School board attends national event

Members discuss Boston conference

By Jeff Linville -

The Mount Airy Board of Education brought back some new ideas and concepts from a recent trip to Boston.

Five of the seven board members made the trek to participate in the National School Board Association conference held April 9-11.

Wendy Carriker, who chairs the city school board, asked the members to share with the staff what they heard during the many sessions at the conference.

Phil Thacker mentioned the speech given by retired CBS news anchor Dan Rather. Among the information given by Rather was an observation that the U.S. is not the top country in the world for public education; Rather mentioned Finland and Singapore as the top two countries now. The U.S. could learn something from examining what those two are doing right.

Alisha Brown said she didn’t like one opinion offered by Rather on teachers. She said he told the group that schools aren’t getting the A and B students. Those higher achieving students are choosing other professions, and it’s the C students who go into teaching. As a former teacher herself, Brown didn’t care for that implication.

On April 11, a morning session was led by Tony Wagner, who serves as an expert in residence at Harvard University’s new Innovation Lab.

Thacker said that Wagner believed there should be only three grades given: A, B and incomplete. Wagner asked if people would want to ride in a plane flown by a C-minus pilot.

Reebok sponsored the BOKS program with a school district to provide kids with activities before and after school that got kids interacting with each other and helped build self-confidence.

Children check in, get warmed up and take part in some running-related activity. Then they work on a skill each week like push-ups, sit-ups, squats and even an obstacle course.

Ben Cooke said he attended a breakout session called Roles and Relationships of the School Board.

The purpose was to have board members evaluate themselves and what they provide to their district, he noted. There was a detailed questionaire that seemed geared toward school boards with serious problems, he said. That made him feel very lucky that Mount Airy’s leaders like and respect each other.

Brown said she was in a similar session that talked about dealing with negative people and about preventing oneself from becoming negative, too.

Difficult people exist everywhere, said Brown. “You can’t change them, but you can control how you react to them. … Don’t give control of yourself to someone else.”

Another session focused on all the tools that are available through Google. Brown said there was so many things covered that she felt like she needs a handbook to keep up.

Carriker mentioned that the person who led that session publishes a weekly newsletter that educators and school board members can sign up for.

Kate Appler said she attended one bad workshop on ESSA, the replacement for No Child Left Behind.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10. What Appler came away with was a sense that no one in the room could agree on what is the best direction to take with the future of education.

One session that Appler did like referred to an updated idea of what vocational classes should offer. The Shop Class of the Future could have the typical table saw and band sander alongside robotics parts and soldering irons.

One school showed off 31,000 square feet of space, all devoted to this progressive style of shop.

Carriker said one thing she took away from the conference is what a great network of educators that Dr. Kim Morrison has developed.

The board chair said she already knew that Morrison, the city school’s chief academic and innovation officer, knew her stuff, but it was nice to see this other side of her mingling with her peers during the conference.

Carriker liked the enthusiasm from Wagner and some of his out-of-the-box thinking.

One example was a cyber snow day. If it snows, and school is canceled for the day, kids can go online and work on assignments from home. If the kids turn in their assignments, then they don’t have to make up that day later in the school year.

One of the board members asked how that could be possible.

Dr. Don Martin, interim superintendent, noted that Mount Airy could do something like that because the district accumulates an excess of instructional time each year.

After bad weather this winter, the school board “forgave” a day because the schools will have a surplus of total hours above the state minimum.

This cyber snow day is an incentive to get the kids working from home so the schools could forgive more days, Martin said.

Cooke said he thought there was a lot of good information that came out of the three days. While he doesn’t think the city needs to send such a large party every year, he did think it would be good to have at least one representative each year, which could be rotated around so everyone gets to participate.

Cooke said the conference ended at noon on a Monday, then at 1 p.m. he and Phil were at the baseball park to see the Boston Red Sox play before coming home.

But it was after the conference ended, he pointed out.

Members discuss Boston conference

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

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