‘21st century education' effort begins to take shape in Missoula

2010-08-19T23:30:00Z 2010-08-20T23:20:28Z ‘21st century education' effort begins to take shape in MissoulaBy JAMIE KELLY of the Missoulian missoulian.com
August 19, 2010 11:30 pm  • 

Missoula's schools are going to look a lot different very soon because - for example - Fran Albrecht's 6-year-old daughter Googled "scrambled eggs."

The director of the Watson Children's Shelter awoke one morning two years ago to a heaping plate of eggs delivered to her room. And Dad wasn't home that day, so Albrecht asked, "Where did you get the eggs?"

"I Googled ‘How to scramble eggs,' " said her daughter, quite nonchalantly.

It's a new age, and Albrecht is among around two dozen community, business and educational leaders sitting on the steering committee charged with guiding sweeping reforms in Missoula's schools with a "21st century education" model to reflect that fact.

Thursday marked the beginning of the massive community- and school-driven effort to not just change Missoula's school system, but to reimagine it.

And as a way of introduction, MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle didn't tone down the language of his grand vision for the education of 8,400 students.

"The destiny of our children is at stake," said Apostle, who was hired two years ago, in part, to enact such reforms. "There is no failing here. None whatsoever."

The committee met Thursday afternoon to outline its broad agenda for the next year - which will require the time and efforts of teachers, administrators, students and the public.

The end result, the committee said, largely depends on what the people want.

"We will be opening the door to the 21st century classroom and what will that look like?" Apostle said. "That's what this is all about."

***

This committee serves as the parent group for what will be a districtwide network of smaller committees made up of students, the public and others. Those committees will be school-specific - each of the district's 16 schools will have its own.

MCPS has hired the educational firm Public Consulting Group Education of Portsmouth, N.H., to oversee the process. The contract cost around $150,000.

And the firm said Thursday that what Missoula is embarked on is truly groundbreaking. Districts around the nation have been talking about "21st century education" for years, but Missoula is leading the way, PCG said.

"It is the most exciting project in the country," said Steve Kutno, project director at PCG. "What we have here is an opportunity for us to say, ‘What should education look like?' "

Far different, in all likelihood, than what it looks like now. The model will try to address the reality of instant communication, hyper-speed changes in technology, and the skills needed to work and live in a world where science fiction becomes reality every day.

Casualties could include the requirements for graduation, the 9-3 schedule that students currently keep and even the walls that segregate classrooms.

And all of it will largely depend on the passage of school levies; MCPS has already said it will seek figures in the millions of dollars.

***

Committee members spent most of the afternoon outlining what "21st century education" means to them.

The new Big Sky High School principal Trevor Laboski, who calls himself "a tech junkie," said the vision can't lose sight of the art of communication - real, one-on-one communication.

"No matter how smart you are, if you can't interact with all kinds of people, it doesn't matter how much you Skype," he said, referencing the voice-over-Internet service. "You need good communication skills."

Sentinel science teacher Craig Messerman said the changes - whatever they may look like - must not abandon the "18th century skills."

"I spend time with my garden, my chickens, fishing. ..." he said. "There needs to be a balance between modern technology and what we need to survive."

Mark Horesji, a University of Montana professor of education, shared the final thoughts of the afternoon.

The 21st century is not in competition with the 18th - or any - century, he said.

He once heard someone complain about how today's youth, because of their fascination with technology, are ignoring a rich past.

"He said, ‘Oh yeah? Well what about big, wooden, masted ships?' " said Horesji, quoting the critic of technology. "So I Googled it. I found big, wooden, masted ships, then showed him a YouTube video of the christening of one."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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