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Superintendent: Business community supports and demands increased skills

Dr. David Flowers, Superintendent, West Fargo Public Schools

West Fargo Public Schools’ stated mission, “Educating today’s learners for tomorrow’s world,” is not just a feel-good slogan. It is, in fact, an imperative that must drive significant change which will challenge traditional views of education by many parents, teachers and community members. Many in the business community are the strongest advocates for needed change in how we prepare our students for their futures, not our past.

Many of us already “out in the world” assume that since schools as we knew them prepared us relatively well, then schooling should continue to be a very familiar place for our current and future learners. It simply isn’t true. Three goals in the district’s strategic plan envision us continuing to provide foundational skills; helping all students be career and/or college ready; and producing lifelong learners with 21st century skills. Our board has adopted these as board policy, which is driving significant change and development in the district. Our business community is in full support of these goals, particularly the last skills. So just what are these skills, now that we’re well into the second decade of the 21st century?

The district is a member of Ed Leader 21, a consortium of districts across the nation trying to get better at defining, teaching and measuring 21st century skills. Ken Kay, director of the consortium, boils the most important skills students need into what he calls the four C’s: Critical Thinking; Communication; Collaboration; and Creativity. We are preparing students for a world in which the jobs they will assume have likely not been created yet. Tony Wagner at Harvard in his book, Creating Innovators, asserts that we must nurture innovation, for we are in an age when many people must invent their own jobs. Thus, there is a great need for them to have skills that will enable learners to network, adapt, learn continuously, etc. So how does this translate into change in the classroom? To acquire the skills needed, students must have greater access to technology and information; they must be engaged in real-world problem solving; they must have opportunities to collaborate with others to solve problems; they must have multiple ways of demonstrating their learning. All of this requires support and professional development of teachers as they themselves learn new skills. Being a facilitator of structured, collaborative learning opportunities must become far more common, and being a sage on the stage requiring students to merely regurgitate information on a test must become less common.

To this end, some of the greatest pressure, support and motivation for such change is coming from our business community. The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation and the United Way are just two entities representing the broader community who have reached out and offered facilitation, dollars and support to foster needed change. They know first-hand that the vitality of our community depends on good jobs, and many very good jobs go unfilled because young people do not have the skills required. They are helping create opportunities for teachers to learn more about local businesses and the workforce needs, so educators can make learning more relevant. They support project-based learning, on real-world problems, that make learning more relevant and engaging for students. In short, they know the value of the Four C’s, and are willing and supportive partners as we build capacity in our school district and in our community to truly “Educate today’s learners for tomorrow’s world.”