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Five Learning 2025 School Districts Share Their Distinctive Beacons of Light with Conference Attendees

three people sitting at table on panel
From left: Christopher Gaines of Mehlville School District R9, Caroline Johns of Northgate School District, and Kim Alexander of College Edu-Nation. Photo by Brianna Driver.

Students should be well trained to go out into the world when they graduate from high school, whether that’s for college or work, said Doug Wheeler, superintendent of College Community School District in Iowa.

Wheeler presented at the “Beacons of Light” session at the AASA National Conference on Education on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas, along with four other presenters who also are involved in AASA’s Learning 2025 initiative.

“We do not de-elevate the four-year degree,” said Wheeler, referring to his school district’s emphasis on fully preparing students for whatever route they decide to take After high school.“But we elevate the two-year degree and trade schools. We elevate the other options.”

Caroline Johns, superintendent of Northgate School District in Pennsylvania, presented how her school district is readying its students for the real world.

“One of our big focuses is helping our kids figure out what their career path is and making sure we’re providing those opportunities for them,” said Johns. “We are moving toward more internships for the student’s senior year.”

Johns also told attendees about the importance of mental health care in students. Her schools provide a behavioral health educator for all students to learn from.

Northgate School District offers a “chill room” for students to go to, as needed, to help with their emotional problems. The school also offers individual therapy sessions.

“If we’re not dealing with our students’ mental health and social and emotional needs, it doesn’t matter how wonderful our instruction is,” Johns said.

Mary Catherine Reljac, superintendent of Fox Chapel Area School District in Pennsylvania, also spoke on how her schools have implemented Learning 2025.

“There’s no better way to improve your own district, as well as your region, than when you learn from and work with your colleagues,” said Reljac. “We have many similar and different elements. At the end of the day, we don’t want any child, no matter where they live, to have a poor educational experience.”

She added: “Learning 2025 forces you to talk to colleagues around the nation about important things. It’s a practitioners' approach to improving education.”

Christopher Gaines, superintendent of Mehlville School District in Missouri and Kim Alexander, CEO and chancellor of Collegiate Edu-Nation of Texas and West Virginia also presented.

(Emily Hughitt is a reporting intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online and a sophomore at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.)

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