It never fails this time of year folks come up to me and say, “Aren’t you glad school is out so you can finally relax a little?” I can tell you we have been extremely busy since school let out for the summer. We always go right into Classic Bowl week at the WHS Campus, there is always the annual CCOSA (Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators) conference, and our Summer STREAM program, which we instituted last year, kicks off the first week in June.
The students have responded very well to the Summer STREAM program, which is modeled on the same concept as our Boomer STREAM after school program. Remember STREAM stands for Science Technology Reading Engineering Arts and Math, and our students are engaged in hands-on lessons to enrich their learning and experiences in meaningful ways. It’s fun to watch kids eager to come IN the schoolhouse doors instead of excited to go OUT those doors.
I mentioned the CCOSA conference, to which we sent about a dozen of our leadership team. We took advantage of three days of meaningful keynote speakers and breakout sessions on every topic from leadership and learning to school finance and funding issues. One of my favorite parts was getting to hear and meet Tim Elmore, author of “Marching off the Map.” Last year our leadership team conducted a book study on his groundbreaking work which talks about the recent generation of students and the changes in society in relation to how the public education system must evolve to meet those ever-changing needs.
Here are some interesting takeaways from Elmore’s research: Today’s students are part of the first generation that…
-Doesn’t need adults to get information
-Can broadcast their every thought or emotion
-Enjoys external stimuli at their fingertips 24/7
-Is in social contact at all times, yet often in isolation
-Will learn more from a portable device than a class
-Experiences the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient in the 1950’s
I think we know a lot of those things, but perhaps the last is the most disturbing. In Northwest Oklahoma, we know that mental health resources can be scarce, but Woodward is fortunate to be one of three schools in the state selected to participate in the Project AWARE grant. These federal funds flow through the State Department of Education and are allowing WPS to add resources that will help our students. In addition to the two additional counselors on our staff, we can increase our outreach and awareness campaigns and solidify partnerships with local and regional mental health providers.
The generation Elmore refers to as Generation Z (born in 2001 or later) are also what we know as “digital natives.” They’ve never been without technology, so it’s natural to them (as opposed to “digital immigrants” like myself). As we analyze the current, traditional education model, we must continue to ask how we will be able to modify our institutions to better prepare students for the modern workforce.
When Horace Mann founded the “Normal School,” he envisioned a system that would prepare students for the workforce , saying “organizing time according to bell ringing prepares students for future employment.” Safe to say the world has changed more than a little since this concept of “mass production” education was invented almost 150 years ago.
We are now envisioning a system in which we can provide “MASS CUSTOMIZATION” for our students. We know our students do not all learn, grow and develop at the same rate, yet we move them through a mass production system as if they do.
This is a large part of the reason why WPS will launch our Blended Online Learning model this summer for the coming school year. There is a demand for online/virtual education, as evidenced by an online charter school who’s growth has been exponential over the past few years. We believe we can provide a rich online/virtual experience blended with opportunities in the traditional school. Our students will be able to choose online courses in conjunction, for example, with extracurricular activities like fine arts, athletics and vocational agriculture. We know we can customize the learning experience for our students while maintaining rigor and high expectations.
A high quality instructional staff will be a key ingredient in the equation, and that is something we work on continuously. This year the administration and Board of Education have made a bold move in the effort to recruit and retain the highest quality educators in the state. For the first time, the beginning salary for teachers in Woodward will be $40,000. With the legislature’s addition of $1,200 for teacher pay, WPS has leveraged the additional operational dollars in the FY 2020 budget to add $699 to that figure. This puts our salary schedule $3,400 over the state minimum, and coupled with a $2,000 signing bonus from our Lida Hawkins fund and a tuition reimbursement program for those working on an advanced degree, we feel we will attracting the very best to join our Boomer Family.
Don’t be surprised when you see our yellow busses on the roads in June, and July 15th you will see a tremendous amount of activity at WHS as we again host some 600 folks from this part of the state for the EngageOK conference the State Department of Education puts on. We will work hard to make sure next school year is the best ever!
As always, I welcome questions, comments and concerns and am always pleased when folks reach out to me for a conversation. Have a great summer!