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From left, Jon Althoff of Skyline Exhibits; Jay Haugen, Farmington Area Public Schools superintendent; and Apple Valley High School Principal Michael Bolsoni listen to District 196 Superintendent Mary Kreger speak during the May 14 Good Day Dakota County luncheon hosted by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We are preparing kids for a future we don’t know.”

Mary Kreger, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District superintendent, described how this statement was true in her own family to a group of business professionals and educators.

Her children are now in their 30s. When her middle son was a younger child, one of his favorite activities was to play a Nintendo game console, Kreger recalled.

“I did not know at the time this was preparing him for what he likes to do these days, which is fly a drone. He has a drone license. I think that’s a good juxtaposition,” she said. “We just recently adopted a policy in the district around drones. Who knew that would be possible?”

Kreger was one of three presenters during a May 14 Good Day Dakota County luncheon hosted by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Rosemount Community Center. The event focused on the future of education and what learning will be like in the near future and beyond.

The other presenters were Jay Haugen, Farmington Area Public Schools superintendent, and Jon Althoff of Skyline Exhibits in Eagan, who is the immediate past chair on the Dakota County chamber board.

Shift in education

Kreger said until about 30 years ago, public education didn’t change much. The teacher taught a subject rather than teaching students. The educational model was content-focused and curriculum was important.

In the last 20 to 30 years, cooperative learning started to become emphasized and now the system has shifted into understanding the importance of relationships. Educators are also looking at inquiry as a way to learn and honoring students’ ability to communicate how they want to learn, Kreger said.

“We know in this day and age, we don’t have a body of knowledge that we can hand off and, ‘You’re good to go.’ It changes,” she said. “We have to have kids who are able to do research, who are able to use inquiry as a method of learning.”

According to Haugen, the current educational system needs improvements, but a new system also needs to be created.

He said people have “this strange view that our current system of education is broken.” He added it’s not broken, but it’s “elegantly designed to do exactly what it’s doing.”

“It was designed to sort and select kids to pick winners and losers. It was designed to be inequitable,” he said. “It was designed 120 years ago when that was the vision.”

Haugen likened the education system to the game of Monopoly and at some point someone said education should be more like the Game of Life.

“We said all kids have to be successful but we had a system that wasn’t meant for that,” he said. “It continues on and we continue on as though we’re trying to play Life, but have a Monopoly board, Monopoly rules and Monopoly game pieces. We have to design a new system for the new reality and the reality of the future so every kid can be successful.”

What’s happening now

Haugen, Kreger and Apple Valley High School Principal Michael Bolsoni, who is taking over as District 196’s next director of secondary education in July, outlined some examples of what their districts are doing to change education for the future.

Kreger said they have seen the need to get students into business environments because they don’t look like a traditional classroom. Bolsoni said Apple Valley High School has partnered with businesses including Uponor, ISG and BTM Global.

AVHS students were able to work with ISG to generate ideas to meet the company’s needs when it opened a new office in St. Louis Park. Students helped Uponor repair a few thousand faulty thermostats over a summer. BTM has formed an ongoing partnership with AVHS where it takes high school students as interns.

Kreger said District 196 continues to look at college readiness for its students, but the mantra in education that every student needs to be ready for college has started to shift.

“Some of our kids are better off not incurring many, many thousands of dollars of debt,” she said adding that some are better off going into a career or workforce readiness right after high school. “So we’ve really had to shift what we’re doing in K-12 so students have more opportunities.”

Some of those other opportunities have included students being able to get experience seeing health and hospitality careers this year, Kreger said.

Haugen said the Farmington district has worked over the last eight years to make learning more student-centered through efforts like providing every student in kindergarten through 12th grade with their own iPad and encouraging students to bring their passions to school.

“When we say personalized, student-centered, we mean every student gets to find their strengths, sparks, talents, ability, drive their own learning, create their own learning pathways,” he said.

Administrators allow school staff to self-organize the best way to help students learn. At Farmington High School, students and teachers are allowed to work out their schedules flexibly, Haugen said.

“It’s like they’re working at a business when they come to our school,” he said.

Flexible learning and student spaces have been created at school buildings and students have been able to engage in school projects that reflect their passion. For example, students built a working model of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, Haugen said.

Haugen said there are things all students should know, but it’s “vastly less than we make it out to be.”

“We can’t have one size fits all anymore. We have to have a new system where the majority of it is based on kids and who they are,” he said.

What’s needed

Maureen Scallen Failor, Dakota County Regional Chamber president, said businesses have to partner with school districts to ensure that their future will be successful.

“We as business owners know what we need and we need to be able to work closely with our school educators to help them understand the needs of business,” she said.

Althoff said Skyline will have some big changes coming in the next few years. The company is transitioning its leadership. The entire leadership team is expected to be gone within the next five to 10 years.

The middle level managers will be thrust into upper management, and entry level employees will quickly be moved into middle management. There will be a need to fill more of its entry level positions.

For some positions, college or advanced degrees will be required. However, other skills like doing whatever it takes to be of value to an organization, being able to dive deep into technology, and basic human connections will still be needed. Having an iPhone isn’t enough, Althoff said.

“We need to be able to have clear communication. We need to be able to listen to people, we need to confirm what we’ve heard and then we need to be able to contribute,” he said.

Kreger and Haugen both encouraged businesses to reach out to school districts to make connections with students and educators.

Scallen Failor said businesses also need to bring their voices to state legislators to let them know what businesses need and want.

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@ecm-inc.com.

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