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School board defends overseas trips: 'Very intense learning experience'
The Federal Way School Board has defended its recent overseas trips as necessary for the district's Global Learning Initiative.
Last month's trip to Europe, along with previous trips to China and other parts of Asia by Superintendent Rob Neu and board member Tony Moore, racked up nearly $100,000 in total costs.
During the Oct. 15 board meeting, Neu explained the informational/data basis for the trips and the district's Global Learning Initiative. Neu said that making sure students are internationally minded, with the skill sets to ensure success in the new global economy, is absolutely essential.
The superintendent referenced a book called "Sixteen Trends, Their Profound Impact on Our Future." In that book, the trends Neu highlighted included:
• For the first time in history, the old will outnumber the young.
• Majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges of social cohesion
• Social and intellectual capital will become the economic drivers intensifying the competition for well-educated people
• International learning, including diplomatic skills, will become necessary
• The release of human ingenuity will become a primary responsibility of education and society
"That lays the backdrop for what I believe are the basic skills that our children today absolutely need to have, if they're going to be that graduate that's ready to contribute to a global society. That is high-level problem solving and communications skills. They need to understand and tolerate cultural differences and they need to understand and tolerate multiple generations. They need to speak at least two, if not three languages, and that's never become more obvious to me than in my recent travels," Neu said.
Washington's position in the national and global economy is also an important reason for Fedaral Way Public Schools FWPS) to expand its global connections, Neu noted. He cited Boeing's international stature, and the state's global agriculture industries.
"The objectives of the (Global Learning) initiative are first and foremost to learn from our international educators," he said. "We have got to do better, in Federal Way, in Washington state, in the United States. Why not learn from those around the globe? In doing so, we develop international partners, sister schools, we can share resources, learn and grow together…I would love to see every student in Federal Way have the opportunity to study abroad, I would love to see every staff member in Federal Way have the opportunity to teach and learn and share with their partners around the world."
New board president Claire Wilson said the initiative, and the recent trips, are an integral part of FWPS' future going forward.
"The Global Initiative is about having an opportunity for every one of our kids to be successful," she said. "As a parent, as a community member, it's important for each student to know they can leave school and not be placed in a track, or placed in a position, but that they have some choice about what that might be…We want all of our children to be competent, we want them all to be successful, we want them all to have opportunity. And that's what the Global Initiative is about."
A popular perception that arose throughout the community after the costs of the trips came to light was that, for all intents and purposes, Neu and the board were basically getting the chance to go on vacation on the taxpayers' dime.
Board member Ed Barney said the most recent 19-day trip to Europe was anything but a vacation.
"I don't want to do this again, I don't want to live out of a suitcase for three weeks," Barney said. "It was, in no ways, fun."
Board vice president Angela Griffin agreed with Barney, and said that the most recent European trip was a grueling experience and not a vacation.
"Ed alluded to the intensity of our travels. We arrived in Finland on a Wednesday evening, and Thursday morning we were up at schools," she said. "And we went like that every day. On weekends, we were traveling to another country to then got up on Monday and visited more schools. The Friday before we left, we were out at schools until 4 p.m. So it was a very intense learning experience."
Griffin also touched on the fact that throughout the rest of the world, student and teacher exchanges among countries is commonplace.
"The norm is that administrators, teachers, students, visit other countries annually," she said. "That is part of their education. Little kids were saying, 'I've been to Australia, I've been to Africa.' It was part of the culture in other countries."
"There's a big world out there to explore beyond the borders of Federal Way, and we want our students to be able to go out and explore that big world," Griffin added.
During the spring, Neu and Moore's trip to China, which lasted for approximately a month, came with a price tag of $33,350. Neu also took two solo trips to Indonesia and South Korea, with the total costs of those two trips equaling $3,361.97. The most recent trip to Europe ran up a tab of approximately $60,000. All told, the travel expenses equal about .04 percent of the district's overall budget of $213.3 million.