I am encouraged by the thoughtful and innovative approach being taken to transform education in the Wenatchee School District.
It is a courageous effort that builds upon the wisdom of the late Theodore Roosevelt, who once was quoted as saying: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
It’s that kind of local approach that is at the heart of the district’s transformation effort.
Working with the community through the Wenatchee Learns public engagement process, the school identified the two crucial elements of student success — finding creative ways to make learning personal for students and building a support system to encourage everyone in the district and the community to find ways to make these kinds of connections with as many kids as possible.
This approach rests on the notion that every person in the district and the community can make a difference in education by connecting with kids. I favor an approach that focuses on what we can do versus who we can blame.
Here’s one way to connect with the idea of personal education. Think about your own experience with education and ask yourself who made learning personal for you. For me, that question brings to mind a half-dozen teachers who had a significant influence on my life. They saw potential in me that I couldn’t even fathom and that inspired me to want to achieve.
If we can find ways to encourage more of those personal connections, think what would be possible for students.
This is a radically simple notion that flies in the face of the traditional education reform efforts that continue to fail miserably, which has been typified by more assessments and teaching to the test while stripping valuable programs that engage kids.
Our friends in the Legislature have been more of a hindrance than a help. The typical approach taken by Democrats in this state has been to add more money to the system. By contrast, solutions offered of the Republicans have been punishment-based. Their “reforms” have been all about brutalizing teachers and school districts as an incentive to improve.
It has been painful and frustrating to watch the layers of bureaucracy being added onto the backs of schools in the vain hope that they can be micromanaged to success.
As North Central Educational Service District Superintendent Rich McBride puts it, the problem is not that the educational system is broken, it’s that it needs to be more personal.
I am in 100 percent agreement with his perspective. We need to turn off the “education is irreparably broken” record that is being played in the media, Olympia and Washington, D.C., and take it upon ourselves to create an approach here that engages the whole community in building a more effective approach.
This notion of personal education doesn’t mean custom designing curriculum for every student.
One strength of this personal approach to education is that it’s not focused on test scores but on creating a more dynamic learning environment. Engage kids more effectively, and the scores will take care of themselves.
We can expect this effort will be criticized and even ridiculed by some in the community. We should listen carefully to those who can be described as loyal opposition — those who want what is best for kids but question this approach. They have much to teach us.
The other critics — those who relish the opportunity to find fault with anything and everything — should be ignored. They have nothing meaningful to contribute.
We need the courage to build an approach to education worthy of our next generation. I think the district is on the right track with a personal approach that invites all of us to connect meaningfully with kids.
Change will not come overnight, but the personal approach to education is what the community wants and our children should get.