Report: Students need new century skills

While there are areas where the Independent School District 834 does things well, community members believe the district can improve in how it teaches students 21st century skills, according to a report on recent community engagement sessions presented to the ISD 834 School Board Thursday.

ISD 834 Communications Director Carissa Keister called the August sessions a success, with a broad base of people attending the meetings that included parents, retirees, community members, and community leaders.

“It was a diverse group with a lot of experience to share,” she said.

The sessions focused on three questions: What is going well in the school district and what should be continued? What should be considered for possible changes?, What will district leaders and staff need to do differently in the future to meet the needs of 21st century students?

The strengths cited by session participants were: a highly-trained and dedicated staff; involved families and engaged parents; choice within the district with a variety of buildings and programs to select, and various opportunities for students in music, fine arts, activities, athletics and academic interventions and enrichments.

Weaknesses participants cited were in the area of teaching and learning, and concerns with the current system. Concerns about the current system were lack of funding, lack of marketing resulting in the loss of students, reputation of the district and lack of a clear vision.

“I know that as a district, we work hard to develop our vision but it seems we don’t communicate it well enough and that is something we will work on so that the community can see our clear vision,” Keister said.

In teaching and learning, Keister reported that the community believed there was not enough focus on 21st century skills, every child is not being challenged to their ability, students have very little global exposure and there’s not enough focus on “the whole child.”

“Based on the strengths identified with the opportunities we do offer in activities and academics, how can an area for improvement also be not focusing on ‘the whole child,’ ” asked board member George Hoeppner.

Keister said she took a hands-off approach to the discussion so she wasn’t 100 percent sure what they meant but knew that health and wellness was mentioned.

“Almost every group did talk about that (‘the whole child’) that night,” said resident Shelley Pearson, who attended an engagement session. “We talked about not just focusing on math and reading but teaching leadership, how to work in groups, creating independent thinkers and developing critical thinking skills. Health and wellness was mentioned but it wasn’t one of the main parts of that.”

Keister’s presentation placed an emphasis on developing some of the skills that Pearson mentioned, including the problem solving and leadership skills, and working collaboratively in a diverse context.

Going forward the district has set goals to set them up for success based on the community feedback. They include: adapt and move more fluidly; teach kids to see connections between subject matter and relevance to other topics; integrate subject matter with problem-solving to workplace and real-life situations; teach kids how to learn, and focus on a global perspective in learning.

Pearson believes that Keister’s report seemed to be in line with what Pearson took from the community engagement sessions and that the process was a good one.

Going forward there are more opportunities for people to participate in community engagement sessions and the district is encouraging the public to remain active in this process.

A 30-member strategic planning team will be set up with half the group representing employees and half representing all communities involved in the first engagement session. The group will create beliefs, mission and strategies for the district going forward.

“The more people the better,” Keister said. “As a public school district we want to reflect what the community wants in their schools.”

To get involved in the process check out:


Timeline for Strategic Plan

September 2012: first planning session

October 2012-January 2013: Action planning

January 2013: Second planning session

February 2013: Approval of new strategic plan, budgeting and staffing

2013-2014 school year: Begin implementation of new strategic plan and levy renewal