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Preparing Minds for the Future Means Engaging Students First in Their Schools, a Three-Superintendent Panel Says

Now nearly a quarter of the way into this century, a panel of three experienced superintendents addressed how it might be possible to prepare school administrators, teachers, students and families for what is to come in the next 75 years of education.

The best way to do this, according to panelists Kamela Patton, Shari Camhi and John Malloy at an AASA conference session Thursday “Minds for the Future,” is to provide all learners – and that includes teachers and administrators — in a school district with the support they need to succeed.

Specifically, school districts are looking for ways to prepare teachers and administrators to develop authentically responsive lessons along with a clearer vision of holding systems accountable.

Camhi, superintendent of Baldwin School District in Baldwin, N.Y., and AASA’s incoming president, spoke at length in discussing how students in many places are the ones held accountable for failure when it should be the school system that is held up to scrutiny for student failure. Because of this misguided approach, students are sent to remedial classes where they are made to feel inferior to the average student instead of educators addressing specific, challenging content material.

Such a protocol alienates students, said Patton, superintendent of Collier County Public Schools in North Naples, Fla. She conceded that a sense of belonging among students is lacking in her own schools and in many others.

A method to increase a sense of belonging, which can lead to students being better prepared for life in college or for a career, is for educators to focus on measuring what matters, said Malloy, superintendent of San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Contra Costa County, Calif. Often, he said he is asked about what standardized test prep courses and resources are available to the students in his district, which he said makes it feel like his district is asked to function more like a testing center than a school.

However, Malloy stressed for students to cultivate a love for learning, they must be flexible and able to apply what they have learned to different, diverse situations.

An example of helping students to cultivate a love for learning came from Camhi, who discussed her district’s creation of an education academy specifically for students interested in careers centered around education. These students begin taking college-level courses in grade 9 and continue until graduation, acquiring enough college credits over four years to begin college as a sophomore. Additionally, this program enables students and their families to save themselves from paying a year of costly tuition at a four-year university.

The value of preparing all students for college was emphasized by all three distinguished panelists. They agreed that not every student has to go to college, but all students should be ready to go to college. One panelist shared a question posed by a prospective college student: “Why does this class only meet twice a week?”

Some strategies mentioned by the panelists to ensure students are prepared for college include partnering with local community colleges for dual enrollment opportunities, broadening the definition of success for students and asking relevant questions of current college students to build a picture of what college life looks like.

(Roman Nikolaev is a junior English and secondary education major at Vanderbilt University and a reporting intern for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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