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.

The young ladies spoke of being encouraged to identify their interests, and of being counseled and supported as they explored various pathways. Courses in the U.S. that may be classified as career and technical classes, including culinary arts, technical design and military training, are offered in this all girls’ school. Additionally, our guides shared that they are assisted in finding internships where they can get experience in a work environment in an area of their choice.

It was interesting that in the Mary Erskine School, the primary tool observed for classroom instruction was paper and pencils. However, the students shared they can obtain permission to use their own devices. There were, however, computer labs, computers in the library and technology in some of the classrooms that focused on technical courses.

The world of work and life is changing and regardless of a school describing itself as traditional or innovative, private or public, single sex or co-ed, located in the U.S. or Scotland, preparing students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new era of work and life is not an option—it is a mandate.

 

Gail Pletnick is the superintendent of the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Ariz., and the 2017-18 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. She is participating in the AASA International Seminar in Scotland.

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.

The Mary Erskine School and Stewart Melville College started as schools for children of merchants who could not afford an education otherwise. The schools have been in existence since 1694. Today, although the schools are non-profit, they rely primarily on tuition for all operating costs.

Students must apply for entrance to the schools and take an exam as part of the admission process. There are some scholarships available, but that only reflects 5 percent of the school population.

The comparison between private and public schools in Scotland is similar to what can be made between the two systems in the U.S. One example is the demographics in those schools. Although scholarships are available to the private Scottish schools, it is evident that the majority of students come from higher income families. To meet the interests of students, the EMSM schools provided more than 70 after-school clubs and co-curricular activities. Government schools attempt to offer after school options but funding for these programs is an issue and fee-based programs in government sponsored schools can create a hardship for families.

Filling academic gaps is a common goal shared by the private and government schools in Scotland and in the U.S., but there are some differences in the resources available to accomplish that. Ensuring that the needs of the whole child are met is another common area of focus in both school systems. Once again, however, there is a difference in tools available in government funded versus private schools.

When all is said and done, the place we call school may look different for children attending private vs. government-run schools and the resources available do differ. However, making certain students have their needs met, and any academic, physical, social or emotional gaps are addressed, are goals shared by all educators in these institutions of learning.

The bottom line is, we must make certain there is equity in our educational systems and each and every child has an opportunity for a quality education—on both sides of the ocean.

 

Gail Pletnick is the superintendent of the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Ariz., and the 2017-18 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. She is participating in the AASA International Seminar in Scotland.

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.

You may be asking why any of this is special or how it relates to personalized learning? Well, this school has a total of 19 children ranging in age from 4 to 12 and includes special needs students. These children are served in two classrooms by one classroom teacher, one head teacher, a few support personnel and two special area teachers who rotate between schools in the region. The interests and needs of each child are being met in this unique learning environment.

This government school not only builds on their students’ passions and strengths but are equally dedicated to ensuring the child’s academic needs are met, including filling what is referred to as the attainment gap. In fact, the government has provided 1,800 pounds per student or approximately $2,300 per student to provide support to students who need that extra help. The student’s free meal status is used to help determine the funding received. Yes, this does sound familiar to Title 1 in some ways. Where it differs is the flexibility in how the funds can be used. The head teacher and parents work together to determine how best to fill the gap.

The take away from this visit is, whether schools are large or very small, located in the highlands of Scotland, the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz. or outside Philadelphia, Pa., meeting the needs of every child must be the goal. Personalizing a child’s education ensures we tap their passions, build on their strengths and focus on their weaknesses.

Gail Pletnick is the superintendent of the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Ariz., and the 2017-18 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. She is participating in the AASA International Seminar in Scotland.

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.

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.   

Passing of the Torch

AASA President David R. Schuler presenting at our 2016 National Conference on Education

AASA President David R. Schuler presenting at our 2016 National Conference on Education

July always marks a special time of year for AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Some of the sharpest minds in public education are gathering in our nation’s capital next week for our annual legislative advocacy conference.

At the convening of our conference, the room will be filled with dozens of superintendents, the “champions for children” who are the catalysts behind the achievements taking place in our school systems today.

It was only fitting that during AASA’s 150th anniversary year, we saw the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The strong efforts from our members combined with the great work of our policy and advocacy team was a major lever in creating the new legislation.

We will continue to work closely with the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that the transition to ESSA, and the rules and regulations issued by the Department, are in line with the spirit of the new law. During our three-day meeting (July 12-14), superintendents will have the opportunity to visit members of Congress and other education policy leaders to discuss ESSA and other pressing matters affecting our schools.

In conjunction with the conference, AASA will install Alton Frailey, superintendent of Katy Independent School District (Katy, Texas), and Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Dysart Unified School District 89 (Surprise, Ariz.), as president and president-elect respectively. I look forward to working with Alton and Gail in their new roles.

On behalf of the AASA family, I wish to congratulate David Schuler for completing a successful term as president. I invite you to read his June column in School Administrator, “An Amazing Year in AASA’s Evolution.” The superintendent of Illinois’ High School District 214 played a key role in our success. David testified before Congress last month as part of the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s hearing about steps to implement ESSA. Read our press release.

David was the founding father of AASA’s Redefining Ready! campaign, launched at our 2016 National Conference on Education in Phoenix, Ariz. I recently had the opportunity to visit David’s district in suburban Chicago and saw firsthand multiple indicators aimed to assess a student’s readiness for life beyond high school. I discuss my visit in my May 31 blog, “Student Engagement At Its Best.” David spoke of this important matter when he addressed a gathering of superintendents and community college presidents in June.

A tech-savvy educator, David is a member of AASA’s Digital Consortium and regularly participates in #suptchat, a monthly conversation via Twitter (the first Wednesday of each month, from 8-9 p.m. ET) involving superintendents and other educators from across the country who virtually share ideas about the most critical issues in our business.

Every July, we have a “passing of the torch” but with David, it’s hardly a farewell. He will continue to serve on our executive committee as immediate past president and will surely be a valuable asset as AASA continues to serve as the nation’s premier voice for school system leadership.