A Visit to Stewart’s Melville College in Scotland

A guest post by AASA President Gail Pletnick

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

A 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.

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College & Career Readiness is Important – in the U.S. or Scotland

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.

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Scotland’s Mary Erskine School

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.

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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.

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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.

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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;

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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?

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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.