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Viewpoint: Everyone has a role in ensuring a world-class education system

Some of my columns last year included information related to "Minnesota's Promise, World-Class Schools, World-Class State," a report released in the fall of 2006 by the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. The report articulated an education vision for the state of Minnesota that identifies strategies and structures that can be implemented at the state, district, school, community, family and other levels in order to achieve a consistently high-performing, world-class education system.

While little of the information I shared last year has changed, there are some significant additions to the report.

During the 2006-2007 school year, members of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators partnered with the University of Minnesota to launch a year-long series of conversations about their ideas. The conversations were co-chaired by Darlyne Bailey, Ph.D., Dean and Assistant to the President, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota and Charlie Kyte, Ph.D., Executive Director, Minnesota Association of School Administrators. These conversations resulted in many additional organizations joining in through large and small group meetings.

Together, more than 20 organizations and more than 500 participants from across the state provided insight that resulted in changes to the original Minnesota's Promise, World-Class Schools, World-Class State, report.

While many of the strategies detailed in the report for implementing an education vision for Minnesota may be familiar, few have been instituted to the degree that they are able to withstand changes in political and organizational leadership. In this column, I will share the two elements that have been added to the original list of essential elements of a high-performing education system.

The world-class system envisioned by the Minnesota's Promise, World-Class Schools, World-Class State report is characterized by eight essential elements that were discussed in depth in previous Viewpoint columns:

• Early Childhood Education: Investment in educational success starts early

• Educator Quality: Great teachers and principals are recruited, prepared, supported and retained

• Academic Rigor: All academic roads are rigorous, and all lead to higher education

• Family and Community Involvement: Families and communities are full partners in education

• Multicultural Community: All cultures are included and supported, and connections are made across local and global cultural divides

• Data and research: Educators use data and research to inform teaching and learning everyday

• Funding: Schools are provided with funding that is predictable and sufficient to produce world-class performance

• Time: Schedules and calendars are designed to help all students reach high standards

• Special Education: Services for students with disabilities are proactive, effective, efficient and adequately funded

• Health and Wellness: Parents and other stakeholders ensure that students come to school physically and mentally ready to learn

New to this list of essential elements are Family and Community Involvement and Health and Wellness.

• Engage families and communities as full partners in education: Because over the course of their K-12 careers students will spend four to five times as many hours outside school as inside it (and that's not counting when they are asleep), we must integrate family and community involvement into every child's education in powerful and meaningful ways. Parents and other caregivers create the learning environment at home and should reinforce learning in school.

Parents should be well-informed educational consumers as they select schools. They should have the opportunity to contribute to decisions about the school's operation, resulting in pride and ownership of their schools.

• Communities have critical roles to play as well, from setting high expectations for every student to developing social skills to bringing learning to life beyond the walls of school.

• Ensure that students come to school physically and mentally ready to learn: Because large numbers of students are struggling with obesity, other physical problems and challenges to mental health, we must build partnerships with families, care providers, insurers, non-profit organizations, faith communities and government agencies to enhance students' physical and mental wellbeing. Families must have access to medical and dental care for children, and during the school year, getting children to school rested and adequately nourished is fundamental.

Even in the face of tight budgets and pressure to focus resources on academic priorities, we should maintain and strengthen our commitment to provide students and families with support from counselors, social workers, nurses and other professionals who help schools educate the whole child.

• Why focus on long-term vision?

With plenty of immediate challenges facing all schools, some might question the value of spending energy on working toward long-term vision rather than focusing upon the many immediate challenges we face. However, the school reform work that needs to be done will have little chance for success if it is characterized by uncoordinated and contradictory policies and practices, coupled with short-term thinking dominated by shifting political winds.

Without a coherent system of education in Minnesota--from the capitol to the classroom--many schools across the state will continue to work hard to sustain their efforts, while other states and other countries will be thinking bigger and bolder in their efforts to prepare students for the challenges of globalization.

• Who owns the vision?

We all do. The vision described in this report must belong to everyone, and the work related to it must involve everyone.

In addition to implementing many different reforms--passing new laws, crafting new policies, designing new organizational structures, and trying new ways of teaching in and leading schools--an equally important part of creating a world-class educational system will be changing the way we think and talk about education in our state.

For educators at every level, it means abandoning the counter productive "not invented here" attitude that is too often taken toward educational policies and practices that are working elsewhere across the country or the globe. If we want to achieve student performance that is equal to the world leaders, we must be willing to learn from their strategies and structures.

For government leaders, it means building bipartisan consensus around long-term support for educational reform and an openly supportive approach to schools that are willing to implement creative and innovative practices that are different from the norm.

For individuals and businesses, it means seeing funding for education as a direct investment in future prosperity, and cuts in education as admitting defeat in the global economic war for jobs and growth.

For parents and other caregivers and for students themselves, it means understanding that what is learned in our schools today will directly influence what can be earned in the workplace tomorrow.

• Learn and ask

Throughout my series of columns on the report, there has been no end to the topics and their accompanying questions. One of the most important things about this report is that it has, and will continue to generate a lot of healthy and necessary discussion about what we want for our children, our schools and our community.

Involvement and investment in your community's schools requires some knowledge of all sides of an issue. As educational topics become points of discussion in the future, please make the time to learn about the multiple perspectives on issues, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Ultimately it will help lead to a better understanding of these topics and more thoughtful decision-making.

While few, if any, decisions make everyone immensely happy, we will all end up winners if we focus our efforts upon what makes a positive difference on the achievement of children, their opportunities to learn and their impact on our community and society.

For more information on Minnesota's Promise, World-Class Schools, World-Class State, please see www.

Ryskoski is School District 834 superintendent.