Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When We Had Imaginings

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." And for the previous two evenings this week, residents of Norwich have had an opportunity to help start a blaze that will, hopefully, illuminate a path for the city, not just for its school children but for all of us, to last into the next century.

The Board of Education working with LEARN, the regional education service in Old Lyme, has started on the reinvention of the Norwich Public Schools system, Norwich Education Excellence for Today and Tomorrow (NEXTT), where everything, from school facilities through grade configurations to curriculum scope and reach are on the table for examination and evaluation.

It was last spring, as the Board struggled to fill funding gaps that resulted in the closing of two elementary schools and the relocation of the alternative high school and the adult education center, that provided the impetus, and urgency, to this reinvention effort.

The economic situation then dictated our schools could no longer do business the way they had-and the forecasts for this budget season are for even more turbulence. The hard fact is we cannot afford literally or financially to do business the way we always have. Adapt or die-no one said life is pretty. Baby steps are now out of fashion-all strides must be undertaken in
seven league boots.

Norwich takes great pride in its schools and in the achievement of its students and, as measured by the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT) and progress reports that underpin No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the city has continued to be successful even as the costs to achieve that success continue to escalate. We have learned well the lesson that a public education doesn't merely educate a public, but also creates one, as our schools have become the centerpiece of their neighborhoods looked at the way the fingers of the hand look to the thumb. We may have thirty plus languages in our community, but we all only have one school.

A hundred and fifty years ago, in the Industrial Age, mill operators looked for rivers to power their factories. Fifty years ago, in the Age of Technology, companies sought rail and highway connections to ship raw materials and finished products to and from markets. Today, in the Knowledge Age, with the convergence of technologies and applications, business, be it government, art, commerce or science, can be conducted from anywhere and a successful education becomes essential in creating agile, life-long learners who can constantly, and consistently, adapt and adopt.

If this doesn't sound like
the school house we attended as children, that's because it isn't. In our day, schools and the communities they served were separate worlds, but today, everything, in many ways, has become everything else. Our children enter schools designed for a different world and a different time where events happened sequentially and not simultaneously; where rote learning was group learning and progress could be precisely mapped and measured.

Today's students bring different learning styles that require flexibility of instruction and classroom interaction as a minimum. What else is needed will be discovered as all of us across the community sit together, and with educators and other key members of our city, to build the next school system-not so much from bricks and mortar, though that is important and will remain a community cornerstone but from skills, tools, techniques and opportunities that both reflect and simultaneously shape the world in which our children and theirs will live.

The two meetings this week were a start and there will be many more along the way until we see what we need to do and how to best accomplish it. There will be a lot of hard work because tomorrow cannot be built in a day, but rather, will be lived one day at a time for the rest of our lives. We all want it to be tomorrow today but none of us want it to
start at this moment.
-bill kenny

PS: The Happiest of Birthdays to my sister, Evan Hubner. When you see her today please wish her the happiest of natal anniversaries and if you don't know her, assume the next person you meet is she and be nice to them. It'll get back to her, trust me on this.

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