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Educating 21st-century learners

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

May 21, 2012

Dear SAISD Staff,

I recently had the privilege of joining the Board of Directors of the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, which is one of a number of designated regional P16 organizations throughout the state focused on promoting a seamless educational system from birth through career. The position is one way I stay close to the mission of ensuring that all SAISD students graduate prepared for higher education.

I talk about college and career readiness a lot. I know. But for me, it’s one of those topics that I can’t emphasize enough. That’s because it’s not just a matter of wanting to give our students the skills they need to do well after high school. It’s a matter of needing to equip them with 21st-century skills. I wrote about this need in my April 30 address (A Nation at Risk), and I think this excerpt from author Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” drives home the point: “any job…(blue or white collar) that can be broken down into a routine and transformed into bits and bytes can now be exported to other countries where there is a rapidly increasing number of highly educated ‘knowledge workers’ who will work for a small fraction of the salary of a comparable American worker.”

Friedman wasn’t just talking about the already-exported jobs in manufacturing; he was talking about professional jobs for accountants, engineers, architects and technical support specialists. Have you ever made a phone call to a technical support person for a question about a software product or a credit card, only to find out that you were talking to someone in India or the Philippines? Our students no longer compete against neighboring districts, Texas, or even other states. They’re competing against other countries!

And the competition is stiff. Schools in other countries are improving at a faster pace than ours. In the “The Global Achievement Gap,” author Tony Wagner points out “that the world has changed, America’s schools have not.” While technology has been infused, increasingly, in our classrooms here at SAISD, there are still some school systems out there where educators teach the way I was taught in my school days. And that just won’t do. Today’s learner does not know a world without technology. We must change so we do not place our children and our future at a competitive disadvantage.

In addition to technology, students need more opportunities to be critical-thinkers and problem-solvers. They need to be challenged to ask the right questions. Unfortunately, what I have witnessed over the years is that many students strive only to know the right answers so they can score high on exams and earn a high GPA and class rank in order to get to the “right” colleges and universities…only to discover that once they are there, professors demand much more than memorization and high scores on multiple-choice exams.

No doubt we have our work cut out for us as we work to educate students who not only are strong academic achievers, but also possess a long list of other skills that keep them in the global competition: effective oral and written communications, initiative, critical-thinking, problem-solving, creativeness, adaptability, accessing and analyzing information, curiosity, imagination, and, yes, good citizenship.

Best regards,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent

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