington DC.

I am the realization of the American dream. I am a proud American by choice. Some of you in the audience may have had experiences similar to mine but all of you have had the opportunity to receive the quality education that has placed you on the road to success and a bright future.

You are products of the digital age and you can look forward to a reality that was unthinkable at the turn of the century. Soon you will have artificially intelligent personal assistants. Siri and Alexa are mere prototypes of assistants that will carry on a conversation with you. They will be your clones representing you on the internet and able to write your emails, texts, make your appointments and basically anticipate your every need.

Computer chips will be embedded everywhere, in your clothes, contact lenses, accessories, monitoring your vital statistics, a la Fitbit, and adjusting the environment that surrounds you to meet your needs.

That will also lead to personalized medicine where medications will always be adjusted to your individual requirements. You are all familiar with 3D printers. It is conceivable that in the not too distant future we will be able to replicate organs when they need to be replaced without having to rely on donors.

You already see the writing on the wall relative to self-driven cars, cars that convert to airplanes, drones delivering packages to your front door.

The future that awaits you is incredible and exciting. But never lose sight of the fact that you will be called upon to shape the world that will be occupied by all these technological advances. Will we continue to embrace diversity or will we move towards isolationism, creating homogeneous classes that reject differences. Will we honor, respect, and tolerate the beliefs of others or will we persecute them. In a global society will we attempt to learn about the languages and cultures that differ from ours? In a country that is undoubtedly the most powerful in the world, will we reject the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and the many educators responsible for creating a public education system that is second to none, an education system that has taken me and all of you, to where we are today. Thomas Jefferson said, “educate and inform the whole mass of the people, they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty”.

I have total confidence that the Woodson graduates of today will lead us to a bright tomorrow. That you have recognized and respect the value of a quality education and that this great country of ours will always allow those willing to apply themselves, with the opportunity to realize the American dream. Congratulations and best wishes to all.

Education in Socialist Cuba

Havana, Cuba – Cuba has made education of their citizenry a high priority. They are proud of the fact that their education is free from cradle to grave. Individuals can attend the university system and earn as many undergraduate and graduate degrees as they might have the inclination to achieve, at no cost. Although higher education is available and free, students have to go through an interview and examination process and meet the university standards in order to be admitted.

For grades 10-12, students have the option of pursuing an academic track that would prepare them for the college entrance exams or vocational programs that will prepare them for the world of work. For many years, Cuba has been graduating an impressive number of engineers, medical doctors, scientists and college professors. The socialist economy guaranteed them all employment after graduation. However, recent changes in the economy have reduced the number of jobs available to those holding academic degrees while at the same time, there has been an increasing demand for skilled workers.

Our group had the opportunity to visit the Restoration Workshop in Old Havana. Many young Cubans apply for admission into a program that will only accept 200 students. Applicants have to be at least 18 years old and must go through an interview process that gauges their personalities and abilities. Throughout the two years of the program, participants are taught the skills necessary to restore the many historic, but aging and decaying, buildings in Havana. They earn a modest salary while in the program. We saw the quality of their work in many of the buildings they have restored in Old Havana as well as at the current reconstruction of the Cuban Capitol.

The graduates are now very much in demand by Cubans who are buying many of the old buildings to establish restaurants and night clubs in the burgeoning privatization sector. Although in the prevailing socialist economy the majority of Cubans still work for the government, there is a growing number of individuals who have set up their own businesses and are employing individuals to work for them. Most of the 1950s vintage American cars that Cuba is so famous for are now taxis owned and operated by individuals, not the state. Trained mechanics are needed to keep those cars running.

Because of these factors, more students are opting to learn job skills that will earn them a higher income than if they had a college degree. In this regard we note that, as Cuba’s tourism grows, many of the tour guides are well educated professors and professionals who have abandoned their careers for the higher income they earn as tour guides.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

A Teacher Shortage in Cuba

Havana, Cuba – Shortly after the Castro regime took over the Cuban government, more than 100,000 youngsters, aged 10-16, were recruited to go into all corners of the island to teach all citizens how to read and write.

These literacy volunteers received several weeks of training with the materials they were to use in their work. They went out to the countryside and moved in with the “campesinos,” the Cuban farmers, working the fields during the day and teaching them to how read and write at night. In urban areas, military barracks were converted into schools and thus began a very intensive and successful indoctrination program that brought Socialism, along with literacy, to the island.

Over the 57 years of the regime, those 100,000 literacy volunteers bonded and became some of Castro’s biggest supporters. Today, Cuba’s teachers continue the literacy initiative while focusing as well on the principles of the “Revolution”. Moral, ethical and civic conduct are seen as important as academic achievement. Teachers are on the alert to detect what issues might be affecting the child’s ability to come to school ready to learn. Every school has a “school council” made up of not just teachers and parents in the school, but other professionals in the social and health arenas who offer support services to families and students.

Teacher training and professional development is a process, not a product. It is ongoing, with two days of in-service per month and weekly on-site activities. The evaluation of teachers is a collective process involving peer review and emphasizing development rather than the documentation that might lead to dismissal. According to the officials charged with the professional development of teachers, dismissal only happens in the event of fraudulent or other criminal activity. Indeed, they see a teacher’s failure as the failure of the entire system.

The country is currently undergoing a teacher shortage. Fewer students are opting to go into teaching, paralleling the reduction of individuals opting to pursue college careers in favor of higher paying jobs in other sectors of the economy. Attempts are being made to begin the teacher recruitment process as early as the primary grades in the hopes of establishing a pipeline of future Cuban educators.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

 

Cuba’s Education System Paying Dividends

Havana, Cuba – Public education is one of Cuba’s top priorities. Within a year of ousting President Batista in 1959, the country set the ambitious goal of eliminating illiteracy throughout the island. By 1962, illiteracy in Cuba had dropped from 23.6 percent to a mere 3.6 percent. Today, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

We heard this at a meeting with Dr. Paul Torres, a high-ranking official in Cuba’s Ministry of Education. Cuba offers a free education from cradle to grave. From pre-school programs to doctorates, education is free and available to all.

Education is mandatory through the 9th grade. After that, youngsters have the option of three years of a pre-university program or going to a vocational school.

Currently, about 60 percent of Cuba’s students opt for the academic track but the country is attempting to reverse those ratios. The economy is demanding more trained skilled workers and fewer academicians. This is due in part to the growing private sector in Cuba where skilled workers are in demand and can earn higher wages than academicians.

With increased tourism, privately owned restaurants (known as “paladares”) as well as privately owned night clubs are in need of skilled workers to reconstruct and modernize the aging buildings they occupy. It’s obvious that Cuba has its toe in the capitalist lake. How far they are willing to go is a topic for conjecture among many of the Cubans we met.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.