Ashburn, VA (October 9, 2015) – Innovation was definitely on the menu at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s “State of Innovation in Education” breakfast on Friday, September 18th, at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.
The keynote speaker for the event was Former Virginia Secretary of Education and Chair of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s K-12 Committee Jim Dyke.
“You can’t rest on your laurels and continue to be aggressive and innovative. That’s where the business community can play a major, major role,” Dyke told Chamber members and their guests.
Preparing students to compete in a global economy is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport, he added. “In order for us to predict what the future workforce is going to look like, we have to be engaged.”
Dyke said the best way to predict the future is to shape it. He also was clear about where the greatest improvement in education can be made. “Any discussion about improving the performance of our educational system must start with the teachers in the classroom.”
The task for business, Dyke said, is “to encourage our best and brightest students to enter teaching.” The biggest difference between America and nations that are making huge educational strides can be summed up quickly. “They treat teachers as if they are the most important professionals in the workplace. And you know why? Because they are. These other nations pay their teachers way more than we pay ours to get the best and the brightest students to become teachers and they put them on a pedestal. We need that same commitment to teachers in our country.”
Dyke is a strong proponent of early childhood education. “The best long-term investment you can make is in early childhood education. As business leaders, you know in order to improve …a production process, you begin with step one…Producing a better workforce means every child entering kindergarten is ready to learn…We need to make sure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to get the start that’s necessary in order for them to be productive. That starts early, early on in life.”
Dyke was quick to note that getting a good start educationally meant nothing unless a thoughtful program followed those formative years. “We must build a seamless web of education from pre-K through higher ed., so that everything that is being taught in those segments is aligned with our students’ needs in order to be globally competitive.”
Building that web means more use of the web.
“We need to better utilize online, virtual and blended education to tailor the learning experience to each student. We must make sure that every student has access to the technology they need to be productive. That means expanding bandwidth to reach every part of our commonwealth and every student; no matter what their economic status.”
LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams spoke about how the school division is changing learning strategies to better engage students. “We want to make sure we’re not just prepping kids for standardized tests and filling in bubbles, but that they’re going be able to have the competencies and knowledge to make meaningful contributions…
“It’s about who owns the learning. Kids can be ritualistically engaged; blind-focused ‘What can I do to get an A?’ But when you have kids who are spending extra hours that are not required, coming in during the summer, it’s going to result in deeper, longer-lasting learning.”
Williams then introduced two projects that provided such learning while affording students opportunities to make real-life contributions to the world.
Stone Hill Middle School Dean Mitchell Seipt, talked about work he did as a history teacher at J. Michael Lunsford Middle School. Seipt and his fellow teachers connected present-day hunger problems facing Loudoun County with lessons about the Great Depression. “We’re teaching them about soup kitchens, unemployment, long lines and the Dust Bowl. Wow, what (better) way for them to understand that period of history than to connect it to today and look at what families are going through right here in our community…We taught the Great Depression through the lens of 2014 and 2015 here in Loudoun County.”
Seipt asked his students to use what they learned about the Great Depression and apply it to today. They chose the Dulles South Food Pantry as a vehicle for this knowledge.
“We didn’t really propose any solution; we said ‘Here’s the problem.’ ”
Lunsford students raised almost $2,000, which they donated directly to the food pantry. Students who didn’t know there was a food pantry are now volunteering there. “That’s something they’re going to remember for life and it’s tied directly to something they’re learning in class…
“We talk about ‘ideal graduates’; why are we waiting until they’re out of our building? They can be ‘ideal citizens’ while (they’re still in school).”
Such projects answer an important question for students, Seipt added. “Why are we learning this?”
Round Hill Elementary Principal Andrew Davis related how a chance encounter can turn into an educational “explosion.” Last October a couple – Jeff and Anne Posner – came to him and asked if Round Hill would like to partner with them on a two-year voyage around the world in a sailboat. Davis offered this idea to a team-taught fifth grade class. Teachers Mark Muldowney and Jennifer Jenkins were interested in the Posners’ journey because it taught about the ocean. “It exploded because the teachers used it to empower and engage the students.”
The explosion began with a Skype session between the Posners, who were in Florida, and the fifth-graders. The couple tasked the students with becoming “their land-based crew.”
The students took this assignment very seriously; creating scientific instruments the Posners could use to collect data for NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). They had a bon voyage assembly during which they showed videos on climate change and rising sea levels.
Students tracked the Posners’ progress; even coming to school during the summer for a Skype session with the couple. Davis said he’s asking teachers to look for similar activities.
Before the program began, delegates Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, David LaRock and Kathleen Murphy and State Sen. Jennifer Wexton presented Williams with a resolution from the General Assembly honoring LCPS for being a winner in the Programs That Work competition staged by the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition. The award recognized LCPS’ geospatial science program.
Other elected officials attending the event included Blue Ridge Supervisor Janet Clarke, Loudoun County Circuit Court Clerk Gary Clemens, School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District), Vice Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District), Jeff Morse (Dulles District) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District).