Supt. Rob Neu: Globally-prepared students for interconnected world

Not since the Industrial Revolution has a generation of students faced such profound changes in what they are expected to know.

Dramatic shifts in demographics, an aging population, technology innovation, and economic globalization are realities for this and future generations.

To survive and thrive in the 21st century, our students will need to develop skills required of only a diplomat a decade ago. They will need to understand and embrace cultural differences and learn from the experiences of past generations. They must be prepared to speak several world languages and to employ culturally diverse communication skills. They will need to develop higher level thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills.

Our students will work, live and thrive in foreign countries and work for and with foreign companies. Instead of jobs, their work will consist of projects. They will be asked to solve problems not yet created using technology yet to be invented.

Our students will define success in a global marketplace. According to a recent report, Washington state ranks second in the country in the new economy that is knowledge-based, global, entrepreneurial and innovation-based. Foreign trade is the largest segment of our state’s economy. Throughout the world, Washington companies design, manufacture and sell aircraft and software, and produce and ship agricultural commodities.

How do we make certain our kids will succeed? In addition to teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, Federal Way Public Schools is in the early stages of launching our Global Learning Initiative. This initiative will ensure our students are prepared for a more competitive, diverse and interconnected world than the one we grew up in.

To prepare our students to communicate and collaborate effectively with people around the globe, our teachers, administrators and district leadership must develop, nurture and maintain a global mindset.

To this end, the school board and I have embarked on a series of study missions to other countries to learn firsthand from educators around the world and to develop global relationships. These visits have been eye-opening and transformative, and confirmed we are on the right track. In fact, we have established 20 Global Learning Initiative school partnerships from these trips; the first group of Chinese educators visited our district just this month.

Imagine elementary global language programs and a fourth-grader proficient in Mandarin Chinese having regular Skype sessions with their partner school in Beijing. Or a group of high school students spending the summer learning in Seoul and living with host families who have also sent their students to Federal Way homes. And imagine our teachers working abroad and bringing these global experiences into our classrooms.

It’s about expanding our students’ horizons beyond our city limits and giving them the tools to interact successfully with cultures and people vastly different than here in Federal Way.

Global education propels us beyond mastering specific skill sets we acquire in books or through online learning. It demands we come face to face with international partners; that learning no longer remains isolated. Global education must also include the literature and arts. It is through the arts the journey of each culture has been recorded.

Across the district, we have begun implementing programs that support our vision. Sunnycrest Elementary is a terrific Spanish speaking immersion school. We have signed memorandums of understanding with Korea, China, Indonesia and Australia agreeing to develop student and teacher exchange programs.

Changing our schools from inward looking to a global perspective will require continual examination of our system. It will touch every aspect of students’ education from inviting foreign students to live and learn in our community, to sending our students and teachers abroad, to accelerating our language requirements.

Students across the world are learning to think and live in an interconnected world. Federal Way Public Schools will ensure our students have the education and experiences to be effective global citizens.

It is my privilege and responsibility to prepare our students for a global marketplace because the world is intolerant of the ill-prepared, but awaits with open arms those who have the skills, work ethic, and commitment to contribute.


Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu can be reached at rneu@fwps.org.


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