New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

School Talks: Embracing Change


September 2, 2019

Welcome to the 2019-20 school year! Just think, this spring we will open a new decade in education! Things are so different from when I started elementary school, almost 50 years ago. I attended a small, rural elementary school. My principal was one of my dad’s best friends. His son and my dad had both served in the military overseas, my dad came home to farm, his son didn’t make it back. Most of the families farmed potatoes, onions and some contracted sweet corn with a local canning company. A large processing co-op in town provided first rate employment opportunities for many; it was a good life. The Harvest Festival was the highlight of every August, celebrating the harvest and the bounty of the land. My family always played a role in hosting the big community supper, the Harvest Festival Queen pageant and the parade and dance.

I can remember many fall days as an elementary student, looking out the window of my classroom longing to get outside. As a young person, harvest days smelled of black peat dirt, onions being harvested, and beautiful, crisp evenings. My dad never allowed me to drive the trucks alongside the harvesters; however, I could ride along with him or watch them unload and sort product at our warehouses. Each fall, several crews joined my father’s employees for the harvest; it was a busy, exciting time with lots of activity on our farm and in our small town.

As I age, I am amazed by the breadth, depth and power of change. Personal change, change as families grow and move on, change as economics produce new businesses and others fade away. Technology has created access to a worldwide neighborhood outside each of our back doors, without having to go to the coffee shop! My hometown no longer hosts a Harvest Festival, the co-op has closed and most of that deep peat farmland is owned by one company that now ships its products all over the country. Many of the residents commute to the southern Twin Cities suburbs to work.

I look back on my experience as a young person with an appreciation for the simple things: a dirt road, being close to the earth, relationships with neighbors, a homemade cinnamon roll at the café, relatives at every Sunday dinner. Simple things.

The advent of technology has changed the world and it will continue to do so. In fact, technology and its impact on the world has always been playing a role in change. My dad’s new harvesters were more economical, more efficient; we didn’t need two-way radios and could now use cell phones, he saved money on chemical applications by applying only where needed. Technology changes the world that our children will thrive in. It provides many more opportunities to solve many of the world’s problems that demand creativity, outside-of-the-box thinking and collective discourse.

I read an article today entitled “China has started a grand experiment in AI education. It could reshape how the world learns.” Technology is totally reshaping how we think about education and how we redefine the craft of teaching. It is reshaping how we live. Just about every facet of our life is touched by it. and we use it to personalize how we live. We post on social media, we program our car seat to fit us personally, we personalize our phone settings and pictures, we can design our own clothing platforms and car orders. The list is exhaustive.

This article discussed how artificial intelligence is producing stronger test scores in core academic disciplines in China. We also know that consumers are demanding more education choices for their children. Did you know that the average college student in North Dakota is 40 years old? What does this mean for the future of education? How will the roles of educators change as these forces push on our profession? The emergence of non-traditional students, technology, pressure from employers for students to be job-ready, and student loan debt are all impacting the work that we are doing in our public school.

This year at NR-S, we will be working hard to develop an organizational growth mindset. This means asking the question, how can we engage students and their families in planning for their students’ educational future to solve these and more critical questions? We want to be the best school district in the state; we have embarked on some aggressive and challenging initiatives, grounded in what is best for students. I am thrilled to be able to share in upcoming columns more about the new high school schedule and how it will create opportunities for students to take more classes, engage more effectively with our teaching staff and learn to manage their own time more efficiently. Our new middle school model will better meet the social, developmental and academic needs of our teen students. The elementary is providing opportunities for our students to exercise voice and choice on their programming through elective options and learning decisions.

Change will happen. We will embrace those traditions and relationships that make it great to be a part of a small town. We will also recognize that we need to reframe our approach to education, to ensure that our students are successful in a world that is very different from what many of us experienced as youth. This is an exciting time!

Louters is the superintendent of New Rockford-Sheyenne Public School. She also sits on the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.


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