Opinion

MISD’s 2020 vision

Gary Plano
Island Forum

On Aug. 7, 2008, the Mercer Island School District’s Board of Directors approved the 2020 Vision — the culmination of 18 months of in-depth conversations, community meetings and presentations, including visits from futurists Daniel Pink and Yong Zhao, director of the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University. The process began with a Mercer Island Schools Foundation request for “A Really Big Idea” to encourage both transformative thinking and giving in the school community. Six months later, we are seeing examples of the “Vision” being realized in classrooms throughout the district. Teachers and students are being encouraged to view themselves — and be supported — as academic entrepreneurs and risk-takers. Today, more than ever, we need our community’s support to encourage creativity, flexibility and innovation in our classrooms.

President Barack Obama’s speech last month highlighted the reality we seek to address, and I’m paraphrasing: “We live in a 21st century world where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection; where a child born in Dallas is competing with children in Delhi; and where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know.”

To succeed, Mercer Island schools must embrace change and continuously improve. We are an academic leader by current standards, but we know that standardized tests don’t necessarily measure the skills which our students need. As the president said: “[We can’t] simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.”

We are transforming our classrooms to offer more student-centered teaching and learning experiences for our students — instruction that prepares them to think, collaborate and be creative in our interconnected world. Examples are as follows.

The Mercer Trading Company: Mercer Island High School students are collaborating with Saint Augustine’s College in Ghana to set up an online trading company to buy and sell goods from the United States and Ghana.

Ecosystems of Puget Sound: A team of elementary teachers is using the Internet to support students in sharing what they learn about Puget Sound with a global community.

Geocaching: Students learn about geography and orienteering through hands-on experience. Teachers use a “Travel Bug” to allow the students to watch their item travel around the country and even the world.

Voice Thread Teen Tutoring Program: This project utilizes the Voice Thread computer program to create a teen-tutoring program in the Mercer Island School District whereby students who are proficient in a subject can assist one who may need help.

Our 2020 Vision is focused on the skills that our students need to succeed in the 21st century. Technology and the interconnected world dictate that students will interact with people from many cultures and languages. To be successful in this global environment, our students will need to be creative and nimble. They will need to learn how to absorb information and apply it to creating knowledge and innovative solutions demanded by tomorrow’s world. Our students will need to collaborate, cooperate and in some cases compete with people beyond our borders. Ultimately, their success depends on our community’s willingness to be ambitious and take risks. I hope community partners will “step up” and help us achieve this bold new vision for our students. To that end, our Schools Foundations is hosting a Breakfast of Champions on April 28. I hope to see you there.

Dr. Gary Plano is the superintendent of Mercer Island School District.

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