‘State of the District’ Unclear

The goal of educating our students for their future isn’t going to happen by throwing around phrases like ‘21st Century Skills,’ or ‘Community Partnerships’ or ‘Century Changes.’ The District must clearly define what skills our students need, what specifically a business or community member can contribute and how we clearly expect to tackle today’s changes.

Richland 2 offered the State of the District Address last Thursday at its newest high school, Westwood. But I didn’t come away with a clear understanding of what I, as a member of the community, can do to assist the district in its goals.

Dr. Sonny White, President of Midlands Technical College, gave the keynote speech. According to Dr. White, more than half of the jobs in the Midlands require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year college degree. What he said that was particularly important to the Richland 2 community was that our high school graduates are not ready to take the certification courses to prepare them for the available jobs. He said they lack ‘21st Century Skills.’ But he did not explain what these skills are.

Superintendent Debbie Hamm again outlined the district’s four-square goals – Learning, Community, Character and Joy. The District’s Learning goal, she said, has placed an emphasis on Common Core standards and 21st Century Skills. While there are hundreds of skills that have been identified as 21st Century Skills, in a prior interview Dr. Hamm said it is important to focus on those skills that match our district, our community and our students. But what are those particular skills? We haven’t been told. Our District places emphasis on Community Partnerships, but we have been given little real information about what constitutes Community Partnerships in our district.

A couple of parents from last November’s invitation-only Parent Partnership Summit spoke about ways the community can partner with schools by considering how different education is from the 1800s and that we can no longer use those processes. That statement alone is enough to make a serious listener shut down from hearing the speaker as credible. What process is done the same today as was done 100 years ago? Still dumbing down the process was the notion that businesses in attendance would be swayed to partner with a school by following one of the following suggestions: read to a student, call the school and ask what they needed or offer student internships.

District Teacher of the Year Patrick Kelly, a Blythewood High Social Studies teacher, enthusiastically presented the case for project-based learning as a way to reach students – explaining how his students have been so caught up in government issues that they texted or twittered him as the events were happening even into the late night. Social studies is one subject that seems to benefit student achievement in all sub-categories with project-based learning. But this trend was not repeated in math and science. This would clearly say that Project based learning is not a universal method of teaching.

Before we can progress with Dr. Hamm’s four goals, the District must speak in a common language. Otherwise the community will not understand and be able to support the District’s goals and needs.