New education plan strategy due early 2013 

Sea to Sky school district respond to parent input on future, trustees attend High tech High in San Diego

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Sea to Sky School District No. 48 is implementing ideas which will allow it to phase in the provincially mandated new BC Education Plan in early 2013, one with greater emphasis on technology and the enjoyment in learning.

Superintendent Lisa McCullough said a new strategic plan to establish the aims behind the education plan is expected to pass in December, after a three-hour working group meeting was followed by a presentation of the options to the school board on Nov. 14.

"Now where it is left is that each member of the board will take it and work with it, and give it back to the working committee to further craft it," said McCullough.

Of the entire education plan, she added: "I think it would be accurate to say that this is a pretty big change."

The province introduced the new education plan in the fall of 2011, which re-evaluates curriculum and graduation, and focuses on personalized-21st century learning.

McCullough said that the final strategic plan is likely to be adopted at the regular school board meeting of Dec. 12, allowing the education plan to be worked out in January or February.

Parents around the district were asked to participate in surveys about education priorities and to provide suggestions which now are part of the bedrock of the current plans. Teachers also took part.

McCullough said it was clear that change was wanted:

"The very first stage of the process was just a simple question to parents: What do they feel needs to change in public education. It's just to gather the ideas and thoughts."

"The way I see it is that the guidelines chosen would be the common threads that would run through everything we do. If our district goal became literacy, for example, those focus areas would guide the work we do within it. They're overarching principles."

Rick Price, chair of the school trustees, said they hoped to tackle some of the challenges facing education this way.

"So the whole idea of what can the district do to ensure the students find the experiences to be engaging and compelling, and (that) the schools and classrooms are places that students will actually want to go to, rather than being expected to go — we think that's part of the answer," said Price.

"But we want to work on it, and that's where the plan comes in."

A significant part of the final outcome of the district's education plan will be based on a trip the board took to High Tech High school in San Diego, California, in October. The school, founded in 2000, uses four principles to guide their curriculum: personalization, adult world connection, and common intellectual mission, teacher as designer.

Whistler trustee Chris Vernon-Jarvis said its founders were concerned that students were not leaving school with practical, collaborative skills and engineering skills. It wasn't a question, he added, of the needs of industry, but in filling the needs of society.

"I think High Tech High will play a significant part in the education plan," he said. "There was a lot of uming and ahing about whether we should actually go to High Tech High as a board, it was very carefully considered. I would say that for my own part, without having gone I couldn't have possibly understood or supported the directions we were taking... It was amazingly impressive."

This approach of making education relevant to the real world was at the heart of the ongoing meetings of the school board, Vernon-Jarvis said.

"Last week we set the big idea, what kind of district, what kind of education does the public want? We looked very carefully at the returns from the surveys we have done and tried to pick out the big ideas from that," he said. "When you teach kids something it needs to be based in the real world... One of the things that struck me most strongly is that students always say to us when we meet them, 'I'm not sure how education is relevant.' The point about education is that kids need to see the relevance."

More on High Tech High can be seen on its website: hightechhigh.org.

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