School board examines reality of education's future

Federal Way School Board members were given a presentation of Rob Neu's "State of the Schools" speech during the board's Feb. 12 meeting, with Neu giving much the same speech he had in recent weeks to various community organizations.

Neu's presentation touched off a thoughtful discussion among board members about the direction of education, and how Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) can best meet the needs of its students going forward.

Board President Tony Moore said he feels the district is moving in the right direction in thinking of how to ensure students will be competitive in the global community and economy.

"Because the world is, most assuredly, getting smaller," he added.

Board member Danny Peterson took the time to respond to some criticism he said he had heard, citing The Mirror's quote of Neu's presentation given during a recent Federal Way Chamber of Commerce Luncheon: "We're no longer educating kids. We're raising them."

"Some in the community really honed in on that," Peterson said. "I know for us, I don't feel like that's something the district tries to grab for, nor do I think you're implying that. I think that by default, when parents don't pick up that role, we're left with the school district to pick that up."

Neu responded, fleshing out his earlier comments with a further explanation.

"As a parent of young children myself, I don't want the school raising my kids for me," he said. "And I certainly don't want to imply we have to raise children. However, when you look at the mandates, really the point is, that's what we're being asked to do," he said. "The real challenge for us, moving forward, is to break away from what I think is a narrow vision of a school's indicators of success. We are too focused, in my opinion, as a society on the test score. Certainly that's one indicator, and perhaps a valuable indicator, of how we're doing and how our students are doing. But we have an overemphasis, and I believe, an excessive assessment attitude, in this country."

Neu continued, saying the vision of education that many in this country grew up with is drastically changing, along with everything else in the world.

"Our job, our challenge, our oath, if you will, is to help every child find their passion and propel them into a meaningful life. And that is beyond core academics. It's also about being physically fit. It's also about being globally and culturally competent. It's about having the ability to have a conversation in an elevator, as well as being able to stand in front of an audience and present. And really, our kids need the skills today, that only a diplomat needed maybe a decade ago."

Board member Claire Wilson said she thinks an excellent example of FWPS striving to provide a broad spectrum of education opportunities can be seen in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

"Having spent some time talking to CTE students, their passion is their future," she said. "(And the idea that) they could integrate and fuse academics within their passing area, is something I think is really important that I hear you talk about."

Board Vice President Angela Griffin talked about how she sees parental involvement every day when she watches a line of children wait for their school bus. Every morning, she said, there are at least 10 to 15 parents/guardians there to see their children off to school.

"I watched them wave to the students as they were leaving. And I thought about the impact that was going to have on those students for that day, for learning. We talk about parent involvement, that was Parent Involvement 101," she said. "What each one of those parents or guardians, aunts, uncles, whoever they may have been, they have an individual focus for each one of those students that got on that bus. One may have been looking for us to help get (their student) into college, one may be looking for them to have a meal. We as an education system have to be broad in our reach to ensure that our students are successful, and I think we do that really well."

Neu agreed, saying he thinks the teachers and administrators of FWPS do an excellent job of preparing students. With the massive sea change of the world and education, educators are, in many respects, sailing without a map, he said.

"I think that the system we're currently operating in isn't designed for the society we're living in," he said. "That's nobody's fault…None of us are trained for this. None of us. We're all making it up as we go, and we're all doing the best we can."


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