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Panel Discussion Offers Different Perspectives on Education

Thursday night's discussion at Quaker Valley was one of many to come as part of the district's strategic planning process.

A of education experts spoke before community members Thursday inside the  auditorium, fielding questions about the future of education and what it means for Quaker Valley’s strategic planning process.

Panelists discussed everything from standardized tests to technology and how it relates to the classroom, even posing some of their own questions in between.

“Clearly this generation has access to much more information than any of us have had in our lives,” said Gregory G. Dell’Omo, president of Robert Morris University. “The question is do they know more?”

Dell’Omo was joined by invited guests Sarah Tambucci, director of the Arts Education Collaborative; Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development; and Steven Sokol, president and chief executive officer of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

Thursday night was meant to give an overview of the district’s mission and top goals that will go into the new strategic plan. With more than a year remaining before the Nov. 30, 2012 deadline, Quaker Valley has dived right in to preparing the new plan and is seeking input from the community.

Every school district must develop and file a strategic plan with the Pennsylvania Department of Education once every six years.  

Prior to the panel, Superintendent Joseph Clapper listed the district’s priorities,  discussed the changing nature of education -- from charter schools and vouchers to technological advances -- and what this means for QV going forward. 

“Public schools are facing a new fiscal reality,” Clapper said.

Panelists offered various solutions, as they answered prepared questions from Assistant Superintendent Heidi Ondek, and later from the audience. 

Flanagan suggested finding ways to keep students in the Pittsburgh region by having schools communicate the available opportunities right here. He said there are tens of thousands of jobs here, more than at the peak of the steel industry in 1979. But he said drug abuse, prescription drugs in particular, is a major reason many job seekers are unsuccessful in attaining employment.

"I think a good strategic plan will include the community in the region," Flanagan said. "We really have to start at our own level."  

Dell’Omo said the whole approach to learning is “very, very different" for students today compared to their parents. As an example, Dell’Omo pointed out how that many students are connected through various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr. Facebook has 750 million users a day with 30 billion pieces of content shared a month, he said. He said educators have to be able to adapt in order to be effective. 

Tambucci said technology is nice, but there has to be a balance. She said building critical thinking skills is extremely important and believes the arts provide an outlet to cultivate those skills.

“We have to use every strategy we can, otherwise we’re throwing human potential down the toilet,” Tambucci said.

Sokol said today’s generation needs to be prepared for lifelong learning and that his advice would be to learn a foreign language, one that you’re interested in. Immersing in a different culture could provide a better understanding of others,  teach diplomacy and other soft skills, lessons that aren't necessarily measured on standardized tests.

"Diplomacy ties in with bullying," Sokol said. "We need to teach kids how to interact...and disagree with one another in a very positive way."

One parent, after listening to the discussion, said she found the panelists to be refreshing especially because they didn't emphasize technology as the key to a well-rounded student.

Jillian Bichsel, director of academic services, said there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle yet to be connected, but Thursday's panel provided a lot of insight. 

“What makes us ? What do we value?”

In the coming months, Bichsel said the district will be running focus groups with parents, teachers, administrators, high school students, support staff and community leaders to help coordinate a strategic plan. Parents and members of the community are being asked to take a survey to provide answers on how to improve and meet challenges.

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